Roku’s Shannon: Controlling hardware and paying for expensive engineers big advantage in the OTT device biz

While Roku licenses its operating environment to OEM channels, such as smart TV makers, the company maintains extensive control over its hardware development. 

While OTT services like DirecTV Now and Sling TV have struggled to deliver a consistent performance over the wide field of player devices, Roku content and services chief Steve Shannon said his company takes a different approach. Programming channels have been able to establish a more solid streaming reputation because Roku works with only skilled engineers, keeps its apps simple and limits its number of supported hardware environments.

“We hire a lot of expensive engineers and we keep it simple,” Shannon said yesterday while speaking at an afternoon panel at the Digital Hollywood conference in Marina Del Rey, California. “There’s a lot of great technology we throw away simply because we can’t deal with the complexity.”

Further, he said some streaming services “spend a lot of time conforming to different chipsets rather than working out a lot of bugs that affect consumers.” 

Roku does license its operating environment to OEM channels, such as smart TV makers, Shannon conceded, but the company maintains extensive control over the hardware development. 

He called the vast variance of hardware environments a “trap of proliferating complexity” that a lot of OTT technology companies fall into. 

Speaking on a wide variety of topics, Shannon also said the ability to personalize program interface and surface relevant content from myriad apps is a key priority for Roku right now. “We want to help people with discovery above the app level,” he said.

“The challenge is systemic,” he said. In order to surface relevant content across apps, Roku needs to know what viewers are watching. And that information is tightly held by content providers and pay-TV operators, Shannon noted.

Also speaking on Wednesday’s panel, Jason Friedlander, director of global content operations for Netflix, concurred with Shannon. “Discovery is going to be the thing from this point forward,” he said. “In the future, we’ll have a much simpler way to discover what’s going on in all those apps in any one time.”

Friedlander also said the proliferation of new resolution formats, such as 4K and HDR, will be aided by the rollout of 5G. “We need to get to a point where we have one signal going to many different people,” he said.