Roku expands its free streaming channel with entertainment and live sports

Roku’s ad-supported free streaming channel is expanding. No, not to more platforms — it already did that. But rather, it’s expanding its content lineup. While before the channel offered free-to-stream movies and news, it will now feature live and linear sports and entertainment content, the company says.

As of earlier this year, The Roku Channel added live news from ABC News, Cheddar, Newsmax, Newsy, People TV, Yahoo and, most recently, The Young Turks, from the TYT Network.

It will now add entertainment content from partners including TMZ, AFV, FailArmy, People Are Awesome, Pet Collective and more. As with the channel’s other offerings, none of these streams will require a subscription.

Meanwhile, the channel will also begin to stream live sporting events from the Adventure Sports Network, COMBT GO, EDGEsport, Stadium and Wham Network, among others.

The additions come on the heels of Roku’s Q3 earnings, which saw the company beat Wall Street expectations on hardware, but saw platform revenue falling short — causing the stock to drop.

The company has been trying to move beyond being only a hardware device maker selling TVs and streaming players, to grow its platform business and advertising revenues. A key part of that strategy is The Roku Channel, which opens up Roku’s platform to a wider audience, and allows the company to sell ads against content.

The plan may work in the long run, but it’s taking time to ramp up, it seems.

However, Roku did report a growing user base with 23.8 million active users, streaming 6.2 billion hours in the quarter. That was ahead of expectations of 23.1 million users and 5.8 billion hours.

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Nov. 8: Dog DNA tests, Crock-Pot, Apple iPad, Roku, Sony noise-cancelling headphones, and more on sale

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The latest and greatest kitchen products and electronics on sale.
The latest and greatest kitchen products and electronics on sale.
Image: amazon/walmart/best buy/macy’s/mashable photo composite

Want some deals? We’ve got your deals.

We’ve sorted through thousands of sales at Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, and Macy’s to bring you this list. So if you’re looking for the best kitchen products and electronics, we have deals that are too good to pass up. We also have deals on Udemy online courses for web development and design. 

Macy’s has Cuisinart’s 12-piece stainless steel cookware set on sale for $169.99, while you can also get an additional 20% off this wonderful set if you use the promo code VETS at checkout. Walmart has a mini fridge by Frigidaire priced at $99.00, while Amazon has Cauldryn’s coffee travel mug going for $89.99.

There are a number of pre-Black Friday deals going on right now, such as Sony’s WH-CH700N wireless noise-canceling over-the-ear headphones, which is priced at $99.99 from Best Buy. The Apple iPad Mini 4 is on sale for $274.99 at Walmart.

Over at Amazon, the online retailer has deals on their own streaming and security devices, including save $50 on Honeywell T5+ smart thermostat and Echo Dot bundles and save $50 on Echo Show and Ring bundles. Finally, you can also save up to $49.99 on all-new Amazon Key Kit featuring Schlage Connect smart locks.

Here are the best deals from across the internet for Thursday, Nov. 8:

Stuff for the kitchen

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Dinner’s ready with Cuisinart.

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Amazon devices on sale

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CBD oil and CBD gummies

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Looking for more deals, the latest news on cool products, and other ways to upgrade your life? Sign up for the Mashable Deals newsletter here.


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Spotify officially returns to Roku devices


ASSOCIATED PRESS

As expected, has officially returned to Roku’s streaming platform. The music streaming app will be available on most Roku players and TVs running Roku OS 8.2 or higher. Access to the service starts today and will roll out to all supported device by the end of the year, according to Roku.

When using Spotify on Roku, you’ll be able to search albums and playlists and browse music recommendations right from your Roku device of choice. The app can be controlled using the Roku remote or via Spotify Connect, which allows you to navigate the app using a computer or mobile device.

In addition to running on Roku TV models running Roku OS 8.2 and higher, streaming player models 3600 and above will also get the app. Roku devices check for new software every 24 to 36 hours, though users can manually check for updates if you’re feeling impatient. To do so, open Settings > System > System update > Check now. Roku OS 8.2 is already available for Roku TVs and will roll out in the coming weeks for Roku players.

Spotify used to be available on Roku’s platform but disappeared last year because of technical issues. Last month, Roku promised the streaming music service would come back to its platform. The company revealed the imminent return in the release notes for Roku OS 9 earlier this month but made it official today.

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Google Assistant now controls your Roku devices


Roku

After a few weeks of waiting, Roku’s promised Google Assistant control is here. If you’re using a TV or player running at least Roku OS 8.1, you can link the Google Home app to your Roku account and control core functions using only voice and an “on Roku” suffix. You can launch channels, search for shows and control playback on most devices, while TV owners can turn on the set, adjust volume or switch inputs.

The phrasing can occasionally get awkward — it’s not intuitive to say “hey Google, pause on Roku” when you have to answer the door. This won’t do anything if you prefer Alexa and other assistants, for that matter. Even so, it’s helpful for those moments when you can’t find the remote or want to launch a channel before you’ve taken a seat.

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Spotify is on its way back to Roku streaming devices


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Spotify first made its way to Roku back in 2012, but it pulled its support for the platform in late 2017 due to various technical issues. Roku promised that the service will come back to its devices with OS 9’s launch, though, and that’s exactly what’s happening now that the software upgrade has started rolling out to the company’s streaming devices.

According to Roku’s OS 9 release notes, the service will soon be available to the select devices that are getting the updated platform. The update will even give you the power to control Spotify via the Roku remote or via Spotify Connect on a laptop, tablet or phone. While OS 9 won’t be be available for Roku TV models until 2019, you’ll still be able to install Spotify on a Roku TV running OS 8.2 by adding it from the company’s channel store.

Aside from bringing back Spotify to the platform, OS 9 also introduces Automatic Volume Leveling, which ensures a uniform audio level across programs and all types of content. No more startlingly loud sounds when a commercial comes on or when you switch streaming channels. In the US, select Roku players will also let you control iHeartRadio, Pandora and TuneIn using voice commands. The company has listed all the devices getting the major update on its website, so check it out if you have an older model and aren’t sure if you’re going to be part of the rollout.

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Sonos may add Roku's entertainment platform to its speakers


Engadget

The people at Sonos have made it clear that they want their hardware to be compatible with as many different platforms as possible, and they may be adding another one to their list. CNET reports that Sonos and Roku are in discussions to integrate Roku’s new entertainment software with Sonos’s speakers.

This is just a rumor, but it would make sense. Roku introduced its voice-controlled home theater software, Roku Entertainment System, earlier this year. Along with Roku Connect, it’s a way for users to operate their home theater systems wirelessly through voice control. Roku isn’t building its own speakers, though; their new endeavor is purely software that they’ll license to third parties, hence why it makes sense that they might be working with Sonos.

If the rumors are true, this partnership would allow for voice control of both your Roku and your home theater system via Roku Connect. Because Sonos One is the only Sonos offering that currently supports voice control, functionality would likely be limited to this speaker.

It’s possible that this could all come to nothing, or not even be in the works. But it makes sense, given both companies’ stances and recent product announcements. Sonos has integrated Alexa into its speakers and has a stated goal of supporting Google Assistant by year’s end. Supporting Roku goes right along with their current strategy.

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Roku to resume sales in Mexico, following court ruling

Last year, Roku lost a legal battle in Mexico over piracy which resulted in a ban on sales of its devices in the country. Now, that ban has been lifted, the company says, following a favorable ruling from the 11th Collegiate Court in Mexico City. This will allow Roku to resume sales of its devices in Mexico in the coming weeks.

The issue first arose when Cablevision, the cable TV operator owned by Mexican media giant Televisa, took Roku to court alleging that Roku devices were being hacked to allow users to watch pirated channels.

The problem was that Roku’s platform – unlike, say, the more locked-down Apple TV – supports something called “private channels.” This feature was originally intended as a way for developers to test their channels before making them publicly available on Roku’s Channel Store. But many began to use private channels to stream illegal content, like cable TV programming, for example.

Roku was effectively benefiting from these channels and their popularity, while also able to turn a blind eye to the piracy problem. The channels, after all, were private – and what they did was seemingly not Roku’s concern or its business. Until, of course, it was.

The same issue also plagues Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices today. Entire businesses have sprung up around selling “hacked” Fire Sticks, as consumers like to call them. These are devices that have been preloaded with software that allows users to stream illegal content, including TV shows and movies – even those still in theaters.

After its ban in Mexico, Roku began to take the piracy problem more seriously. It began cracking down on private channels, loading up warnings on screen that channels have to abide by Roku’s terms and distribute legal content. Some channels decided to exit Roku on their own, and others were booted by the device maker in the days that followed, including popular sources for pirated or illegally streamed content like XTV, USTVNOWChannel Pear, and others.

Roku had argued at the time of the original ruling that it was not enabling the distribution of pirated content on its platform, and was, in fact, taking channels down when found. It said it planned to fight the ruling.

With its victory now in hand, Roku says devices will soon return to stores in Mexico.

“Streaming is the future of TV. It offers a great opportunity for consumers in Mexico by providing more entertainment choices, the ability to watch TV on their schedules and more value for money,” said Roku CMO Matthew Anderson, in a statement. “We are grateful for our customers in Mexico who, despite the sales ban, continued to stream more and more hours; and for our retail partners and content providers who supported us throughout this past year. We look forward to launching the latest Roku devices in Mexico soon and giving customers an even richer streaming experience,” he added.

“Today’s decision is an important victory for Roku and its Mexican distributor, Latamel Distribuidora, S. de R.L. de C.V. and Mexican retailers in the legal battle against an improper ban on sales of its popular streaming players in Mexico,” Roku General Counsel Stephen Kay also noted. “We are pleased with the Collegiate Court’s decision and look forward to continuing to build Roku’s TV streaming business in Mexico,” he said.

Roku’s stock jumped several percentage points in late trading after its announcement Tuesday, and continued to climb in premarket trading as well.

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Roku's Premiere streaming boxes are tiny, cheap, and support 4K

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Roku's Premiere and Premiere+ streaming players look more like streaming sticks.
Roku’s Premiere and Premiere+ streaming players look more like streaming sticks.
Image: jake krol/mashable

Roku doesn’t believe that there’s one streaming player for everyone.

Launching early next month, two new Roku streaming players focus on affordability and 4K support. The Premiere and Premiere+ will be $39.99 and $49.99 respectively. Both are cheaper than Amazon’s $69.99 4K Fire TV.

Both of these are tiny and fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. During a briefing with Roku, I first thought these were new streaming sticks, which tend to be watered-down versions of a full-on player. However, it quickly became clear that, although the form factor is small, these are full-featured streaming devices.

4K support is big for streaming players of this size. Each of them is about as tall as two pencils stacked on top of each other, looking like a thick USB drive. Even if you don’t currently have a 4K television, this is a streaming player that can grow with you. 

The Roku Premiere

The Roku Premiere

Image: jake krol/mashable

Powering the traditional Roku experience is a quad-core processor and 802.11 (b/g/n) WiFi for a fast connection. Neither the Premiere or the Premiere+ features an Ethernet port. An HDMI port that supports Dolby and DTS Digital Surround sound is on the back, along with a microUSB port for power. An HDMI cable and a power cord are in the box. 

The core difference between the Premiere and the Premiere+ is the remote. The cheaper $39.99 Premiere has the regular Roku remote that relies on an infrared sensor for control. This also means the stick needs to be visible since you need to point the remote at it. Roku partially solves this with adhesive on one side of the Premiere, allowing you to stick to the back of your TV.

The Premiere+ includes Roku's voice remote with TV volume controls.

The Premiere+ includes Roku’s voice remote with TV volume controls.

Image: jake krol/mashable

Roku’s Premiere+ uses a Voice Remote that can control fully control volume and power for the TV. It also uses a wireless connection for control. Alternatively, the Roku remote app for iOS and Android works with both.

All of the channels and services that support Roku are available on either of these new streaming players, including the Roku Channel, which aggregates free content for any viewer to watch. The size, price, and 4K support make these a versatile streaming option. Roku will kick off pre-orders today for the $39.99 Premiere, with shipments beginning in October. The $49.99 Premiere+ will be exclusive to Walmart.com and Walmart retail stores when it launches in early October as well. 

Stay tuned for our full review of the Premiere and Premiere+ closer to their official launch.

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Roku's tiny Premiere box brings 4K streaming down to $40

At this point, Roku’s only option with streaming players is to make them cheaper and more capable. And so we have the new Premiere and Premiere+, the company’s lowest-priced 4K HDR players yet at $40 and $50, respectively. They’re arriving just as 4K sets are becoming ubiquitous, and as more consumers might want something more than the apps built into their TVs. Previously, the Premiere line was priced at $70 and $90 — not much less than the $100 high-end Ultra player. (The Ultra is sticking with the same price and hardware this year, but it’s now coming with JBL earbuds.)

Both Premiere boxes are significantly slimmer than before, resembling Roku’s low-end Express devices instead of its full-sized players. But that’s not too surprising, considering how small last year’s 4K Streaming Stick+ happened to be. Both players also feature the same quad-core CPU, but the Premiere+ includes one of Roku’s voice remotes instead of a standard model. In the end, they’re the basically same 4K boxes from last year, just a lot cheaper and slimmer. Their size puts the $50 Streaming Stick and the $70 Streaming Stick+ on watch — all of a sudden, they’re not the only portable Roku players.

As usual, Roku also has some significant software upgrades in the works, including Google Assistant and Pandora Premium support. Google’s integration will arrive alongside Roku OS 9 for set-top boxes in November (with a staggered roll-out into 2019), and OS 8.2 for Roku TVs, which is currently hitting sets. Additionally, you can also look forward to Spotify’s glorious return soon, as well as automatic volume leveling across all devices.

And don’t forget about Roku’s wireless speakers for its TVs (sorry, set-top box owners, no support for you yet). They sound fantastic for a relatively inexpensive pair of bookshelf speakers, and they’re simple to set up. While there isn’t much innovation room left for Roku’s streaming devices, it’s now positioning to take on Sonos in the wireless speaker market. It’s not hard to imagine that the company’s TV partners, not to mention retailers, might see plenty of bundling opportunities alongside Roku sets. The wireless speakers are available for pre-order until October 15th for $180, and afterwards they’ll go for $200.

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