Now with Streaming Stick, Roku isn't sweating the blitz

Apple, Amazon, and Google may well roll out or refresh rivals to Roku's video-streaming devices, but Roku believes that will only make it stronger, a top executive tells CNET.

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
Roku's Streaming Stick with Google's Chromecast
Lori Grunin/CNET

It's barely March, and Roku is already having a big year.

In January, the device maker unveiled partnerships with TV manufacturers TCL and Hisense to integrate Roku streaming right into their televisions, without requiring any of the streaming-media set-top boxes the company is known for. On Tuesday, it detailed its new Streaming Stick, a clear response to the popularity of Chromecast, Google's low-price, thumb-sized streamer. With Streaming Stick coming in April and Roku TV slated for the fall, the company has a lot in store for 2014.

However, so do others. Amazon, Apple and possibly even Google are reportedly on track to reveal or refresh set-top box products this spring, but Roku isn't sweating it. If anything, the streaming-media device company is looking forward to new competition from the most powerful names in technology.

"Everytime we've seen someone new enter, we've seen Roku's sales grow more rapidly," Chief Marketing Officer Matthew Anderson said in an interview with CNET.

Though Roku doesn't release sales figures, some outside data back up the notion of Roku's marketplace traction. A study from NPD found that Roku owners stream more than owners of other devices, and Roku users are nearly three times as likely to use the device daily compared with Apple TV, currently Roku's biggest competitor.

A study by Parks Associates found that more broadband households report using Roku than any other streaming device.


"These are very strong businesses we compete with. We work really hard to do well in head-to-head reviews with others. Knock on wood, so far we've been able to hold our own," Anderson said.

(Indeed, the company's higher-end Roku 3 product is the CNET Reviews Editors' Choice for the best streaming-video box.)

Its main competitor has some impressive stats of its own, though. Just this week, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the company's Apple TV is more than just a "hobby," bringing in more than $1 billion in revenue last year between devices and the media sold to watch on them.

Apple is said to be prepping a long-awaited revamp of Apple TV for April. That could follow a long-rumored unveiling of a set-top box from Amazon this month. Even Google, riding high on the popularity of Chromecast, has resurfaced in the rumor mill, with some speculation of a Nexus TV set-top box.

"There has never been a point in Roku's history where there wasn't some anticipation or rumor that somebody is going to launch the next big thing," said Anderson. "Intel has a great big thing coming out, Apple has a big thing coming out, Amazon has a big thing coming out."

The fervor over Chromecast sold a ton of the dongles, that's true, but when it launched it also expanded the market greatly, he said. To people who read CNET, streaming doesn't seem like a new thing, but last year millions of people streamed for the first time or heard about streaming for the first time, Anderson noted, adding that Apple TV's launch also had a positive effect on sales.

However, it's easy to overlook the potential downside of increased competition at a time when sheer market growth overpowers any worry. Analytics firm IHS in December predicted 20 percent growth for boxes like Roku in 2013 and another 20 percent gain this year.

With momentum like that, it's also easy to ignore the long-term inevitability of a slowdown. Roku's plan is to become intrinsic to the delivery of television before that happens.

"Our vision is to be the operating system for streaming television, just as there is Windows and Mac, and iOS and Android," he said. "Roku is emerging as the most popular platform for streaming TV."

Roku's new Streaming Stick takes on Chromecast: $49, HDMI-compatible, 1,200 apps
Watch this: Roku's new Streaming Stick takes on Chromecast: $49, HDMI-compatible, 1,200 apps