How Roku Could Beat Apple to Finally Cracking TV

The Roku is a hell of a media streamer: its only real competitor is the Apple TV, but it costs half as much. No brainer. And when News Corp and British Sky Broadcasting pony up $45 million to help Roku win the streaming race, the possibilities start to seem limitless.

Announcing the investment this morning, Roku explained that it will be using the cash to expand its current organization and push forward with the Roku stick which it plans to launch this fall. The stick, which packs all the features of the small box currently available, will shove straight into the back of your TV. Completely unobtrusive, and potentially brilliant.

But it seems unlikely that Rupert Murdoch's Roku interest stops at just hardware. It might just open the door to the holy grail of cable cutting.

Content Without Contracts

What every person who ever signed up for a cable plan dreams of is the ability to just watch what he wants, when he wants, and to pay for no more or less than that (well, okay, maybe less). Roku, Apple TV, Boxee, Xbox 360; exemplary services all, but they only get you halfway there. You can watch most—but not all—of your favorite shows, but only after they've aired. Live sports? MLB.tv blocks nationally broadcast games, and NFL and NBA offerings aren't much better. Appointment television, which still exists for most even if in diminished quantities, requires a perpetual raincheck.

But what if it didn't? What if a streaming company were able to line up the major content providers one by one to stream live television one by one? Browsing channels would be like browsing apps. That's been the widely rumored vision of the Apple HDTV unicorn, which has reportedly been largely held up by Cupertino's inability to secure those contracts. Roku, though? Roku just got in bed with one of the biggest TV and movie makers out there.

That's not, obviously, what happened today. News Corp's investment in the Roku stick is certainly no more than that—for now. But remember that Hulu, which seemed like a glorious impossibility when it first launched—was in part a News Corp brainchild. Murdoch's empire helped pioneer streaming on the internet; why not on your television as well? And what better vehicle than a tiny dongle that you plug into your existing TV and never have to think about again?

There are clear first mover advantages, as well, should Fox decide to open the streaming floodgates. Roku would beat Apple to the headlines and the hype, while Fox would have a unique standing—and new ad revenue source—among its staid network competitors. And you, of course, would finally see the light at the end of your cable contract.

Toss in the fact that News Corp's Chief Digital Officer Jon Miller will join the Roku board, and you see two companies whose future is likely more intertwined than a simple monetary investment would indicate. And that our content consuming future is wrapped up tightly with them as well. [All Things D]