Roku updates streaming OS experience with art backdrops, discovery features

Roku has made a series of updates to its smart TV and streaming device experience, with enhancements to content discovery, browsing and other OS features rolling out to all supported devices in the U.S. in the coming months.

On the browse and discovery front, Roku on Wednesday introduced three new features. That include IMDb ratings that will now appear across TV show and movie detail pages, as well as a new content row within the What to Watch section that recommends content based on highly rated IMDb titles. It’s also adding trailers across the platform for TV shows and movies. Additionally, Roku users’ “Save List” is getting an update, where it will now inform consumers of drops in price or newly available episodes or seasons for TV shows or movies on the Saved List. The notifications appear as a badge update on the entertainment tile, bumping up titles that may have been near the end of a Saved List up top when relevant.  

Another new feature is the introduction of Backdrops, which essentially lets the TV set screen serve as a piece of artwork when consumers aren’t watching content.  Roku’s streaming players and smart TVs offer a catalog of free artwork, spanning famous classics, museum collections, and abstract designs, among others. Consumers also have the option to upload digital art or family photos to create their own display collection.

“We want our platform to be relevant to how you watch TV, whether you purchased a device today or years ago,” said Preston Smalley, VP of Viewer Product at Roku, in a statement. “With personalized Backdrops to suit your mood, Smart Picture for crystal-clear visuals, and better ways to help decide what to watch, we’re setting a new standard for streaming excellence. This is the future of TV, tailored just for you by Roku.”

The latest updates from Roku OS 13 are rolling out across a variety of Roku streaming players as well as all Roku TV models.  

Other smart TV and streaming device makers have leaned into leveraging the TV screen for more than just content. Such as Amazon, which previously introduced an “Ambient Experience” on certain Amazon Fire smart TVs and Fire TV Stick 4 Max. Similar to Roku, it allows consumers to turn their TV screen into an art display background from curated collections, among other functions like calendar and weather widgets.

And Roku is introducing more opportunities for advertisers within its much-touted Roku City digital downtown screensaver that features brands and sponsors. New additions to Roku City are TV and movie cars on the digital city streets, with new vehicles swapping in regularly.  

“From an ice cream truck to a secret agent’s favorite sports car, these dynamic additions will add a new layer of Easter egg fun to your screen,” Roku said in the announcement. Roku has boasted engagement with Roku City, which on average reaches more than 40 million active accounts every month.

Finally, the streaming device maker’s mobile app is getting a trio of updates, including a new navigation bar that lets users browse between five tabs of Home, Search, Remote, Devices and Account; a new “Top Searched TV and Movies” row to show what’s popular with other streamers; and a full keyboard search that surfaces more visually immersive results.

Roku first debuted its own branded smart TVs in January 2023, where it, like other TV makers is also looking to capitalize on benefits from first-party viewing data alongside CTV advertising opportunities. It’s since introduced Roku Pro Series TVs in early 2024. The latest models also have new features announced Wednesday including auto-adjusted picture modes and a new voice remote that now offers motion-activated backlit buttons.

And the company is making improvements to its smart TV platform as it continues to be a leader but also faces competition in the streaming and TVOS space. That includes from smart TV maker Vizio, which could become more of a threat with its proposed $2.3 billion acquisition by retail giant Walmart.