Roku starts off 2019 with a big push into premium subscriptions

Roku, which spent 2018 building its Roku Channel into a platform for ad-supported live and on-demand content, is kicking off 2019 by adding a big roster of premium services to the mix beginning in late January.

The company announced this morning that the Roku Channel will soon begin offering more than 25 premium services, including Showtime, Starz, Epix, Smithsonian Channel Plus, CuriosityStream, Tastemade, FitFusion, Great Courses, Magnolia Selects, Noggin and Viewster Anime. The services will be individually priced and billed through a user’s Roku account.

Roku already offers subscriptions to some of the services included in the announcement through their apps on the TV platform, but the announcement signals a shift in focus toward scaling up the Roku Channel and Roku’s mobile app as a destination for premium and ad-supported viewing.

“As a top five channel by active account reach, the Roku Channel is already a great source for free, ad-supported entertainment and provides significant user engagement,” Rob Holmes, Roku’s vice president for programming and engagement, said in the announcement. “By making it easy for users to discover, subscribe to and watch premium subscriptions, we believe this offering will result in increased subscriptions and user engagement for our subscription partners and an even better user experience.”

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“Bringing our premium programming to a highly engaged user base via the Roky Channel is a great opportunity to expand our reach, drive more viewership and make our range of Starz original TV series and movies more widely accessible to new and growing audiences,” added Joe Glennon, Starz’s EVP of affiliate sales.

The Roku Channel launched in September 2017 as an ad-supported library of film and TV titles from Warner Bros., Sony, Lionsgate and MGM and Roku partners like FilmRise and Fandor. The Roku Channel launched livestreamed programming in April 2018 with ABC News Live and now has 18 livestreamed, ad-supported channels including Cheddar, PeopleTV and TMZ.

For premium services, the Roku Channel is part of an everything-everywhere expansion from add-ons to traditional MVPDs to standalone apps, vMVPD services like YouTube TV and DirecTV Now and aggregator platforms such as Amazon’s Prime Video Channels and now the Roku Channel. Apple is reportedly interested in building its TV app into a subscription platform alongside its upcoming originals.

The Roku Channel is a competitor to those aggregator platforms where users can subscribe to and view a range of premium, ad-supported, live and on-demand content in a single user experience. In its announcement this morning, Roku emphasized one-click subscriptions, a single monthly bill, universal search, personalized recommendations and a unified user experience.