Roku is killing Apple (and everyone else) in the streaming device space

Apple has done a poor job in recent years at giving consumers a reason to spend more on its set-top box.

Apple has done a poor job in recent years at giving consumers a reason to spend more on its set-top box.

Roku continues to be the nation's leading maker of streaming media players - aka the sticks and boxes that connect your television set to entertainment apps such as Netflix.

The technology company grew its share to 37 per cent of US households with broadband access, according to new research from Parks Associates. What's more, Roku has increased its lead in the last year over its top three competitors: Amazon, Google and Apple.

No. 2 Amazon, which sells the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, now has 24 per cent market share, notably passing Google in the past 12 months. As it stands, Google's Chromecast ranks third with 18 per cent share.

Roku is the most popular television streaming device.

Roku is the most popular television streaming device.

Apple, meanwhile, lost ground to rivals and owns just 15 per cent of the market.

Seeing as how one-third of broadband homes in the country now own a streaming media player, Roku's commanding lead is quite the feat.

What's most interesting is that Roku has been able to cement its position atop a highly competitive market despite its relatively small stature.

Let's not forget that Roku entered the streaming TV marketplace in 2008 as a nobody and was going toe-to-toe with Apple, one of the world's most-recognisable names in consumer electronics.

Apple really should have won this battle.

"The Apple TV was pretty innovative when it first came out," said Glenn Hower, a senior analyst at Parks Associates who worked on the firm's report. "But what I think Roku did well is that they pretty quickly forged some powerful retail partnerships."

As a result, Roku devices are widely available to middle America at far more digestible price points than the Apple TV, he said.

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In my opinion, Apple has done a poor job in recent years at giving consumers a reason to spend more on its set-top box. Even with the fourth-generation release, which admittedly has some fun bells and whistles, meaty software updates are few and far between. Plus, a promised Amazon Video app is still supposedly coming "later this year".

What good is a streaming media device if I can't easily watch content from one of the top purveyors of digital video?

Perhaps even more telling of Roku's prowess in the streaming world is the fact that the Parks Associates ranking only reflects standalone sticks and boxes, meaning it doesn't tell the full story. That story is even more flattering for Roku.

Here's why: Roku, unlike most of its competitors, has been licensing its operating system to TV manufacturers such as TCL, Sharp and Insignia. And just like Roku's other devices, the Roku-branded TV sets are sold in familiar stores.

Roku said, that as of December 2016, the Roku TV platform held around 13 per cent share of the smart TV market in the US.

That matters because Parks Associates has witnessed a slowdown in the adoption of streaming media devices and a simultaneous spurt in the uptake of smart TVs.

"We saw streaming media players experience explosive growth from 2010 until about a year ago," Hower told me. "But smart TV (adoption) is going up."

His firm estimates that 45 per cent of US broadband households now own a smart TV.

Hower said there's an interesting push-pull dynamic happening between streaming media players and smart TVs. And it's hard to say where the standalone devices will fit into the equation, especially as consumers in the market for a new TV will likely buy a smart TV, since that's what's predominantly available.

My own recent TV replacement experience resulted in purchasing a Roku TV made by TCL, a set that appealed to me because of the Roku software, which I know guarantees me access to all (and not just some) of the streaming apps that I can't live without.

What's more, Roku's operating system neatly ties in with whatever you hook up to the set's HDMI ports, meaning I get an interface that lets me bounce between my antenna and my streaming apps without having to switch inputs or remotes.

 - MCT

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