Don’t know which of Roku’s 1,000 or so channels to watch for breaking news? Well, now you don’t have to chose anymore: Roku is putting curated video news from AOL’s AOL On video platform right on your home screen. Roku devices will get a “News” home screen menu item through a software update that will roll out to most Roku devices within the next few weeks.
The news offering will offer videos from more than 1,000 AOL On publishers, including the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the Associated Press, as well as a number of AOL online properties, including HuffPost Live and Engadget.
This isn’t the first time that Roku has struck an exclusive partnership for some of its home screen real estate. In September, Roku unveiled new categories for movies and TV shows that are exclusively powered by M-Go, the video-on-demand service cofounded by Dreamworks and Technicolor.
In a way, it makes sense for Roku to add these kinds of content shortcuts to its home screen, as it helps users to quickly get access to content without having to select individual channels, or even navigate through the device’s ever-expanding channel store.
However, Roku’s decision to tie these categories to exclusive content partnerships won’t make everyone happy. M-Go for example is directly competing with some of the other services on Roku, including Amazon, Vudu and Redbox Instant. And Roku’s decision to turn AOL On into its default news source marginalizes other news channels, and forces publishers to go through AOL as opposed to their own app if they want to reach an audience on Roku.
Roku already upset a number of its smaller channel publishers when it teamed up with Dish in 2012, giving the company’s DishWorld internet TV service exclusive distribution for foreign content on Roku and in turn forcing many smaller channels that carried foreign movies and TV channels off the platform.
That decision evidently didn’t impact Roku’s growth — the company sold an estimated two million devices in 2012 alone — but there’s a danger that Roku could take these exclusive partnerships too far, transforming from a fairly open platform into one that favors and highlights content from a few select publishers with deep pockets. The result may be a product that’s easier to use, but with programming that’s a lot less compelling to watch.