The Roku Channel, which offers free-to-watch, ad-supported movies, TV shows, and live news, is introducing premium subscriptions. Users will soon be able to get networks including Showtime, Starz, and Epix, and pay for everything on one bill — similar to Amazon Prime Video and its add-on channels. The Roku Channel isn’t strictly limited to Roku hardware: it’s available on an expanding list of devices and is a huge focus for the company.
There are several differences between what Roku’s doing and Prime Channels, though. First, Amazon’s solution requires Prime, whereas Roku’s subscriptions don’t have any prerequisites aside from you setting up a Roku account. The second difference — and perhaps a more important one — is that Roku isn’t offering HBO at launch. From the company’s perspective, consumers already have plenty of ways to pay for and receive HBO, but you could say the same about Showtime and Starz. So that’s really just a runaround excuse for the two sides not having a deal in place yet. Roku is charging the same prices as other providers for these subscriptions, so don’t expect any savings.
One disappointing tidbit about Roku’s solution is that even with a subscription, you won’t be able to log into the standalone apps for these channels. Content is viewable only through The Roku Channel, so you can’t just download those apps onto your Roku home screen for fast access. That seems a bit weird. The obvious next question is where and how you can watch The Roku Channel. Currently it’s available on Roku devices, select Samsung smart TVs, and on both the desktop and mobile web. Roku says that its main app on Android and iOS will soon integrate The Roku Channel, which will make getting to it a little more convenient than opening Safari or Chrome. Once you’ve created an account (which everyone with a Roku gadget has already done), you can resume movies and shows across devices.
Roku says that adding subscriptions is a one-click affair from any subscription channel page, and all participating partners will offer free trials of at least one week. The company plans to enhance search on The Roku Channel to make content from your premium channels quicker to find.
The Roku Channel, which is heavily promoted by the company, is already a “top five channel for active reach” on the platform. People sure do love their free content. As I’ve said before, it’s a decent option to check out when you’re burned out on Netflix, Prime Video, or Hulu. Just expect a bit of a roll of the dice when it comes to finding movies or shows you’ll want to watch. While most of its content includes ads, paid subscriptions will not.
So Roku’s hook is all about simplicity: multiple channels on one bill through an account that millions of people already have. I don’t think Amazon Prime customers have any reason to look at this — especially since Amazon can give them HBO — but it might be able to hook others in. Just keep in mind that Apple is reportedly planning to join in on this concept very soon. Being at the center of your subscriptions is a nice, powerful place to be. Amazon already knows as much, and now Roku has figured it out.
Here’s the rundown of channels that will be available when subscriptions start to roll out on The Roku Channel over the coming weeks:
The Great Courses Signature Collection
Magnolia Selects presented by Magnolia Pictures
Smithsonian Channel Plus