Roku isn’t exactly a little-known brand, but when it comes to market share and platform dominance, it’s still a David amongst Goliaths like Amazon and Google. However, the streaming company has made some strategic moves lately that indicate it’s attempting a more significant play for space in your home—outside of the living room, where it’s already established on many TVs.
Roku’s been attempting to lay the groundwork for a new smart home platform for a few years now with several acquisitions and partnerships, but those moves seemed to have led nowhere major—at least not yet. And now a host of new job listings and a new hire has reignited the idea of Roku venturing out beyond home entertainment. It’s unclear exactly how Roku plans to move from TV into the smart home more broadly, but the evidence suggests there are big things in the works that will join Roku’s existing lineup of TVs, set-top boxes, and speakers down the line.
Protocol reported this week on several job listings that support the idea of a Roku-branded smart home effort. The company’s latest hire is a director of product management, Damir Skripic, who is a veteran of Amazon, TP-Link’s Kasa smart home unit, and Netgear’s security arm, Arlo. Before Skripic came to Roku, the job listing for the role mentioned the responsibilities would include “own[ing] the strategy and execution of products and features that connect Roku with home ecosystems more deeply.” The listing also told potential applicants that one of their primary duties would be to develop the company’s “home technology product strategy” and “product roadmap.” Given Skripic’s resume, it’s safe to say that “things that connect” are in his wheelhouse.
Roku is also seeking a senior business development manager to help foster partnerships with smart home hardware manufacturers. The role will “work closely with product, engineering, legal, marketing, and finance teams to drive Roku’s business goals.” Those business goals probably have something to do with Roku looking to solidify (and grow) its 38% of the U.S. market share for its streaming sticks and TVs.
But Roku is doing well precisely because it’s already proved that its streaming TV devices are good. It doesn’t have a track record in the smart home yet. With the active big brands like Google and Amazon dominating the smart home and and backing a new standard called Matter to unite them all, Roku needs to move fast to have any visibility.
It’s more plausible that Roku will strategize around transforming its existing device lineup into connected devices—similar to what Apple has done with the Apple TV, which acts as a hub for HomeKit-compatible devices. It’s a more approachable way of getting consumers on board, and it will help Roku better maintain its standing. The more devices it has in the home, the more profit it makes. Last year, Roku made more money from advertising and other service fees compared to its device business.
In a recent investor conference call, Roku Chief Financial Officer Steve Louden made a particularly timely declaration about the “dynamics” in an ecosystem, pointing to consolidation of services as a way to improve one’s “position” and “heft.” Louden was talking about the consolidation of streaming services for consumers, but growing the company’s “relevance in the ecosystem” could hint at making its devices more capable.
In any ecosystem, you’ve got to figure out like what are the dynamics between partners, right? We’re sort of partners and competitors to different players within the industry. Certainly, yes, consolidation, the reason folks are consolidating in any industry is because they’re trying to improve their position and their heft when they talk to other stakeholders. But for us, I mean, the best thing we can do and what we’ve been very successful at is growing our share and our relevance in the ecosystem, right?
On the surface, last month’s spat between Roku and Google over the renewal of licensing for YouTube TV seemed like pure Silicon Valley theater. But with this new context, it could be construed instead as Roku publicly making itself known as one of the last remaining independent platforms.
Imagine the edge that existing Roku set-top boxes could provide by integrating some of the features that keep people like me glued to Google, like the ability to pipe in security camera footage and voice commands for shuffling through streaming services. If Roku’s end goal is to provide as much value as possible using its existing platform, expanding into the smart home is absolutely the way to go.