Roku today announced the launch of its own original programming, which will initially become available to viewers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada through the media platform's free streaming hub, The Roku Channel, starting on May 20th. The debut lineup will include 30 titles, including both the scripted and reality programming Roku acquired from the short-form streaming service Quibi earlier this year, following its shutdown.
Quibi, of course, launched at an inopportune time for a service that was designed for on-the-go viewing, when it arrived in the middle of a pandemic. But some have argued that much of Quibi's content wasn't compelling enough to pull in the number of subscribers to make the service a success. It will be interesting to see how well that same content now fares on Roku where it will no longer be "mobile-first," but will more likely be streamed on a big-screen TV.
Among the better-known Quibi shows that will now be joining Roku are Chrissy Teigen's "Chrissy's Court," Comedy Central's "Reno 911!," Kevin Hart's "Die Hart" action series, Emmy-winning "FreeRayshawn," documentaries “Blackballed” and “Big Rad Wolf” and reality show reboot "Punk'd."
These and others will become Roku's first original programs, joining the more than 40,000 other free movies and TV shows on The Roku Channel. This free streaming hub has been growing rapidly, in part due to the pandemic, which forced people to stay at home, but also because of broader demand for free streaming content.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, The Roku Channel reached 63 million people in U.S. households, up more than 100% year-over-year. Streaming hours also doubled year-over-year -- growth that's twice as fast as the overall Roku platform itself, the company notes. In the first quarter of 2021, The Roku Channel grew to reach an estimated 70 million people.
The full list of Roku Originals available for the May 20th launch include: "FreeRayshawn," "About Face," "Bad Ideas with Adam Devine," "Barkitechture," "Big Rad Wolf," "Blackballed," "Centerpiece," "Chrissy’s Court," "Cup of Joe," "Die Hart," "Dishmantled," "Dummy," "Fight Like a Girl," "Flipped," "The Fugitive," "Gayme Show," "Iron Sharpens Iron," "Last Looks," "Let’s Roll with Tony Greenhand," "Most Dangerous Game," "Murder House Flip," "Murder Unboxed," "Nightgowns," "Prodigy," "Punk’d," "Reno 911!," "Royalties," "Shape of Pasta," "Thanks a Million," and "You Ain’t Got These."
Roku will market the shows to viewers inside The Roku Channel, through an ad unit below the left-side navigation on the Roku home screen, and even through a coveted slot in the navigation menu itself.
In addition to the 30 new programs launching in May, more Roku Originals will roll out over the course of 2021. In total, Roku acquired more than 75 titles from Quibi, in a deal that reportedly valued the content at "significantly less" than $100 million. That means Roku users will eventually gain access to the Quibi shows that had been in the pipeline, but never got a chance to debut.
Quibi's content made sense for Roku because it was designed for ad-supported viewing and not because of Quibi's mobile gimmicks -- like "turnstyle" which made both portrait and landscape orientations look great, or horror shows that only stream after dark, for instance.
"There's always unique 'stunt-y' ways to bring shows to life, and we will explore those for shows that make sense," noted Roku VP Sweta Patel, who leads the company's Engagement and Growth Marketing. "But it's going to have to make sense for how our viewers view -- which is primarily on a [Roku] device," she says.
In other words, Roku viewers won't care about all the Quibi tricks, just the content itself. However, the shows will stream through The Roku Channel mobile app, for the subset of viewers who do watch on the go.
Roku will also leverage the existing ad breaks Quibi had built into its content, it says. That means after every eight to 10-minute long "episode," a one-minute ad will play. That's still a lighter ad load than traditional TV, Patel notes. The same ad-selling structure that The Roku Channel uses today will also apply to Originals, including the potential for brand sponsorships.
While Roku believes the Originals can help bring in a younger, 18 to 34-year-old demographic, it's not necessarily signaling a plan to increase investments in exclusive, original programming like this. Instead, Roku will watch to see how the new content performs and then use those insights to add more content to The Roku Channel's library over time.
"This really was a unique opportunity for us to get some incredible content for our growing base. We are always sourcing content and -- whether that's producing it or acquiring it -- it has to make sense for our AVOD business model," says Patel. However, now that Roku has its own programming to offer, it will make sense for the company to roll out The Roku Channel to its global markets outside the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
The company wouldn't comment on those plans.
Alongside the launch of Roku Originals, Roku also announced a partnership with Laugh Out Loud, the comedy brand founded by Kevin Hart. It will now bring the linear channel LOL! Network to The Roku Channel, joining the now more than 190 live, linear channels featured on the service.