Roku’s $100 set-top box (U.S.-only) just got even more compelling. The company has launched its own app store of sorts – called the ‘Channel Store’ – that brings a growing number of third-party content sources to the device including Pandora (music streaming) Facebook photos, Flickr (photo sharing), along with FrameChannel, Mediafly’s podcast directory, Revision3 and more. Dave Zatz over at Zatz Not Funny has a few screen grabs and a nifty walk-through video (embedded above). The new content ‘widgets’ join existing partnerships with Netflix, Amazon VOD, and MLB.TV.
Roku’s cheap but increasingly versatile set-top box has added another feather to its bow.
Joining both Netflix and Amazon-On-Demand, the $99 Roku Video Player can now stream live ‘out of market’ and archived baseball matches — in 720p HD no less — courtesy of MLB.TV (US-only).
Fans will of course still have to pony up for a season pass ($35) but that doesn’t seem like such as bad deal now that you can easily pipe that content to a wide-screen TV, and especially if you’re already an owner of Roku’s cheap ‘n’ cheerful little box.
No longer limited to Netflix support-only, today Roku announced that its $99 set-top box, following a software update, can now be used to rent and purchase movies and TV shows from Amazon’s Video-On-Demand (VOD) service.
Amazon VOD (US-only) has a library of over 40,000 movie and TV titles, with new releases offered on the same day they are released on DVD, something that Netflix is currently unable to match, instead focusing more on back catalog material offered as part of a fixed monthly subscription that also includes traditional DVD rentals by post. In this sense, the two services both compete and complement each other, depending on how much and what kind of content customers want to consume.
The Amazon tie-in also takes advantage of the e-tailers’ expertise in ‘cloud’ computing. Since the Roku digital video player is only capable of streaming not downloads, purchases are stored on Amazon’s own servers, making it possible, for example, to begin viewing a movie on the PC and then continue on the TV via a Roku set-top box.
With the Consumer Electronics Show just around the corner, it’s traditional for companies to push out a flurry of pre-show announcements, hopefully clearing the way for more exciting news. Today, a number of industry players announced partnerships relating to getting Internet content onto the TV – a theme that will, once again, be prevalent at CES.
Roku and Amazon
Roku’s set-top box will soon be adding support for the streaming version of Amazon’s on-demand video service. Previously, the hardware was a one trick pony, with Netflix ‘Watch Instantly’ functionality only. From the press release: “Beginning in early 2009, the Roku Player… will offer access to Amazon Video On Demand’s more than 40,000 commercial-free movies and television shows enabling Roku customers for the first time to watch new release movies titles instantly.”
Last week Engadget reported that the XBox 360’s support for Netflix streaming would include a limited amount of HD content too – initially around 300 titles – prompting many to ask if High Def content would also make its way onto Roku’s Netflix set-top box.
Dan Rayburn quickly followed up to confirm that, despite the lack of an official company announcement, Roku’s hardware was at least technically capable of streaming Netflix in HD, leading to speculation that Netflix HD streaming could be a Microsoft exclusive, for the time being anyway.
Roku is once again talking up plans to open its Netflix-only set-top box to other online video providers. Talking at the Streaming Media West conference, Roku CEO Anthony Wood was quoted as saying:
“We’re going to release the software developer kit [SDK], so anyone can publish any channel, and users can access web content on their TVs.”
Of course, just releasing an official SDK won’t lead to the Internet TV set-top box nirvana that we, and Roku, are seeking. For that to happen, Netflix’s competitors will need to be persuaded that it’s worth their while to actually build something using Roku’s SDK, otherwise poular services such as Hulu, BBC iPlayer or YouTube, for example, may never make it onto the set-top box.
As Dave Zatz advises: Roku needs to “continue working the phones” in order to build the kind of partnerships that will lead to more quality content. Because its content that will ultimately lead to more hardware sales, which is of course where Roku makes its money. “There’s a much larger audience of potential Hulu and YouTube viewers than there are Netflix subscribers”, notes Zatz.
One potential sticking point: Earlier this year Netflix made a small investment in Roku, which could make things awkward as Roku attempts to woo competing content partners.
It was only yesterday that our friend Dan Rayburn over at Streaming Media was talking down the impact that Internet-delivered video was making in the living room. Or to quote Rayburn himself, his guest post for GigaOm was intended to “set expectations properly”, based on official figures and various estimates, which suggest that consumer facing set-top boxes from the likes of TiVo, Sony, Microsoft, Apple, Roku and Vudu that are capable of delivering online video, have sold a lot less than what most people think.
Today, however, Rayburn admits he got one figure wrong. Based on a new source, Rayburn says that rather than selling 10,000 units, the Netflix player by Roku has sold closer to 100,000.
While it surprised me the number was that high, it does seem possible, as that would equal about 1% of Netflix’s 8.2 million customers. Considering the price point ($99) and the fact that the product’s marketing is very focused, to a targeted audience, Roku’s penetration rate would be higher than the average product that has only been on the market for eight weeks. Plus, once you have the Roku box, the content is free.
Rayburn goes on to suggest that it won’t be long before the Roku box outsells the AppleTV (we don’t disagree), especially with the promise that the Roku player will soon support more than just Netflix. “This little device has some real potential to make a real impact in the market”, he says.
“While it is good to see more content options coming to consumers, adding up all of the install numbers for these devices gives a stark picture of just how small the install base really is,” Rayburn wrote. “The market is still too fragmented, with too many different devices, all limited by a lack of premium content.”
Rayburn bases his analysis on market penetration rates. His point is that the best technologies don’t always win — it’s what consumers adopt. The numbers for TV-connected devices are interesting.
To be in with a chance to win it, all you have to do is leave one comment on Dan’s original post with a working e-mail address. He’ll pick a random winner this Thursday and ship it out at no cost. (Sorry, U.S. residents only). The unit comes with all of the original materials, box, remote and cables, but since it only works with Netflix’s service, you’ll either need to be a Netflix customer, or need to be willing to setup a Netflix account.
As an aside, Anthony Wood, the Founder and CEO of Roku will be one of the keynote speakers at the Streaming Media West show in September in San Jose.
There are only a couple of more shopping days left until Father’s Day, that once-a-year event when wives and kids all across the U.S. buy Dad ties, aftershave, and other things he — let’s be honest here — will never use.
So to make shopping easier this year, we’ve assembled a few digital lifestyle ideas for your husband or Dad. Most of these are more expensive than Aqua Velva aftershave but, since we’re being honest here, these are what Dad might buy for himself, including a remote control beer cooler.
The most sought-after Father’s Day gift on the planet will be the new 3G iPhone from Apple, which isn’t available until July 11. Until then, a hand-written IOU redeemable for the iPhone will do. Thankfully, the price is coming way down: $199 for the 8 GB model, $299 for the 16 GB phone. And since it now supports the enterprise with Microsoft Exchange syncing and other business-place features, the grumpy IT guys at Dad’s office will be happy.
Alternatives: none. Sure, we could argue for a Sony Ericsson, BlackBerry, or HTC smart phone, but why bother? Until Google’s Android phones are available — long after this Father’s Day is over — the iPhone will head Dad’s wish list.