“We celebrated our 10-year anniversary this year,” says Abby Reyes, Trends Expert for Roku. “Well, it’s been 10 years. I guess you could call that an anniversary.” The mini-console, once informally referred to as “the Netflix box” has grown to become the definitive piece of hardware for anyone who wants to get any number of streaming services and on-demand programming directly to their TV.
I sit with Reyes in their makeshift portrait studio on the last day of the ATX TV Fest back in June. The final panels had wrapped up, and their set, which saw a revolving door of the festival’s most noteworthy attendees, was being taken down.
Reyes and I started talking about what the options for streaming were just 10 years ago, Netflix’s service was in its infancy, an add-on service for its DVD-by-mail platform. It was a novelty for many, and wasn’t even available on a Mac OS at first. Then, little by little, viewing habits started to change. A decade later, we’re amidst a TV revolution that has totally reshaped the television experience.
Back in the beginning, Roku was the first option most people had when it came to getting Netflix on their actual TV. As other streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime began to emerge, Roku’s platform accommodated. Then, as more content became available, including prestige original programming, the fundamental experience of viewing was upended.
Now, 10 years in, Roku is one of the most ubiquitous names in streaming entertainment, and Reyes tells me they plan to stay that way.
Looking back on the last decade, you guys were a little ahead of the curve when it comes to streaming.
May 20th is National Streaming Day, so that really confirms it, [when] we shipped our first player. To date, we have more than 5,000 channels on the platform. It’s an incredible amount of content that’s available. It’s a really interesting time.
It’s been a long time coming, though. Nine or so years back your platform the channel that gave Coolio his own cooking show.
You’re throwing it way back.
Well, even back then you could see that streaming was breaking a lot of norms about how we watch TV. Now it’s generally considered to be the preferred method.
We’re of the mindset that all TV’s will be streamed, so the last 10 years have been about educating folks so they know about the content available through streaming. Then, three years ago, we introduced our operating system into televisions. Now, I think the stat is one in four smart TVs out there is a Roku TV. It’s pretty amazing.
It’s certainly helped to seriously disrupt industry norms from the viewer on up.
At the end of the day, it’s TV on your terms, right? People aren’t just sitting down to watch one episode at a time. They want to commit time for two, three episodes. Sometimes whole seasons.
[Hulu was] saying some of their users binge-watched eight years of Full House in months. First of all, that’s crazy. But, a testament to how much time we’re committed to consuming content.
There’s a lot of options out there now. How do you direct interest to your product vs. the competition?
Simplicity is the thing we drive home. We really want people to actually use their devices. Private listening was a thing we introduced a few years ago, where you plug your headphones into the remote. Features like that, you don’t know how helpful they are until you use it. The engineers joke that it’s called ‘The Marriage Saver.’
It’ll be a really interesting time to see where streaming goes in the next year or so.
So, even in the age of ‘too much content,’ there’s still a lot of creators out there.
Let’s say you’re a content producer, and you want to create a Roku channel, it’s very easy to do that. We have a template, ROKU Publisher, that’s available. So you can upload your feed and essentially create a channel.
And there’s an audience out there for it, too.
If you look at some of the numbers, people were streaming 5.1 billion hours in Q1 alone. That’s a lot.
That is a lot.
It’ll be very interesting to see how content shapes up as streaming becomes more prevalent. Streaming is mainstream now, but there are still millions of households that don’t stream.
That’s wild to me. Like, they just have to try to catch something when it’s on? Get outta here.
Photo credit: Matt Sayles