Streaming device maker Roku is expanding the reach of its ad-supported Roku Channel: The company is bringing the Roku Channel to the web and mobile devices, where it can also be watched by consumers who don't have a Roku device yet. The company also launched a new section for free TV content on its devices Wednesday.
Roku first launched the Roku Channel as an ad-supported VOD service on its own streaming devices and Roku TVs in September of last year. At launch, the channel included catalog titles from studios like Lionsgate, Metro Goldwyn Mayer ( MGM ), Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros. Since then, the Roku Channel expanded to also feature news programming and TV shows.
The Roku Channel is now the fifth-most popular streaming channel on the Roku platform based on active accounts. Streaming hours for the channel doubled from December to June, the company disclosed Wednesday ahead of its Q2 2018 earnings release.
Variety first broke the news that Roku had plans to bring the Roku Channel to mobile phones and other devices not running the company's smart TV operating system last October. Roku made phase one of that plan official when it announced in March that it would bring the Roku Channel to Samsung TVs - something that is being realized this week as well.
On Wednesday, Roku took the next step by launching a web version of the channel that can be accessed both with PCs as well as mobile devices. Users who aren't plugged into the Roku ecosystem yet do need to sign up for a free account, which then guarantees that content is synchronized across multiple devices. This also allows Roku owners to start watching a show on their phone, and then finish watching it on their Roku-equipped TV at home.
Roku also added a new menu item to Roku devices that is supposed to make watching free content even easier: Featured Free, which is accessible from the Roku home screen, serves up a curated selection of free content with a big emphasis on TV shows from networks like ABC, the CW and Fox as well as free streaming services like Tubi, Crackle and Pluto TV and the Roku Channel.
Featured Free is essentially a collection of deep links into the apps of these content providers, and consumers can start streaming each and every episode without any sign-up hurdles. "They don't need to have a cable subscription, they don't need to authenticate, they don't need to log in," said Roku VP of programming Robert Holmes.
Holmes said that Roku had noticed that networks put more of their content in front of the pay wall, where it can be accessed by anyone, regardless of whether they have a cable subscription or not. "They are definitely evolving their approach to the OTT ecosystem," he said.
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