Upcoming Roku interface changes nod to how complex streaming choices have gotten

A set of interface changes coming to Roku players address a non-obvious problem in streaming video: abundance.

“It’s easy to get distracted when there’s so much to choose from,” said Preston Smalley, VP of viewer product, in a press conference streamed via Zoom Thursday.

With these new features — some coming with version 11.5 of its operating system in a few months, others shipping sooner — Roku aims to lower the cognitive-load cost that viewers pay when viewing-choices increase but their free time does not.

For example, Roku’s channel guide will gain three personalized categories: Recents, Favorites and Subscribed. It will also let viewers browse by such genres as News, Sports, Music, Crime, Music and En Espanol.

And Roku’s remote-control app for smartphones and tablets will get a live-TV guide button that viewers can tap to jump to Roku’s selection of real-time content, which now includes some local channels.

Updates to Roku’s What to Watch interface, meanwhile, streamline using the Save List to bookmark content and the Continue Watching feature to jump back into a program they had paused earlier. But that quick-resume feature will only work with particular channels at the start, including HBO Max, Netflix, Paramount+ and the Roku Channel.

Smalley touted other upcoming changes to help sports fans stay on top of their teams, now that interlocking rights deals have made where to watch such sports as baseball and college football a multiple-choice quiz. As Smalley said: “Keeping track of where to watch the game has only gotten more complicated.”

And Roku is rolling out two additions to its home screen, starting with a new Roku Store that its press release describes as “a more visual, immersive destination” for people to search for and browse free and paid channels. It will also offer category-based navigation.

The Buzz, meanwhile, looked vaguely TikTok-esque when demoed during the press conference: It presents a personalized stream of samplers from Roku content providers, and if viewers see one that intrigues them, they can like it, save it for later viewing or start streaming the movie or show immediately.

These interface updates, however, do not include any changes to the privacy options that Roku users can use to limit the collection of data about their viewing habits — a key factor in its targeted-advertising business.

Roku’s news also included two new hardware releases. Its latest Roku Express player, shipping Oct. 16 at $29.99, adds dual-band Wi-Fi to address a customer complaint that Sheldon Radford, director of product management, brought up in the press conference: “Wi-Fi congestion is a real issue.”

While the new Express, which remains limited to HD resolution, targets new and bargain-minded customers, the Roku Wireless Bass subwoofer, shipping Nov. 7 for $129.99, represents its latest pitch to audiophiles.

This press conference came several weeks after Roku reported second-quarter results that missed expectations, with its number of active users rising to 63.1 million while lower advertising revenue left it with a net loss of $112 million.