SMW 17: Publisher Tools and Content Discovery on the Roku Platform

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Roku has been the most popular (or at least best-known) streaming device for years, and an audience at this Streaming Media West session heard about the company's Direct Publisher program, which provides a quick way to easily start serving content, either live or on-demand, when there's a tight timeframe, limited development budget, or even the need to do a proof of concept for a new offering.

The PGA is one publisher that recently took the Direct Publisher approach. The organization wanted to create a channel for the duration of the PGA Championship, but didn't have the ability to do custom development. By using templated options in the Direct Publisher program, the PGA was able to deliver four live streams  every day for the duration of the event, said Ben Strong, director, product management at Roku.

Going Old School

Roku TVs accounted for out of every five smart TVs sold in the first half of 2017, and there are now 5,000 Roku channels including 500,000 movies and TV episodes. Roku boasts are 15 million active customer accounts, streaming more than a billion hours per month. Now Roku is also beginning to support over the air (OTA) viewing (rolled out so far in England), where viewers can get a selection of HD content for free. "We released a product with Sky that is a hybrid OTT streaming player but also has OTA antenna capabilities," said Strong. Roku TV viewers can search the EPG and find content there is in both delivery environments. "The EPG is only available on Roku TV powered by Roku OS. There isn't a corollary on the set top boxes or sticks at this point," he said.

Roku TV customers who use an HDTV TV antenna to receive free local broadcast TV can use their EPG to search across local antenna TV content up to 14 days in the future (plus seven days in the past), as well as across Roku TV channels to see where the content they want is showing. Users can also use voice control to search content or even switch inputs from antenna to streaming channels.

A Tale of Two Development Approaches

SDK development is the first method of creating channels for Roku. "(Using SDK development) you can add a lot of your own customizable features and support any monetization path, whether it be advertising, subscription, transactional, or the TV everywhere log-in," said Strong. This requires the time and cost associated with using a development team. Then there's the other option, the Direct Publisher program, an AVOD delivery format using templated web-based creation tools, which supports either a MRSS or JSON content feed.

There are a number of benefits of the Direct Publisher program, and one or two drawbacks of going this route. First, let's look at the benefits. "Every time this platform gets an update, your channel gets the update for you to take advantage of any new capabilities that are built in," said Strong. Additionally, there's an analytics dashboard, all content is automatically included in Roku search, and Roku can support AES 128 tokenization for encryption and decryption. New channels can be approved in 48 hours.

Knowing that their viewers always appreciate free content, Roku itself created The Roku Channel, where a variety of content can be found, including content from the Direct Publishers program.


There's no monthly fee for a channel, but rather a revenue share that allows both the publisher and Roku to benefit from monetization, said Strong. The Direct Publisher model supports two advertising models—Roku can rep the ads 100 percent, or a publisher can sell its own inventory and use its own ad server. Either way, Roku does a 30/70% revenue split with each publisher on all ad inventory sold.

Roku has taken a number of steps to ensure that its advertising experience works well, said Strong. There's strict monitoring on kids' content, audio tracks are normalized, and Roku ensures ad creative is within a certain data rate, so it doesn't cause buffering.

Roku also controls ad loading by having limits to how many ads and how often they are played. "We won't allow an ad pod every two minutes," said Strong. "If an ad call comes in, we're just going to skip that, but every 5-6 minutes, pre-roll, or post-roll are fine."

Now the bad news: TVE, transactional or subscription services are not available under the Direct Publisher program, this requires the SDK channel development. For more information, see Roku's Direct Publisher guidelines and instructions

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