Roku expands Roku TV program to Europe

Hisense is the first European Roku TV partner and is expected to launch Roku TV models in the UK in the fourth quarter. (Roku)

BERLIN—Roku has earned a reputation as the Switzerland of streaming media players, but CEO Anthony Wood offered a different vision of the company at the IFA trade show here: the Microsoft of connected TVs.

At a keynote Saturday morning, Wood pitched his company as the obvious software solution for connected TVs before revealing the expansion of its Roku TV program to Europe.

“TV manufacturers that embrace a licensed operating system are going to be leaders,” Wood said after announcing the transatlantic expansion of Roku TV. That will start in the United Kingdom in the fourth quarter with sets from Hisense in sizes up to 65 inches.

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Wood pitched the Roku TV program—a combination of a hardware reference design, Roku’s software stack, and ongoing software support—as both a growing preference and an obvious choice for TV vendors.

“The rate of innovation in the software on televisions is just enormous right now,” he said. “It's just a very rapid pace of innovation that's very hard for a single company to keep up with.”

Wood said Roku TVs account for one in three connected sets sold in the U.S.; in April, when the company announced that number, it said it had surpassed Samsung to become the top connected-TV operating system provider in the U.S.

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Worldwide, however, Roku TV’s U.S.-only availability has held back its share—which Strategy Analytics put at just 4% in March, behind Google’s Android TV.

Wood took a shot at that version of Google’s mobile operating system, saying “Software that's purpose built for a new computing platform will always win.”

He further cited all the tasks that Roku tackles for vendors, from content onboarding to software updates.

“There’s a piece of software on the Roku platform that's probably updated every day,” he said. Roku continues to provide software updates for hardware as old as the 2011-vintage Roku LT.

Roku also faces competition from Amazon, which earlier at IFA announced an expansion of its Fire TV Edition program. Wood offered one big reason for retailers to prefer its connected-TV platform: “We don't compete with our retailers.”

Analyst Mark Vena of Moor Insights & Strategy watched the keynote and offered an endorsement of the company’s strategy to date.

“They're very much an open platform,” he said. “That's one of the advantages they have over Amazon.”

Roku’s studied neutrality has also helped it avoid getting shut out of such streaming-media launches as the upcoming Disney+.

At the start of the keynote, Wood shared a variety of numbers attesting to Roku’s growth: 30.5 million active accounts, more than 73 million active viewers, and 9.4 billion hours streamed in the second quarter—a 72% increase over 2018’s second quarter.

And cord cutters continue to like the platform: Wood also noted that 54% of Roku users don't have traditional pay TV. Vena agreed that Roku is well positioned to maintain its advantage.

“They understand developers, they understand TV manufacturers, they understand their pain points,” Vena said. “They're all about knocking down hurdles.”

(Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are covering the travel expenses of a group of U.S.-based journalists and analysts that includes this story’s author.)

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