Two Silicon Valley companies delivering thousands of entertainment channels over the internet have announced significant funding rounds and milestones for their services.
Roku, whose set-top box delivers more than 700 channels of movies, TV, music, radio and web content, has received $60m in a Series F round, while TuneIn, which gives access to more than 70,000 radio stations, has bagged $25m in Series C funding.
Small, square, sub-$100 black boxes dominate streaming internet-television devices in the US, in the shape of Apple TV and Roku’s LT, XS, XD and HD boxes.
There’s no shame then in Western Digital imitating this successful formula in launching today the WD TV Play - the latest variation of its WD TV lineup of content-streaming set-top boxes.
We pick our highlights of the product unveilings, bringing you the essential news from the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas (January 6 -11).
What it is: Roku has added six new TV partners that will use its streaming stick with their sets and announced new content, bringing its internet-streaming offering to more than 700 channels.
Key points: Coby Electronics, Harman Kardon, HiSense, TCL, Voxx and Westinghouse join eight other “Roku-ready” partners that will integrate its streaming service through the stick that fits in an MHL-enabled HDMI port. Fourteen new channel apps are being announced including Blockbuster on Demand movies and live TV channels Fox Now and Time Warner Cable TV, the latter offering up to 300 live TV channels
Roku has announced pricing and availability for its Streaming Stick device that plugs into an HDTV to serve on-demand channels over the internet, without the need for a separate Roku set-top box.
The stick, about the size of a packet of chewing gum, will be available in the US in October for $100. It plugs into an HDMI port that is enabled for MHL technology – many new TVs and other devices are beginning to feature such ports – and does not need a separate power supply. Simple.TV followed up on Thursday with its own shipping announcement for its Broadcast TV -streaming box.
Roku and Vizio are the battling underdogs of the US TV industry, surviving and even prospering against bigger players thanks to their aggressive pricing strategies and rapid innovations.
Roku’s set-top box for streaming internet content has held its own against Apple TV, while Vizio has duelled effectively with Samsung over TV sales leadership. Now Roku has earned fresh legitimacy with a $45m investment led by News Corporation and its part-owned broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.
Roku, which shares more than 90 per cent of the US market for internet media player set-top boxes with Apple TV, according to estimates, has come up with a model half the price of its bigger rival and is adding HBO Go as a channel.
Roku set a benchmark price of $100 for its original box that was later matched by Apple and others, but its newest model - the LT – announced on Tuesday, costs $50.
Western Digital this week made its WD TV Live internet media player more competitive with the likes of Apple TV, Roku and the Logitech Revue, adding more hardware features, new content channels including the Spotify music service and pitching it at a lower price.
This category of small set-top boxes seems up against it compared to the more integrated efforts of internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players and game consoles, but they keep fighting back with lower prices, improved interfaces and imaginative additions to their services.
Roku, a tiny company next to its Silicon Valley neighbour Apple, has had to move fast to stay ahead and survive in the face of Apple TV – a set-top box that was revamped last year to challenge Roku’s own established product.
Where Roku had led with Netflix streaming and other internet content channels, competitors followed, and this makes the Roku 2, just announced, an interesting product in terms of showing where Apple and Roku’s other bigger rivals are likely to go in future.
The second-generation Apple TV looks like being a bigger hit than the original, judging by a report that it is selling out across the US.
I tested Apple TV and compared it with the Roku XDS and a Western Digital media player in this week’s Personal Technology column in the FT’s Business Life section. There are also earlier separate reviews of Apple TV, the Roku box and WD TV Live Plus HD on this blog.