Roku devices are getting an upgrade. The company announced today a series of updates coming to its media streamers and TVs with the new version of its software, Roku OS 12. The updates, which will focus on areas like live TV and sports, among other things, will also be accompanied by a revamp of the Roku mobile app, which the company says will include a new home screen and other layout changes in addition to improved tools in areas like account management and photos.
The company also announced its new Roku-branded TVs are now on sale exclusively with Best Buy.
The software updates are aimed at helping Roku better compete with rivals — particularly in the area of live TV, which is becoming a key selling point for customers who are overwhelmed with paid streaming subscriptions and are looking for alternatives. FAST channels (free ad-supported streaming TV), and services that provide access to free content, are increasingly popular.
Roku currently includes a selection of over 350 of these sorts of live channels with its software, which it will now improve with the addition of local news. Users across the U.S. will be able to personalize their live TV streams by selecting channels from major cities nationwide. In addition, the company says its news recommendations will be powered by AI — technology that Roku is using to tailor the experience to end users to show them the news they’d want to see.
The company tells TechCrunch it will put AI to work to personalize its suggestions based on things like the customers’ streaming habits, location, save lists, and more, and these recommendations will improve over time the more users stream.
Customers will notice recommendations based on the services they’re already subscribed to, including from premium subscriptions that are now integrated into its live TV experience.
But in the months ahead, customers may begin to notice other personalized suggestions, too — like how the games they’re more likely to be interested in watching will float to the top row when browsing Roku’s new Sports experience. Home Screen Menu items like Featured Free, What to Watch, and Live TV will also be positioned based on the customer’s use of these features for more convenient access and fewer clicks, Roku says.
Another change to the live sports experience, which was first announced in November, will be the addition of a new golf zone that will feature upcoming live tournaments. The sports zone will also increase the amount of Spanish-language coverage and will expand its set of providers to include CBS Sports, MLB TV, NBA League Pass, and more to join its roster.
Elsewhere in the Roku user interface, it’s updating the “Continue Watching” feature that lets users jump back into the content they were previously viewing. With the update, this feature will update with where you left off nearly instantly — as soon as you click out of the content and leave an application. New partners including Amazon Prime Video, Discovery+, and Vix Plus are also now supported in this feature along with the debut partners, Netflix, Paramount+, HBO Max, and, of course, The Roku Channel — Roku’s own free streaming hub. Other channels will soon add support, as well, including BET+, Frndly TV, Freevee, and STARZ.
The other major change rolling out alongside the OS update is a refreshed Roku mobile app.
The company says the new design intends to make the app a more “visually immersive” and personalized experience.
Included among the changes is an updated account hub so you can sign in within the app itself and access more security, privacy, and notification settings. There are also new tools to manage the devices attached to your Roku account.
The app’s homescreen will be updated to focus on the sports experience and continue watching rows, as well, and will offer more ways to discover content across the platform. This will include updated recommendations that are personalized in real time.
The Photo Stream feature, which lets you display your own photos on your TV as a screensaver, will also now be expanded from just 100 photos to now 1,000.
The updates will arrive to U.S. users. However, Roku’s international customers will soon receive updates that will include the launch of What to Watch, Continue Watching, the Save List, the Live TV zone, and the category menu within the programming guide.
The software updates were announced alongside the first news of the features and launch timing coming to the recently announced Roku Select and Plus Series TVs, which will be available in 11 models ranging from 24″ to 75″.
The Plus Series also a Best Buy exclusive, will offer QLED technology, 4K Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, automatic brightness, local dimming, the Roku Voice Remote Pro, Bluetooth Private Listening (without the need of an app), and more. They’ll also support wireless surround sound expandability with the new Roku Wireless Soundbar (also a Best Buy exclusive), Roku Wireless Speaks, and Wireless base. The company said pricing for these will start at $500 later this year.
The Roku Select (MSRP $150 and up) and Plus Series TVs are now available in Best Buy stores and online at BestBuy.com starting today. The new Wireless Soundbar will arrive later this month.
Earlier this week, Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood expressed his confidence in the newly-launched first-party TVs and how the company plans to take on the overall smart TV market.
“The biggest opportunity for us to continue to grow is by taking share from LG, Samsung, and Vizio,” Wood noted during the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. “Those are the TV companies that are sort of left in terms of material market share other than Roku.”
Wood added that, in terms of the licensed TVOS space, Roku has a “very large lead” over Google and Amazon. “Those companies are growing market share, but they’re still tiny… They’re still single-digit market shares,” he said.