Roku

There’s no question the set-top box market is a crowded one. It’s also a messy one, with conflicting interests with the cable co’s tying up the race to true convergence in our living rooms. But Roku might be pulling off a sneak-around with its next rollout bringing on a whole new crop streaming original web content.

I have one of these scrappy, nondescript $99 boxes sitting on top of my underused Apple TV. So far the Linux-based interface is light, but the real winner has to be its deftly simple clicker.  That, and Roku might have found the sweet spot at $99, much less than Netgear’s pricey $179 option.

For the most part, Roku’s swift sales, which were recently quoted in the “multiple hundreds of thousands” of units, are closely tied to the rollout of Netflix’s popular streaming movie service. (It hooked me) The tech inside the box was actually developed by its founder Anthony Wood seven years ago while he was still working at Netflix.

Now the privately held (and profitable) company is adding content partners beyond its initial three—Netfilx, Amazon Video on Demand and MLB.TV—and some notable web series shops are getting front billing. The latest to jump on is online network Revision3, who’s CEO Jim Louderback announced the deal on Friday, even showed off a demo on the latest TekZilla episode (above).

Revision3 on Roku

Back in July came word that web series distributor Blip.tv had inked a deal that would send its thousands of web series to Roku boxes. (Disclosure: Blip.tv is a sponsor of the Tubefilter Web TV Meetup) Also joining them on the next upgrade—dubbed The Roku Channel Store—will be Mediafly, MotionBox and even Leo Laporte’s TWiT TV.

As to when exactly this new upgrade will hit the boxes, Roku’s Brian Jaquet said the launch is “very soon,” but didn’t specify a date. So no word whether it will be out in time for Netflix’s first stab at web series, Splatter, which is set for a Halloween debut. With more content, the simplicity factor does stand to wane a bit, but apparently some new personalization tools will help make management of shows to watch a little easier.

“The Roku Channel Store will allow customers to personalize their experience, adding or removing channels as they please,” said Jaquet. “We think this is important as more and more content comes to the Roku. We want customers to have a choice to add or not add channels that they want to take advantage of.”

While now it remains a $99-only option, with no sub fees, the company hasn’t ruled out some extra ads coming into play down the road.  “Many of the content owners who are coming to the Roku player already offer ad-insertion on their online offerings and those ads can be brought to the Roku platform in the same way,” Jaquet pointed out. “We are also looking to implement other ad-engines that we can offer content owners or aggregators if they care to take advantage of that.”

Still the switch from one time fee to subscription model, we’ve seen before from DVR maker TiVo. Jaquet pointed to the existing customer subscriptions already in place for MLB.TV and Netflix. “As for a subscription on top of that from Roku to use the Roku player, we don’t see that happening at this time,” said Jaquet.

The race to the living room is still an open field, and with content distributors like Blip.tv and Revision3 making deals directly with OEMs (the TV makers) like Sony and Vizio, it’s not clear how long the need for a set-top boxes will stick around. But seeing as though my two-year old HD plasma is doing just fine, the $99 option sure beats shelling out $2700 for a new Sony Bravia.

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