Who would have thought that streaming set-top box manufacturer Roku would actually introduce a TV before Apple? Well, it looks likely that’s going to happen, thanks to partnerships with Hisense and TCL that will make Roku’s streaming video platform available directly on a new generation of smart TVs launching later this year.
The companies are making the announcement ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show, where Hisense and TCL will show off and demo six models of Roku-powered smart TVs. Those TVs will range in size from 32 inches to 55 inches, and all will be WiFi-compatible.
Putting its software and streaming video channel store directly on TVs seems like the next obvious step for Roku, which has spent the last five years selling set-top boxes that cost between $50 and $100 each. It’s seen a fair amount of demand for those devices over the years, selling nearly 8 million streaming players since launch.
But while consumer demand has been strong, Roku recognizes that we’re entering a world where pretty soon all mass-market TVs produced by consumer electronics manufacturers will be connected to the Internet. In that world, few consumers will need a companion device to access streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Go.
To find its way into more homes, it’s partnered with Hisense and TCL to become their smart TV interface. Hisense and TCL, which might not have the same name recognition as competitors like Samsung, Sony, or LG, shipped 21 million TVs in 2012. So there’s a big opportunity to take advantage of their built-in distribution networks and be the default operating system platform for those manufacturers.
The pitch to those OEMs is simple: Rather than developing their own smart TV interfaces, adding Roku will allow them to take advantage of a tried-and-tested channel platform that consumers are already familiar with, and which already has a ton of content partners on board.
Roku has more than 1,200 channels available on its Channel Store today, which includes new content partners like M-GO, AOL News, FOX NOW, WATCH ESPN, WATCH Disney, YouTube, and TWC TV Video On Demand.
In addition to simplifying the interface for Internet-connected TVs — by connecting consumers with all their favorite streaming services, along with live, linear TV — Roku has also simplified the remote control. The typical Roku remote design will have just 20 buttons, compared to traditional TV controllers, which usually have double that amount. Users will also be able to control the TVs with their mobile devices, thanks to DIAL support.
While the partnership is good for Roku and good for its OEM partners, it’s also good for potential content partners like Time Warner Cable and Sky. With live streaming of their channel lineups available directly on Roku TVs, those distributors might not have to provide its own set-top boxes to customers.
Roku has secured $77 million in funding since being founded, including $45 million that came from News Corp, British Sky Broadcasting, and Dish. With Roku TVs on the way, those strategic investors will have a more direct connection to their viewers.
While it will have a set of branded TVs out on the market, Roku plans to continue selling streaming set-stop boxes, and will also offer its Roku Streaming Stick for making dumb TVs a little bit smarter.
As with everything launched at CES, there’s no set launch date or price for the Roku TV models being demoed at the show. But the company expects to have them available by the holiday season, and says that pricing will be competitive with other smart TVs out on the market at that time.