Roku will kick porn channels off its platform in March

The streaming-device maker is getting rid of uncertified channels, but not everyone is worried about the move.

Adult Time screenshot

Adult Time is one of the XXX-rated subscription services currently distributing videos via a private Roku app. Starting in March, the company will have to find another way to cater to Roku owners.

Image: Adult Time

Roku is getting rid of Pornhub: The streaming-device maker announced a policy change last week that will effectively ban the world's largest porn site, as well as a number of adult entertainment companies, from its platform on March 1, 2022.

Roku did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During its annual developer conference, Roku announced that it was restructuring how it handles channels that aren't suitable for distribution on its Channel Store. The company unveiled a new Independent Developer Kit, which will allow developers and hobbyists to experiment with apps and services without having to rely on the company's SDK.

Roku also unveiled a new beta channel feature, which allows developers to test channels with up to 20 users at a time before publishing them on the company's store. Beta channels are effectively replacing what are commonly known as private channels: These channels aren't listed in the Channel Store, but can be activated by Roku users with a code or direct link via Roku's website.

Private channels — or uncertified channels, as the company likes to call them — have long been used by developers for testing purposes. However, the feature has also been a way for some developers to target Roku owners with content that's not allowed in the company's channel list.

This includes many of the major adult content providers: Pornhub has its own private Roku channel, as do pay-per-view platforms like Adult Empire and AEBN, as well as adult video studios and subscription services like Wicked, Adult Time and Naughty America. All of these companies' Roku channels are expected to disappear on March 1.

Roku's existing policy of effectively turning a blind eye to private channels has been criticized in the past. Rights holders have at times clashed with the company over private channels that offered access to unlicensed content. Sales of Roku devices were even briefly banned in Mexico over this very issue. As a result, Roku began to display a warning message that it may remove uncertified channels that contain illegal content without notice, and that it could ban repeat infringers from accessing any other uncertified channels.

There has also been some isolated criticism of adult content on private channels, but it's unlikely that those voices prompted Roku's policy change. Instead, severe limits on the number of people able to access private channels are more reminiscent of Apple cracking down on companies using its enterprise program to distribute apps to the general public; app stores are massive money-makers for their operators, and any loophole that allows publishers to bypass app store rules is seen as a threat to that business model.

Not every smart TV platform provider is quite as concerned about uncertified apps, however. Both Amazon's Fire TV and Google's Android TV platform make it possible to side-load Android apps from third-party sources, and a number of smart TV platforms also include web browsers, effectively offering access to any web-based video service.

Even on some of the more restrictive platforms, adult content providers have in the past found workarounds. Some have, for instance, relied on third-party aggregation and personal media apps to offer access to video downloads on game consoles — an approach that could get traction on Roku as well, predicted Naughty America CEO Andreas Hronopoulos.

"Fortunately for ourselves and other media companies, there are new platforms like Rad to fill this void," Hronopoulos told Protocol. "We have been using Rad for some time to syndicate our VR Videos to the PSVR ... Since Rad is already on smart TVs, we have this angle covered."

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