Roku is skipping its fall hardware update
For the first time in forever
Were you looking to replace your aging streaming player with the latest and greatest Roku hardware this holiday season? Turns out you might have to wait a bit longer, or settle for last year’s version: Roku isn’t introducing any new devices this fall, a spokesperson told me via email this week.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Amazon started to sell Roku’s Express 4K bundled with the company’s voice remote this month. The bundle is exclusive to the ecommerce giant and “combines Roku’s most affordable player and the company’s best remote,” according to its spokesperson. However, both the Express 4K and the Roku voice remote had been available previously, meaning that Roku didn’t actually revamp any of its streaming hardware this year.
Fall updates are a tradition for the streaming industry, and Roku has been no exception. Last year, the company introduced a new version of the Roku Express and a new wireless subwoofer. In 2021, there were two new streaming sticks. The year before that, we got a new Roku Ultra set-top and a revamped streaming soundbar.
In fact, I can’t remember a year in which Roku didn’t announce at least one or two new products in September or October. A quick browsing of the company’s press release archive shows announcements touting hardware upgrades every year since at least 2015.
Stop treading water with a marketing strategy that isn’t delivering.
Pick a 30-minute slot from the link below, and tell us about your challenges. We'll offer guidance based on decades of experience working with startups and Fortune 500 companies.
Smart TVs are where it’s at. TVs with built-in streaming apps have seen massive adoption in recent years, and in fact overtaken dongles.
74% of U.S. TV households have at least one smart TV, according to a Leichtman Research report that I covered in June. That’s compared to 62% of TV households that own a streaming device. (You’ll notice that there’s some overlap here.)
Smart TVs actually overtook dongles in 2018, according to that report, and have been seeing higher growth rates ever since.
Still, dongles aren’t exactly dead: “Every year I've been here, someone has called the demise of the streaming player,” I was told by Roku’s then-CFO Steve Louden last year. “It continues to be a good source of accounts for us.”
However, there’s an interesting twist to the dongles vs smart TVs debate: TVs tend to integrate free, ad-supported streaming channels in the same EPG as over-the-air broadcast channels. This means that a company like Roku makes money every time someone channel-surfs from their local ABC station to an ad-supported online channel. The same isn’t true for dongles that generally don’t offer access to over-the-air TV.
Roku isn't alone in skipping fall hardware update. We also didn’t get any new streaming players from Google, despite reports that the company had been working on a new streaming remote.
Google has generally been slower in updating its streaming hardware than Roku and Amazon. Since introducing the first Chromecast ten years ago, the company has only ever released five versions of its streaming dongle.
However, Google also notably skipped updates on its other connected entertainment hardware. We haven’t gotten any new smart display from Google since 2021, and the company hasn’t upgraded any of its smart speakers since September of 2020.
The last four years have been very chaotic for consumer electronics. Supply chain issues caused huge constraints. Chip shortages drove up prices, forcing many companies to sell their gadgets below cost, and to refocus on lower-powered inflation gadgets. Rising interest rates and uncertain economic times have forced companies to cut back, and give up on product lines that were once seen as promising. All this leads to longer release cycles, perhaps forcing consumers to acknowledge that last year’s model of their favorite gadget is still working just fine.
This article was first published as part of Lowpass, a weekly newsletter about AR, VR, streaming and more. Sign up now for free.
Image courtesy of Roku.