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Roku May Branch Out, in Talks About Adding Original Shows

Fern Siegel

Many established streamers, such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, produce original fare. But Roku has always preferred to license library content. The company may be switching gears — at least in theory.

Roku has had exploratory talks with media and entertainment companies about producing original shows for the connected TV platform. Yet sources said there were no specific details or price points discussed, Digiday reports.

Even entertaining the idea is a departure from previous company policy. In May 2019, Roku CEO Anthony Woods clearly said: “We have no plans to license original content. In The Roku Channel, our focus is deepen content categories and add live content.”

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video invested billions in original productions, which paid off in critical acclaim and subscribers. But Roku has taken a more cautious approach, sticking with its licensing model.

Like its streaming rivals, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi, which will all launch in spring, are heavily invested in new shows. (Quibi just closed $750 million in second-round funding.) The amount of programming available across subscription- and ad-supported services is growing. But sheer volume has a downside: It can make it tougher for individual shows to gain traction.

Roku could distribute original shows on its ad-supported Roku Channel, which offers 24/7 streaming channels and programming. But that means a major investment in content, which to date, the company has not pursued.

“If you’re spending under $1 billion on originals, then you’re not really in it,” one entertainment executive who has not discussed original programming with Roku told Digiday.

During the Q4 2019 earnings call two weeks ago, The Roku Channel reports its active accounts reached about 56 million viewers.