Tech

The Roku Channel is now available on the Web without a Roku device

Enlarge / The Roku Channel on the Web on an iPhone.Roku

The Roku Channel, a platform for streaming TV and movies, is now available on the Web in the United States. Previously only available on streaming hardware running Roku software, the channel offers a free, ad-supported library.

Roku launched this channel on hardware running Roku OS in October 2017 as a first step in offering content of its own after years of positioning itself as a neutral platform through which Amazon, Netflix, and others could offer their content. Roku licensed mostly movies that are more than 10 years old from studios like Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures, and the library still has that character for today's Web portal launch: the top-billed items on the homepage are currently the three Matrix films from 1999 and 2003.

Starting earlier this year, Roku began streaming live channels from third parties like ABC and Cheddar, and those are also available in the Web version.

While the library doesn't impress, the price does: most options for streaming movies online require a subscription fee, but The Roku Channel is free. Instead of setting up recurring credit card payments, you'll be watching ads during your films, so it's similar to watching movies on broadcast TV—albeit with the user data collection model now common for many Internet services. You have to create a free Roku account to view the channel's content. If you already have one that you set up on a Roku device previously, you can just log in to that.

  • The front-door experience for The Roku Channel on the Web. It looks quite a bit like Netflix. Samuel Axon
  • As expected, each movie or TV show has its own information page. Samuel Axon
  • The selection is mostly movies from more than 10 years ago. They're ad supported, including sponsored playlists as seen here. Samuel Axon
  • The player itself is bare-bones but functional. Samuel Axon

Roku also announced today that it will roll out a new "Featured Free" section to the home screens on Roku devices. The company says the section will begin appearing on devices in the US "in the coming weeks," starting today. Roku says the section "includes the latest in-season episodes, full past-season catch-ups, and more." This section could highlight content from The Roku Channel, but it will also include shows and films from third-party channels that offer some programming for free, like The CW, Freeform, Crackle, and ABC.

The section will launch with episodes of ABC's The Bachelorette and The CW's The 100, among others. Roku will update the section with a curated selection of new content as it becomes available.

The Featured Free section of the Roku homepage on a Roku TV.
Enlarge / The Featured Free section of the Roku homepage on a Roku TV.Roku

Roku's platform-agnostic, affordability-focused strategy has brought the company success so far. Its second financial quarter showed 57-percent growth over the same quarter a year prior, and its stock hit an all-time high. The company told investors that it added 22 million accounts during the quarter.

When reviewing Roku's latest high-end streaming boxes, we liked the hardware and found the software easy to use, and we liked the platform's agnostic position in the marketplace. But the trade-off is the user-data-oriented advertising model. That same model applies to the channel on the Web. Still, if that doesn't bother you and you want to find a random movie to watch online without spending a dime, the new Web portal is worth checking out.

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