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Now That Roku Makes TVs, It’s One Step Closer to an Amazon Makeover

IndieWire swaps emails with Chris Larson, Roku's VP of retail strategy, who promises Roku TVs will provide an "experience rooted in delight."

A new Roku TV set

A new Roku TV set

Courtesy of Roku

Roku is having a moment. It’s evolved from set-top boxes to partnering on TVs to acquiring and producing original content like the well-reviewed “Weird” Al Yankovic parody biopic “Weird,” which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. And now, with the announcement that it will start making its own TVs, Roku’s starting to look a bit like… Amazon?

Years before Amazon created its rival Fire TV Sticks, Roku became a major player by manufacturing and selling streaming-gateway devices. Also like Amazon through its Prime Video, Freevee, and now MGM+, Roku is in the original-content game with The Roku Channel. (“Weird” in November was Roku’s most-watched launch ever.)

Amazon began selling its own televisions in fall 2021. Now Roku is doing the same thing with 11 models of Roku Select and Roku Plus Series TVs, available this spring, which will range from 24″ to 75″ (and cost from $119 to $999). However, it’s worth noting that Amazon Fire TVs didn’t exactly catch, well, fire. While an Amazon rep told IndieWire the TVs are the fast-growing device in the Fire TV family, reviews have not been overly impressive.

IndieWire caught up with Chris Larson, Roku’s VP of retail strategy, shortly after the Tuesday announcement. We swapped emails during his downtime at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. You can read our unedited Q&A below.

IndieWire: Is this the natural evolution of things? From devices, to licensing your name in software form to other TV makers, to making your own TVs? If so, what is the next step that could make sense down the road?

Chris Larson: As an industry leader with two decades of experience in TV streaming, bringing a television to the market that’s made and designed by Roku just makes sense. The new Roku Plus & Select Series TVs are just the first step in our expansion of the Roku TV program, and we look forward to growing our entire Roku TV program by continuing to work closely with our OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) partners, as well as develop our own Roku-branded TVs. More to come!

Why is this better than the licensing strategy?

OEMs remain the cornerstone of our Roku TV program, both here in the U.S. and around the globe. Now, by introducing our own branded televisions, we have the ability to test and introduce new features and technology on our own products to ensure we’re delivering a great streaming experience.

I, like many people, have both Amazon Fire devices and Roku devices in my house. The margins in TV manufacturing/sales are not typically large — how do you avoid cannibalizing your bread-and-butter revenue/profit stream?

Our new Roku-branded TVs are an expansion to our overall Roku TV program and allow us to bring more innovation to our partners and create a halo of success for the entire Roku TV program.  

How can making your own TVs buoy The Roku Channel to new heights?

CL: The more households with a Roku-enabled device, Roku TV (either branded or OEM partner) and streaming devices, the higher the potential engagement for The Roku Channel.

Anecdotally, it seems Amazon Fire TVs have not really been a success. What will Roku do different/better?

Roku-branded TVs focus on the features that streamers have come to love and expect from Roku products. By purpose-building our Roku-branded TVs for streaming, we will deliver customers a TV experience rooted in delight, featuring user-favorite features like Private Listening, Find My Remote, and wireless surround sound expandability. 

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