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Roku is becoming the most powerful company in streaming

A growing user base will give it even more power in content negotiations.

Roku is becoming the most powerful company in streaming

Roku's emerging as one of the streaming war's biggest winners.

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

Roku's bet on smart TVs is paying off: Seven years after the company first began licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers, it has become a market leader in North America. Roku and its hardware partners sold more smart TVs in the U.S. in 2020 than competitors like Samsung, LG and Vizio, according to data from the NPD Group released by Roku on Friday.

Roku TVs had a 38% market share in the U.S. and a 31% market share in Canada, according to NPD's data. Roku also announced earlier this week that it had ended 2020 with 51.2 million active accounts, adding around 14 million accounts over the past 12 months. Altogether, consumers streamed 58.7 billion hours of entertainment through their Roku devices in 2020, according to a news release.

Both data points demonstrate how much of a force the company has become in North America, giving it even more power in negotiations with media companies looking to run their services on Roku streaming sticks and TVs. However, they also highlight how much Roku's business has been solely focused on the TV space, giving competitors a chance to dominate other smart device categories.

After first making a name for itself with its streaming boxes, Roku began licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers in 2014, with one of its early licensing partners including China's TCL, then virtually unknown in North America. With affordable TV sets and a UI that emphasized simplicity over fancy new features, TCL and Roku managed to grow their market share year after year; at the end of 2019, every third smart TV sold in the U.S. was running Roku's operating system.

The growing popularity of Roku TVs and streaming devices has helped the company grow its advertising business and negotiate more favorable contracts with media companies looking to launch their apps on its platform. Roku is not only demanding revenue and ad-sharing agreements for any app that runs on its platform, but is also increasingly pressing media companies to make parts of their catalog available via its own free Roku Channel streaming service. Last year, negotiations between AT&T and Roku broke down, resulting in HBO Max not being available in Roku devices for six months.

Roku's expansion into other hardware categories has been more of a mixed bag. The company has made its own wireless speakers that work only with Roku TVs and streaming devices, but listings on various ecommerce websites suggest only modest demand. Roku's wireless bookshelf speakers were ranked No. 2,850 on Amazon.com's sales charts for consumer electronics devices at the time of writing. For comparison, Amazon's own Echo Dot speaker ranked No. 1, with other Amazon speakers and smart displays following closely behind.

At one point, Roku developed a dedicated Wi-Fi product called Roku Relay that was supposed to optimize wireless connectivity for Roku streaming devices. The company tested Relay with a small number of consumers, but ultimately decided to not bring it to market.

Roku has been making some headway in cooperating with third-party companies in the audio space with a licensing program for third-party sound bars and speakers. Participating companies can market their devices as Roku TV Ready and integrate software to simplify setup. Roku TV Ready partners include TCL, Hisense, Enclave, Sound United and Bose, with Element scheduled to launch its own Roku TV Ready products this month. On Friday, Roku also announced that TCL would launch the first Roku TV Ready wireless sound bar in the coming months.

Twitter’s future is newsletters and podcasts, not tweets

With Revue and a slew of other new products, Twitter is trying hard to move past texting.

We started with 140 characters. What now?

Image: Liv Iko/Protocol

Twitter was once a home for 140-character missives about your lunch. Now, it's something like the real-time nerve center of the internet. But as for what Twitter wants to be going forward? It's slightly more complicated.

In just the last few months, Twitter has rolled out Fleets, a Stories-like feature; started testing an audio-only experience called Spaces; and acquired the podcast app Breaker and the video chat app Squad. And on Tuesday, Twitter announced it was acquiring Revue, a newsletter platform. The whole 140-characters thing (which is now 280 characters, by the way) is certainly not Twitter's organizing principle anymore. So what is?

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David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Power

It chased fraudsters. Now, Pindrop wants to simplify streaming.

The security startup has struck a partnership with TiVo to personalize voice search.

Pindrop is partnering with TiVo to bring its voice authentication technology to smart TVs and streaming devices.

Photo: Scott Eells/Getty Images

Chicken Man was trying to be clever.

Calling up banks to trick unsuspecting customer service agents, the scam artist would always play a recording of chickens in the background to mask his voice. Security experts at Pindrop, a voice authentication startup used by major financial institutions to screen 1.1 billion calls last year, got such a kick out of his efforts that they even named a conference room after him. However, Chicken Man couldn't defeat Pindrop's technology, and ultimately helped the company prepare for a new challenge: a typical family's living room.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

The key to American economic recovery? Automation.

A manufacturing sector revitalized by technology could help President Biden secure long-term economic growth, argue Rick Lazio and Myron Moser.

Technology could play a vital role in bolstering the economy.

Photo: Hans-Peter Merten/Getty Images

The economic impact of COVID-19 will be with us for years to come.

The U.S. economy is working its way back, albeit slowly, with the economy recovering only half of the more than 22 million jobs lost in March and April due to the pandemic and operating at 82 percent capacity compared to the first quarter of 2020.

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Rick Lazio
Rick Lazio is currently a senior vice president at alliantgroup and is a former U.S. Representative from New York. After Congress, Rick moved to the private sector working for JPMorgan Chase as a managing director and then executive vice president.
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What Tracy Chou learned about online harassment while trying to stop it

Her new app, Block Party, aims to give people control over harassing content.

Block Party founder and diversity activist Tracy Chou became the target of a Reddit harassment campaign while trying to promote the importance of anti-harassment tools.

Photo: Tracy Chou

When Tracy Chou decided to host a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" about online harassment over the summer, she knew it probably wouldn't be the easiest experience, but she'd been dealing with trolls for most of her career. How bad could it really be?

A vitriol-filled nightmare, it turns out. The woman hosting a forum on why she was building an app to protect against online harassment was the target of one of the biggest harassment campaigns of her life. Reddit users mocked her inability to answer their questions (she had, but due to a system error, her comments were disappearing before anyone could read them). They ridiculed her appearance and motivations. Someone created a campaign to say nasty things about her on Substack, attaching her name and photo to some of the posts. They moved to Twitter, and then to 4chan, where they organized a group that flooded her site with a denial of service attack until it went down.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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Everything you need to know about the Kuaishou IPO

Kuaishou could raise just over $6 billion at a $60 billion valuation.

Kuaishou's livestreaming platform is part Twitch, part QVC.

Photo: Visual China Group/Getty Images

Kuaishou has more daily active users than Twitter and Snapchat. Still, it wouldn't be all that surprising if you've never heard of the short-form video and livestreaming platform; Kuaishou maintains a relatively low profile outside of China. Within China, the Beijing-based company has charted an ambitious plan to create a platform that seamlessly blends ecommerce, livestreaming, short-form video and gaming distribution.

In the lead-up to its Hong Kong stock exchange trading debut slated for Feb. 5, Kuaishou could raise just over $6 billion at a $60 billion valuation. If Kuaishou succeeds, it will have pulled off one of the largest IPOs in recent years.

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Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
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