Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Roku Plays Nice With Cable Guys

Roku is one of the cord-cutter’s favorite tools, because its devices make it easier to get video on your TV without paying for a cable subscription. But as Roku plans to more than double the current number of apps on its platform, it is putting a particular focus on cable apps — ones that will still require users to keep those cable subscriptions.

Roku’s founder and chief executive officer, Anthony Wood, has said that Roku users can expect to see more cable apps from providers like Comcast, Verizon, and others working on the platform, as the Saratoga, Calif.-based company ups the number of apps running on its devices from 400 to around a thousand by the end of the year.

Currently, content from HBO GO and Epix plays on Roku boxes — provided that the user is paying for and can authenticate the apps through cable services like AT&T U-verse, Charter, Cox, RCN and Verizon FiOS.

And on the cable side, providers like Comcast and Verizon have introduced their own apps, which, as my AllThingsD colleague Peter Kafka has pointed out, allow subscribers to stream channels to their iPads while they’re in the home — and not too far away from that cable box.

You’ve probably heard a lot about cord-cutting in recent years — though the data on this trend is still somewhat contradictory. With cable companies launching streaming apps, and streaming device makers looking to cable content, both sides of the TV-content coin are acknowledging the same thing: We’re not entirely sure yet that cord-cutting is a real phenomenon, there’s evidence that consumers want both cable TV and Internet streaming options, and the industry could stand to experiment a little bit while it all shakes out.

But for Roku, which brought the first Netflix-centric device to the market and has since sold around two and a half million boxes, it also means trying to take a greater stake on the hardware side. Basically, Wood said, his idea is that users will be able to get most if not all of their cable needs through a Roku product.

Roku also recently announced a cordless “streaming stick,” which is meant to enable Internet video streaming on a non-connected television set. Despite predictions that “smart,” Internet-connected TVs are set to take off over the next couple years, Wood is taking a long-term view with the streaming stick, targeting the consumers who initially won’t be looking to buy new smart TVs. He has also said that the stick, a flash-drive-sized device that plugs into the back of a TV set, will allow for easier, regular software updates to TV apps.

“While we can’t necessarily compete with gaming consoles, we see it as less likely that a family would have an Xbox paired with every TV in the house. But they might have a Roku device with every TV in the house,” Wood said, referring to Roku’s relatively low cost structure.

Wood’s assertions arrive as the Federal Communications Commission is considering a rule change that would require consumers that patch into low-tier or basic cable channels to use some sort of cable set-top box to do so, rather than access cable wires directly (and for free). One start-up, Boxee — which makes the video-streaming Boxee Box and just threw its efforts behind a Live TV stick that’s meant to provide users with basic cable channels — has openly opposed the potential change, saying that it would harm innovation in the set-top box space.

It’s unclear if or when this ruling will come to pass, though VentureBeat reports that it could come within a few weeks.

But Roku’s strategy to bring more cable apps aboard its platform is a different tack than the one Boxee is taking, since Boxee has marketed itself explicitly as a cord-cutting tool, whereas Roku is eyeing the idea of a holistic TV-watching solution.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work