Roku’s Next Evolution Could Be Bad News For Viewers

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If you cut the cord from cable in the last few years, chances are you’ve used a Roku device. The hardware maker is one of the first pioneers of the streaming TV revolution and continues to change with the times. Now, even if you don’t want to buy one of their many different boxes, you might have Roku installed. The service is newly available as an app that supports mobile and smart TVs. This shift from hardware to software is purposeful, and Roku plans to go even further in that direction in the future.

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In recent interviews, Roku CEO Anthony Wood stated that the company’s user experience would shift. Right now, there’s a focus on apps, but he foresees a focus on content going forward. In fact, you can get an idea of what that looks like already in The Roku Channel, a free on-demand service launched by the company last year. Roku also features a search engine that finds shows and movies and directs you to apps where you can watch them. If done right, it could get more eyes on more services. But, there’s another alternative.

If you remember, Netflix also started as an entertainment hub, too. You got the best of the best from every studio on the planet. Nowadays, that’s basically done, and Netflix is solely focused on promoting their own productions and exclusive content. With so many other services going after that model, there is a desperate need for curation out there. Roku provides some of that right now, but by putting content out in front of apps, it implies a shift away from that philosophy.

The company already has a built-in audience and profits more on ads than hardware sales. Once third-party services are no longer on Roku’s home screen, the next logical step would be some sort of exclusive content of their own. One would imagine that the streaming channel support wouldn’t go away any time soon. However, it’s possible that the list of channels will be buried under movies and shows that Roku directly profits from. It’s possible that future hardware SKUs might not have robust support for new apps. They might also make the store less of an open marketplace.

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All this is speculation as of now, but you can see it in the tea leaves. Everyone from Disney to Hulu wants in on the gold rush. If Roku does indeed become a follower rather than an innovator, it leaves the door open. Someone else may step in and become the one-stop shop for everyone else’s services. Perhaps they’ll even offer a service plan that bundles together groups of channels for one flat fee…and we’ll be back to where we started.