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Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Roku ups its content offering with its own channel
Roku customers who can't find enough stuff to
watch and/or listen to on the platform have a new weapon in their search for
stuff: the Roku Channel.
The Canadian version of the channel went live
on the morning of July 23 (the U.S. version has been available for a while) and
offers a selection of movies, TV shows and the like in one location – kind of
like about a thousand other channels you can put onto the Roku, such as Shout! Factory
TV and ,many, many others. And the content is all free!
That doesn't mean you don't pay for it, however
(since nothing in life is ever free!): you do have to suffer through
commercials, though Roku claims its Roku Channel is, according to the
press release, "expected to average about a third less advertising per
programming hour than ad-supported linear TV in Canada."
I get the feeling that "linear TV"
line means "conventional broadcast and/or cable/satellite TV", and if
that's the case you could be saving a lot of wasted commercial time. Assuming
the claim is true.
And it may be true. The first thing I watched
in my admittedly limited time on the Roku Channel so far (there are only so
many hours in the day!) – a one hour-ish Beatles documentary – was interrupted
twice, each time with two commercials. It wasn't too annoying, though as with
other "commercial" free channels on the Roku, the interruptions
appear to happen based on time rather than content, which means the program can
be interrupted right in the middle of a scene, or a word, with no obvious
But since this isn't limited to the Roku
Channel (I've noticed it on others, including the abovementioned Shout! Factory
TV), I'm not going to single it out any more than I have already.
"We always aim
to deliver the best entertainment selection and value for our customers,"
said Rob Holmes, Vice President of Programming at Roku. "Our users are
looking for great free content, and with the launch of The Roku Channel we are
making it easy for them to find it."
The Roku Channel
requires no subscriptions, fees or logins other than the account you set up
when you first install your Roku and fire it up (I assume it works the same for
Roku-equipped TV's). That initial setup requires you to register a credit card,
but that's only in case you decide to access premium content; I've never had a
charge on my card because of my Roku account, so it doesn't seem like a big
deal unless you're really concerned about hacking etc.
As of the channel's launch,
"Rokusers" can access hundreds of movies, TV shows and documentaries
for free streaming, and Roku says that they're planning to feature a selection
of box office hits and great classic movies every month.
include Bad Boys, Julie & Julia and Grown Ups, none of which interest me
(your mileage may vary, of course) and a "curated selection" of
content from some of the existing channel publishers on the Roku platform. According
to Roku, publishers participating at the launch include American Classics/Hatch
Farm Studios, FilmRise and Total Content Digital. The company expects others to
be added over time.
The Roku Channel displays its content via
categories such as TV, comedy, drama, action/thriller, music, travel and
nature, martial arts, history, horror, classics, royals and Brits, westerns.
Heck, there's even an "all-Ernest channel" that gives you the
"classic" Ernest P. Worrell films starring Jim Varney!
Even if you find the
Roku channel underwhelming (I have to admit I'm more interested in what's to
come than in what's there already) you can still find oodles of stuff to watch,
listen to, or play elsewhere on the device. Roku says its streaming platform
offers "more than 5,000 free and paid for channels that offer access to
150,000 movies and TV episodes." As per by Sturgeon's Law (according to
the famed science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, "90 per cent of
everything is crap"), there's a pile of poop out there, and that means
you'll have to go looking for stuff that turns your crank. But it's there!
Since I've been using
Roku I've watched the usual stuff like Netflix and YouTube, but I also use
their Accuradio app all the time to stream that company's great free musical
content (though you can't save favourites or make your own playlists on the
Roku version like you can via their app or website). I've also partaken of
classic country music videos, standup comedy, classic TV and movies and more. I
love it, even though what I watch merely scratches the surface of what's out
You can also use the
Roku to stream your own stuff if you archive music, videos and/or photos on
your local network.
The quality of the
stuff, whether you mean audio, video, writing, acting, or whatever, is all over
the map (another application of Sturgeon's Law?), but it's amazing what you can
find – and I'm only talking about the free stuff. If you want to pay for
subscriptions, there's an even wider world on the Roku.
Heck, you can even
shatter old pop culture tropes! I mentioned in an earlier Roku review that I
was drawn to the pilot episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, a series I watched religiously
with my parents when I was a nipper, and discovered that – contrary to what
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs told us in "the Balland of Jed
Clampett" – he wasn't shootin' at some food when up from the ground came
bubbling crude. Nope, he had a big pool of oil on his property that I imagine
is similar to Alberta's much maligned (and very important) oil sands and wasn't
out shooting at all!
I cried for a week at
the shattering of that childhood memory…
Theatre 3000 fans will find a lot of stuff, too, and – though I forget what
channel it was one – the Roku gave me the chance to visit a guilty pleasure from
the 1970's when I discovered the old sci-fi flick "A Boy and his Dog"
Again, this just
scratches the surface of what's on Roku.
Roku's user base can
add the Roku Channel from the Roku Channel Store – just like they add other
stuff – and start using it immediately.
I doubt this is going to be a really huge thing
for Roku and its users, but I've been wrong before (or have I?). Besides, far
be it for me to bemoan someone offering consumers more choices for the same