Roku TVs now know what you’re watching, will suggest related shows

Roku today is rolling out a software update that’s primarily filled with new features aimed at Roku TV owners – the portion of its business where its media software is integrated into television sets, instead of standalone streaming players. One of the standout features from the new release is a feature Roku calls “More Ways to Watch,” offering viewing suggestions that pop up on the screen, based on what you’re currently viewing.

Yes, Roku will now know what you’re watching, presuming you opt in to the new feature after installation of the updated software, or after you turn on your new Roku TV set for the first time.

To be clear, Roku is only tracking your viewing behavior when you’re watching through an input – like your digital antenna or cable box, for example.

This is enabled through the use of ACR technology (automatic content recognition), which is common to smart TVs today. However, not everyone is comfortable with this sort of tracking and data collection, which is why the feature is opt in and there are easily accessible settings to disable it, if you choose to later switch it off.

Roku acknowledged that it is saving this data, and referred us to its privacy policy for more information. However, the company declined to answer our specific questions about how the data would be put to use, in terms of being shared or sold to Roku’s advertisers. But the privacy policy does offer more details. Here, Roku states that the data will be used for personalized recommendations and personalized ads, as well as to measure the viewership of ads and programming. This viewing data will also be combined with other demographic data Roku has on you.

Shocking? Not really. After all, in 2017, TV watches you.

That said, if you’ve given up protecting your privacy in favor of cool, new features, “More Ways to Watch” can be handy.

If you’ve tuned in to watch an old episode of a favorite TV show, for example, Roku might pop up on the screen that the show is also available for streaming across a variety of services you already subscribe to. You could choose instead to switch over to a streaming service, like Netflix, then continue viewing the show without the commercial breaks found on live TV. (Yay, no live TV commercials! So Roku’s advertisers can better target you!)

It may also suggest related shows to the one you’re currently viewing.

These recommendations appear as a pop-up on the screen, but if you’re not into having on-screen interruptions, you can disable the pop-up overlay but still access the suggestions with a press on the remote control instead.

You can use either the right arrow button to view the ACR results, or the OK button, which brings up the info dialog box, which also includes ACR results, if available.

These on-screen recommendations are the most notable new feature to arrive with the release of Roku OS 7.6, and will be supported on HD and FHD Roku TVs and new 2017 4K Roku TVs. It will hit 2016 4K Roku TVs this summer.

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Also included in the update is a feature to make a list of favorite channels when you have a broadcast antenna; the addition of thumbnail images when using the Live TV Pause feature (rewind, pause, fast forward live TV); support for Closed Captions on Live TV Pause’s “replay” feature; support for a faster resume from standby on some Roku TVs; and support for custom input names on Roku TV.

This latter option is useful for those who have a lot of devices plugged into their various inputs – for example, if you have both the Xbox One and an Xbox 360, you might want to customize the name beyond just “Xbox.”

For both players and TVs alike, Roku OS 7.6 now includes an expanded search that can track content on over 300 streaming channels, a 10-fold increase from a year ago.

Roku TVs have a growing footprint in the U.S. Today, they account for 13 percent of U.S. smart TV sales, accounting for 1 out of 8 smart TV purchases. In total, Roku has 14 million active accounts across both its players and TVs, it says.

The update is rolling out now to all Roku models from May 2011 on.