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Roku original shows (aka Quibis) to start streaming May 20 free with ads

The company is also kicking off a round of discounts for its streaming devices.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

Rokus are among the most popular streaming devices in the US. 

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Roku will premiere its "original" shows -- that is, the star-studded short programming first created by defunct service Quibi -- starting May 20, when an initial batch of 30 titles hits The Roku Channel, the company's own app programmed with free, ad-supported video. It plans to drop another 40 over the next year, including some that have never been seen before. All the titles will be released Netflix-binge style, with all episodes in a series dropping at once. 

"This is one of the boldest moves we've made," Sweta Patel, Roku's vice president of growth marketing, said this week in an interview. "It's not often that you have a completely free, [ad-based] service with talent like this." The programming that's coming May 20 features stars like Chrissy Teigen, Kevin Hart, Anna Kendrick, Joe Jonas, Liam Hemsworth, Darren Criss, Chance the Rapper and others. 

Roku is also offering some deals on its devices in the back half of May, all of which is hooked on Streaming Day, a pseduo-event that some services use to hype their programming or offers. Roku, for example, will discount its Roku Express by $5, its Streaming Stick Plus by $10 and its Streambar and Roku Ultra by $30 in the US. 

Quibi was a mobile-first streaming service that never even got around to making an app for Roku's popular line of TV-streaming products before it collapsed. It launched a year ago as a $5, short-form video service that featured big-budget, megastar shows. But it flamed out, failing to gain enough traction and throwing in the towel on operations less than seven months after launch. 

Roku bought the rights to the programming in January, as Quibi shopped around its assets so it could return cash to investors. 

Roku will dramatically widen the audience for Quibi's shows, which for months have been in a licensing purgatory that made them unavailable anywhere. As a streaming platform, Roku has nearly 54 million active accounts, and the company estimates that The Roku Channel is watched in households representing more than 70 million people. Quibi never disclosed its peak number of subscribers, but its app had fewer than 6 million downloads during the period Quibi offered an extended free trial after launch. 

Quibi's shows will also be available to watch free for the first time with Roku. The Roku Channel is free with advertising; Roku said that it will run ads between the shows, which it has rebranded Roku Originals, and these ad-breaks will last a minute or less. 

And in an ironic twist, these shows will be available to watch horizontally only. Quibi had trumpeted its so-called Turnstyle technology as a revolutionary feature -- it shot all its shows so they could flip from vertical to horizontal orientations and back seamlessly on a phone. Turnstyle was part of the reason Quibi was doggedly mobile-only, until it realized that limitation was partly why it was failing. Quibi tried to pivot so its programming could be watched on TVs, but never launched an app for Roku before it shut down. 

In addition to the Quibi-sourced originals launching May 20, also coming to the Roku Channel is the LOL! Network, a streaming channel backed by Hart. 

Roku's discounts this month include: 

  • In the US starting Sunday through May 29, $5 off the Roku Express, $10 off the Roku Streaming Stick Plus and $30 off both the Roku Streambar and the Roku Ultra.
  • In Canada starting Wednesday through May 28, $5 off Roku Express, $10 off Roku Streaming Stick Plus and $30 off the Roku Streambar.
  • In the UK through May 25, £5 off Roku Express and £10 off Roku Streaming Stick Plus, and starting Wednesday through June 8, £30 off Roku Streambar. 

The Quibi titles that will premiere on The Roku Channel as Roku Originals May 20 include:

  • #FreeRayshawn
  • About Face
  • Bad Ideas with Adam Devine
  • Barkitechture
  • Big Rad Wolf
  • Blackballed
  • Centerpiece
  • Chrissy's Court
  • Cup of Joe
  • Die Hart
  • Dishmantled
  • Dummy
  • Fight Like a Girl
  • Flipped
  • The Fugitive
  • Gayme Show
  • Iron Sharpens Iron
  • Last Looks
  • Let's Roll with Tony Greenhand
  • Most Dangerous Game
  • Murder House Flip
  • Murder Unboxed
  • Nightgowns
  • Prodigy
  • Punk'd
  • Reno 911!
  • Royalties
  • Shape of Pasta
  • Thanks a Million
  • You Ain't Got These
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