Roku TVs coming to Australia through pact with TCL

Roku and smart TV maker TCL are teaming up to bring Roku's operating system to Australia for the first time.

Two Roku-powered TCL TVs are expected to begin shipping later this month, with consumers able to choose between 55-inch and 65-inch models of the smart TV set. Pricing for the two models was not available as of Monday.

The deal expands on a long-standing partnership between Roku and TCL, which has offered Roku-powered TV sets in North America and parts of Europe for several years. It also helps Roku expand its international presence by providing its streaming platform to Australian streaming TV users for the first time.

As of now, Roku's standalone streaming pucks and sticks are still not available for purchase at retailers in Australia, though some users have been able to import them by purchasing devices from Amazon and eBay. While Roku devices technically work anywhere in the world, some Australian users have complained that streaming services like Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ weren't initially supported on their imported Roku devices.

That issue appears to be resolved, with Roku saying in a statement this month that Australian users who buy a TCL-branded Roku TV set will have access to thousands of free and premium streaming apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Paramount+, and Britbox. Video on-demand apps from Australian broadcasters Seven (7Plus) and Nine (9Now) are also available to download, as well as Nine's Stan premium streaming service, which is comparable to Hulu.

Roku's support for Australian apps suggests the company will eventually offer its own devices in that territory, but no announcements to that effect have been made.

While Roku devices have dominated in the United States and Canada for several years, the brand is still a relative unknown beyond North America. Less than 10% of the company's overall revenue comes from sales of Roku devices and associated services in foreign markets, according to a financial disclosure form (PDF) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month.

Roku's net revenue for its most-recent financial quarter was $761.4 million, an increase of 12% compared to the previous year; it wasn't clear from its financial disclosures how much of that increase was attributed to its international expansion efforts.

Historically, Roku's international expansion efforts were focused on partnering with companies that offered cable or satellite television: In the United Kingdom, Sky satellite offered Roku boxes to streaming customers under the Now TV brand, a move that has been walked back since Comcast acquired Sky in 2018.

Now, Roku says it's adopting the same expansion strategy in overseas markets that it has in North America: Offer its own players for sale, and license out its operating system to TV manufacturers like TCL.

Roku says its expansion efforts in other markets are slowed by complicated licensing arrangements that take time to hammer out. But it is far easier for Roku to integrate its operating system into TV models like the ones sold by TCL that already have regulatory approval in places like Australia.

Still, Roku says relying on these types of partnerships could hurt its business if TV manufacturers don't tick certain boxes.

"We generally have limited control over the amount and timing of resources these entities dedicate to the relationship," Roku said in a financial disclosure earlier this month. "In the past, our TV brand partners have failed to meet their forecasts for distributing licensed streaming devices, and they may fail to meet their forecasts in the future; if our TV brand or service operator partners fail to meet their forecasts for distributing licensed streaming devices or choose to deploy competing streaming solutions within their product lines, our business may be harmed."

Roku didn't specify which TV partners didn't meet forecasts, but TCL is probably a safer bet for the company: The Chinese electronics firm typically offers decent TV sets at budget prices, which helped make it one of the best-selling TV brands in the U.S. and the second-biggest brand by TVs shipped in the world.

Earlier this year, industry experts said TCL is poised to replicate its success in Australia, where Samsung and LG have long dominated. At a trade show there, TCL unveiled a suite of budget and high-end sets, including models powered by mini-LED technology, though it wasn't clear if any of the higher-end sets were getting Roku's operating system.