Roku has announced the launch of a dedicated mobile app for The Roku Channel, the company’s longtime hub for free and streamable content that’ll be familiar to folks with Roku devices. But rather than limit the app to Roku users alone, The Roku Channel will be available to even users without physical Roku devices. With this move, Roku is looking to secure more eyeballs and compete more directly for streaming dominance—maybe even against free TV titans like YouTube.
The Roku Channel was previously available to non-Roku users via the web but will now make its way to mobile devices as well. The Roku Channel will be its own app, available on iOS and Android, and won’t replace the existing Roku app that allows users to control their devices and navigate the platform. Instead, Roku hopes to broaden its appeal to even non-Roku device viewers. Rather than merely relying on its streaming devices or baked-in OS on smart TVs to win over viewers, why not make its app more accessible to viewers who may be watching on their phones?
In addition to this free content, however, you’ll also be able to subscribe to paid premium programming like IFC Films Unlimited, Starz, Shudder, HBO, and Showtime, among others. In many ways, the Roku Channel is a kind of build-your-own Netflix—something that helps it stand out against many other free TV apps and services. Keep in mind that all of those individual paid subscriptions do add up, but it does offer users the ability to hand select the kind of stuff they want to pay for under a single umbrella rather than having to do so for each service individually.
There’s more free TV easily accessible from mobile, web, and our TVs than ever before (more streaming options than we even want or need, you might say). Heck, even a premium service like Peacock offers a free, ad-supported tier, upping the bar significantly from some of the more “meh” stuff you’ve traditionally been able to find on ad-supported services. And all of these services are competing for your eyeballs—the time you actively are or could be consuming content. Nobody knows this better than Netflix, which pits its service against immensely popular games like Fortnite and your own damn REM cycle.
Currently, YouTube towers over the free streaming space as a virtually bottomless abyss of content that covers just about every niche interest under the sun. It’s difficult not to pit YouTube against other free services like Pluto TV, Peacock, Vudu, or even The Roku Channel, simply because it dominates the mobile space so successfully. While YouTube does offer a premium ad-free version of its app, you don’t actually need one to access the majority of its vast library of creator video content. And that’s also the primary reason why YouTube remains a streaming king while everybody else scrambles to keep up: YouTube has more content and a limitless pipeline, and it’s all generally free.
But while it may be scrappy, The Roku Channel has taken a page from the Google playbook by making its service widely available to just about everyone. Customization and ease of use aren’t half bad, either. And being that YouTube’s translation to TV is godawful, Roku wins bonus points there, too. In fact, there’s quite a lot to like about The Roku Channel, even if it’s still got a ways to go.
YouTube may still be the best free streaming service, but Roku proves the little guys aren’t giving up without a fight.