Roku to force some apps to adopt new streaming, billing features

Streaming hardware maker Roku says developers who distribute popular apps will need to incorporate several new features if they want to continue making their service available on the platform.

Starting next March, developers will be required to integrate the company's new Continue Watching feature, which allows Roku users to pick up where they left off in a TV show or movie from the "What to Watch" screen on Roku-powered devices and smart TV sets.

The mandate applies to all video apps whose customers stream a collective average of 5 million hours of content in a month over a three-month period. Apps that are specifically designed to offer live video, video purchases or media made for children won't be required to integrate the Continue Watching feature.

Developers who meet the requirement threshold have until March 31, 2023, to integrate the feature if they want their service to be certified by Roku, which is a requirement to be distributed in the Roku Channel Store.

Roku pulled back the curtain on its Continue Watching feature last month when it announced an updated version of the Roku operating system. Several streaming services have already integrated Continue Watching into their apps, including Netflix, HBO Max and Paramount Plus, according to a spokesperson.

At an industry conference last month, a Roku executive said the new features help remove some of the friction consumers face when it comes to finding and watching on their platform.

"All this is made possible by the aggregation model," the executive, Jessica Fencel, said at the NATPE Streaming Plus conference. "And I think that's helped solve some of those major pain points that consumers are facing."

Paul Erickson, a veteran media analyst who specializes in consumer products, says requiring app developers to integrate Continue Watching is just as good for Roku as it is for customers.

"The company is trying to ensure consistency of experience for the users, where it's easy to resume playback and jump back into recently watched content," Erickson said in an interview this week.

Erickson noted that competing streaming devices powered by Google and Amazon-developed operating systems have offered a similar continuity feature for some time. He added that the feature tends to pull consumers away from in-app experiences in favor of searching for and sifting through content from within a central dashboard.

"[Roku is] competing in a platform environment, particularly where competitors like Google are pushing super-aggregated user experiences to get people to their content faster," Erickson affirmed.

It is not the first time Roku has leveraged its Channel Store to require developers to integrate certain new features. Nearly two years ago, the company issued an edict that forced some subscription video services to integrate its native payment processing feature called Roku Pay. The feature allows customers with debit or credit cards on file to subscribe to a service using their TV set.

This month, Roku said subscription apps that use its Roku Pay platform will also have to implement a new feature called Passive Subscription on Hold. The feature kicks in when a customer's debit or credit card can't be charged for a subscription that is set to automatically renew. Roku e-mails the customer several times over the course of sixty days with a request that they update their payment information, so they can be charged.

As with the Continue Watching feature, the Passive Subscription on Hold mandate applies to services that see an average of 5 million hours of content streamed per month across a three-month period. Roku says the feature is intended to help services reduce churn rates by decreasing the likelihood that a customer will passively cancel their subscription. But Erickson notes the feature will also benefit Roku, because the company receives a cut of subscriptions sold through Roku Pay.

"If someone goes away, and then they re-subscribe somewhere else, Roku loses that share of the revenue," Erickson noted. "These are obviously moves that are intended to benefit Roku as much as others over the long-term."

Developers are likely to acquiesce to both mandates, as Roku is one of the more-dominant streaming platforms in the United States Last year, Parks Associates said Roku's operating system powered around 38 percent of streaming TV devices used in the domestic market. Last month, Roku said it has 63 million active customers using its streaming platform around the world.