Roku rolls out platform-wide OS updates

Roku is rolling out a major operating system update, bringing new features and content for live TV, local news and sports, to its streaming platform that counts 70 million active accounts.

The OS 12 update is platform-wide and also includes revamps for content discovery, alongside refreshes to the Roku mobile app. The updated OS will roll out in the coming weeks with additional features and content launching on Roku devices in the U.S. in coming months. On the live TV front, Roku has added a new Local News category, which also now employs AI to surface personalized news recommendations. For local news users can watch live news channels personalized by location or choose to stream from major cities across the U.S.

Another change to its Live TV offering is the addition of Premium Subscriptions. It’s the latest addition to Categories within Roku’s Live TV Channel Guide  (joining Recents, Favorites and Subscribed) and allows users to quickly sign up for premium channels that they aren’t subscribed to yet. Roku introduced Categories last fall alongside genres including News, Sports, and Entertainment.

And sports aren’t left behind in the OS update with a more personalized user experience teed up in the coming months. Roku said users will see a more personalized sports experience based on their location, favorite team or sport and viewing habits. Roku is also adding new content, bringing CBS Sports, MLB.TV, NBA App and NBC Sports to its roster of supported channels for the Sports hub experience it launched last year. The aggregated sports experience is one of Roku’s moves to help make finding sports easier as teams, leagues and games are increasingly fragmented across streaming, with a centralized hub where viewers can browse and find live and up-coming sporting events across the Roku platform.

In another move to make content more easily accessible, Roku is also introducing a Continue Watching feature within its What to Watch section, providing a single location to come back to watching current shows across various channels. Once a user has finished streaming a TV show or movie, content from supported channels will now show up immediately in the Continue Watching row. Joining the list of supported channels of the feature are Discovery+ and Prime Video, with BET+, Freevee, Frndly TV and Starz coming soon.

In the coming months the Roku mobile app is also getting an update with a more immersive interface, including a revamped account hub, more streamlined home screen, and a Live TV Channel “Guide” button. Roku already introed a dedicated Live TV Channel guide button on the app when connected to Roku TVs, but the feature is set to expand to connected players so that users can instantly launch the live guide straight from their phone.

“As the #1 selling OS in three major markets, we understand what people want when it comes to a streaming platform – a simple yet delightful experience that feels personalized to them,” said Preston Smalley, VP of Viewer Product at Roku, in a statement. “The latest updates to our powerful OS make Roku's software even more intuitive and curated, so users can spend less time searching for content and more time enjoying their favorite entertainment.”

The OS update comes as Roku on Thursday also disclosed features and availability for the first Roku-branded smart TVs. Starting today (March 9), Roku Select and Plus Series TVs are on sale at Best Buys in the U.S. Roku TVs are available in 11 models ranging from 24” to 75”.  The new Roku Wireless Soundbar will be exclusively available at Best Buy stores and online later this month.

Speaking of smart TV efforts during an investor conference this week, Roku CEO and Founder Anthony Wood suggested it will be focused on nabbing smart TV market share from the likes of Samsung, LG and Vizio, noting its licensed TVOS already has a “very large lead’ over Amazon and Google in the U.S.

“Both of those companies are growing market share, but they’re still tiny,” said Wood. “The biggest opportunity for us to continue to grow is by taking share from LG, Samsung and Vizio…those are the TV companies that are sort of left in terms of material market share other than Roku.”

He also suggested innovations on Roku-branded TVs will ultimately benefit its third-party OEM partners.

“TV companies are very traditional, so they often don’t want to adopt innovations until they know they’re going to be successful in the market,” Wood commented. “By doing our own first-party TVs and proving that some of these innovations we believe in are actually liked by customers, that will encourage our TV partners to adopt them and help them have more advanced and innovative products in the market.”