From Replay to Roku

There were a couple of interesting stories in the past week on Roku and its CEO, Anthony Wood.

The first, published by MediaPost, discussed Anthony Wood’s history in ReplayTV and then Roku. I had not realized that the same person was behind both devices. Talk about having a good eye for the future! replayTV logoReplayTV, as some may remember, was TiVo’s main competitor when DVRs hit the market in 1999. Similar to the BetaMax versus VHS debate when VCRs emerged, ReplayTV was generally seen as superior to TiVo. But like the BetaMax, it quickly fell to the wayside. Of course, TiVo was never a big hit either – most consumers got DVRs packaged within their pay-TV set-top boxes – but it has managed to survive by licensing its software and leveraging its viewer data.

Roku

Wood then launched Roku in 2002. It has been far more successful than Roku logoReplayTV, leading the market in streaming video boxes even as tech giants Apple (Apple TV), Google (Chromecast), and Amazon (Fire TV) each entered the market. But like the DVR, the drawback of streaming boxes is that the value is in the software, not the physical box. One factor is that the margins on manufacturing boxes quickly drop as physical product is commoditized by multiple entrants. The other is that consumers prefer to reduce set-top boxes and move features as downstream as possible, preferably into the TV set itself.

The second article, from The Verge, discusses the ways Roku is trying to broaden its base away from relying on sales of their boxes and sticks. Wood admits that device sales do not cover Roku’s cost of doing business. These newer revenue streams include licensing their software to TV manufacturers to build directly into sets, selling advertising that is delivered to viewers of the various channels available through Roku, and the build-out of their own, ad-supported Roku Channel. More of a head-scratcher is their recent entry into the wireless speaker space – presumably a low-margin, crowded market.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

Wood’s track record certainly shows he’s had his crystal ball tuned to the right channel for two major TV developments in the past 20 years – DVRs and streaming. It behooves us all to see what he thinks is next – even if his business plans don’t always keep pace with his technology innovations.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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