Roku has the tools to make its mark in the streaming world
By Kate Bulkley
For Broadcast May 31, 2021
The US firm has evolved and its user relationships and advertising expertise put it in a strong position, says Kate Bulkley
If you have only noticed the rise of Roku in the past couple of months, don’t feel bad. In what seems like no time at all, the US company has swapped its image as a mid-range consumer tech brand (all smart TVs and streaming sticks) to something much more ambitious: a multi-media streaming firm with advanced advertising technology tools and an appetite for exclusive and original content.
Roku may have started out selling video-streaming devices and licensing its technology to TV set manufacturers, but the California-based company now pulls in more of its revenue from selling advertising on its channels. It also takes a cut from every streaming service subscription signed up via its devices.
On 20 May, it launched 30 Roku-branded originals in the US, Canada and the UK, taken from the 75 entertainment shows acquired from failed short-form video start-up Quibi. Roku has benefited from the ongoing shift in both viewers and ad dollars away from linear TV. The shift to streaming has propelled its astonishing growth and its share price is up 138% in the past 12 months.
It now has 53.6 million active viewer accounts, up 35% year-on-year, and users streamed more than 18.3 billion hours of content, up 49%.
Roku will become a bigger player in content, although exactly what it wants is still unclear. In March, it acquired production company This Old House Ventures, which owns US homeimprovement show This Old House. In the same month, The Roku Channel premiered a licensed show for the first time – FBI action series Cypher.
Roku clearly aspires to offer exclusive and original content it can monetise through understanding its users and expertise in advertising technology – but that can be an expensive game to play. However, Roku chief executive Anthony Wood has said the firm’s growth means buying high-end content with “more brand-name actors” is achievable because the “cost per streamed hour” falls as users increase.
Roku’s big test is how it can further compete against myriad deep-pocketed streaming rivals. Its sophistication in the AVoD business is seen by analysts as a central differentiator for the company and in March it acquired research firm Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising business.
The advertising side of Roku’s business is in a unique position at a time when the online video world is being rocked by privacy concerns about capturing and tracking user data with ‘cookie’ technology. Third-party ‘cookie’ data has been a big driver of online advertising so as it is phased out over the next year, ads on streaming video services – particularly on connected TVs – should benefit greatly.
“Roku has capitalised on its streaming-device competence and market share to become a formidable gatekeeper”
US linear TV viewing was down 22% in March among 18-24s, according to Nielsen, while ad spend in the first quarter was down 11%, according to Media Radar. Yet Roku doubled its ad impressions in the quarter and chief financial officer Scott Louden declared “the reallocation of TV ad budgets and digital and social budgets towards streaming is here to stay”.
Roku has capitalised on its streaming-device competence and market share to become a formidable streaming-era gatekeeper. But analyst Michael Nathanson at MoffettNathanson posed a question recently that will define its future: is Roku an AOL or a Netflix?
I think Roku wants to be a bit of both. By leveraging the knowledge it has about its user base, it can both help its DTC partners get more viewers and/or subscribers and sell ads that perform better for advertisers.
The move into content could be expensive if Roku tries to ‘do a Netflix’, but that doesn’t seem to be the plan. Maybe that’s why its stock hasn’t taken as much of a beating as it might have after the Quibi and This Old House purchases.