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SME 2018: Roku's Bernarda Duarte Talks Channel Acquisition and OTT Direct Publishing
Streaming Media's Tim Siglin interviews Roku's Bernarda Duarte at Streaming Media East 2018.

Learn more about OTT and live linear video at Streaming Media's next event.

Read the complete transcript of this interview:

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media East 2018. I'm Tim Siglin, a contributing editor with Streaming Media Magazine. Go ahead, please, and introduce yourself to the audience.

Bernarda Duarte: Sure. My name is Bernarda Duarte, and I am Director of Content Acquisition from Roku, based out of California. I've been with Roku for close to three years actually now.

Tim Siglin: Okay. Very good. And you were on a panel here earlier today?

Bernarda Duarte: I was. The panel dealt with how there's abundance of channels and content and how does a user find enough time for that, to be able to consume that content.

Tim Siglin: And as a matter of fact, having a Roku, that is one of the things. There's so many choices. We used to talk about the 500-channel universe. Now it's the 5 million channel universe, it feels like. From your standpoint, you deal with acquiring content. How do you make decisions on what goes on a Roku box? Because obviously, there's not a limitation in terms of the number of channels that people could have. Is it anybody who wants to be on Roku can be on there? Or is it, "We're sort of not going to let Grandma do her Favorite Recipes channel?"

Bernarda Duarte: Actually ...

Tim Siglin: And that's not a joke. It's a serious question.

Bernarda Duarte: Right. Actually, we do allow Grandma and many publishers to do their own channel. We launched, two years ago, a direct publisher tool, which is a web-based interface that all you need is a MRSS feed. It plugs to that back engine. You can create a channel basically in 48 hours. We've reduced barriers to entry. So, yes. I can have my own channel. Grandma can have her channel. It's really a big point of differentiation for our platform compared to the other platforms.

Tim Siglin: How do people find those channels if there's so many channels? I mean, I would assume the user interface is a huge, huge deal.

Bernarda Duarte: Correct. We spend, obviously, a lot of resources in our features, our UI. We have a universal search tool, and that search tool is about 500 channels deep. So we have 500 channel partners passing the metadata. For the user, what that means is actually ... One of the feature that we get most good reviews on, because it's an agnostic tool. Meaning, when they search for a piece of content, the content is displayed from free to most expensive.

Tim Siglin: Oh, okay.

Bernarda Duarte: So we don't point the user to ... "I see you're ... 'Oh, that sounds really good.'" And that is, like I said, because of our neutral approach to content, we do get ... We're able to offer this to the users. Outside of the tool, we also have on the direct publisher side ... When you want to build your app, that tool allows the more niche content to also be included in search.

Tim Siglin: Okay. And that was what I was going to ask. I write a lot about metadata. Often times when I write about it or try to talk about, people sort of fall asleep because it's not a really sexy thing.

Bernarda Duarte: Correct.

Tim Siglin: But it's huge in terms of that search capability. You mentioned least expensive to most expensive, or free to most expensive. Can people also then filter it by popularity? Can they filter it by other ways?

Bernarda Duarte: Yes. There's a top channel on the left-hand side of the navigation, and you can look at that user account. We'll generate, obviously, the placement of the top channels. It changes all the time, right? Because that's consumption overall on the user accounts.

Tim Siglin: And then how much of what people can consume on a Roku device, how much of it's primarily on-demand versus live? Do you have a general percentage on that?

Bernarda Duarte: We do, but it is a stat that is changing, obviously, all the time.

Tim Siglin: The trend in the industry seems to be toward live linear OTT. Is that the same model that Roku's following as well?

Bernarda Duarte: From a content perspective, Roku works with all the top partners that are actually bringing that live content. Like Hulu, for example. It's a partner of ours, and they launched a live product. YouTube launched the YouTube TV product. We work with Sling. We work with a bunch of the virtual MVPDs as well. A lot of that content is being published through our partners.

Tim Siglin: One group that I work with is houses of worship where they'll do live, and then a number of them have actually gone to doing Roku channels. But of course, that channel will only deliver live content, say, Sunday from 11:00 am to noon or 11:00 to 1:00. On those, are you encouraging those kinds of event-based channels to figure out how to also go to 24/7 live linear, or is the model, "You do some live, and some on-demand as part of your channel."

Bernarda Duarte: I think we were somewhat agnostic to that question in some ways. Because again, the content comes into the platform via different partnerships. A church, for example, can publish a channel on Roku. Go live, like I said, with a direct publisher in 48 hours. We do think that VOD is still a good reason why folks have an OTT device. Because they want to consume content on their time. Right? The live piece is definitely very important when it comes to sports, news, the one-time-onlies.

Tim Siglin: Right.

Bernarda Duarte: But having that content on the platform, as well, is obviously a priority for us too.

Tim Siglin: Okay. Roku itself, do you have the Roku Channel?

Bernarda Duarte: We do. We launched that last September. It's an aggregated experience for movies, TV shows. Free, ad-supported. And a few weeks back, we announced a partnership with ABC News where we have live news on that channel. We're going to continue to grow the channel with different verticals, but that was a priority for us.

Tim Siglin: And then, just from a big picture, where do you see OTT going? You mentioned bot obviously is an important piece of it. Do you think that we will be moving more toward live for OTT? Do you think VOD will continue to dominate? What's your general sense on that?

Bernarda Duarte: I think that we feel it's going to grow with both, because a lot of the major networks, for example, have started to barely make the leap of faith into true OTT video. So we believe that it's going to continue to go in both of those directions. When you look at the user base of Roku, the majority of our users are not subscribers of cable, right?

Tim Siglin: Mm-hmm.

Bernarda Duarte: They can access live television with a tuner right on the TV. That leaves a lot of opportunities for both VOD and live to continue to succeed on the platform.

Tim Siglin: Okay. Very good. Again, I’m Tim Siglin, and we'll be right back.

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