Roku’s Wood: We’ll be your future TV’s operating system

Anthony Wood, the founder and CEO of Roku, didn’t hold much back at re/code’s inaugural code/media conference in Santa Monica, referring to Apple TV as an iPad accessory and saying  his company’s technology eventually would be “your future TV’s operating system.”

Wood, during an interview with re/code’s Peter Kafka, also downplayed rumors that Amazon would soon be jumping into the fray with its own STB or dongle that will stream Internet TV content to TVs.

“Every year, about this time, the Amazon box comes up… and the new Apple TV is about to launch,” he said. “We’ve been competing with Apple TV for six years, and every year we’ve grown.”

In fact, Wood said, Roku has benefitted from each new streaming STB or device that’s launched.

When Google rolled out its Chromecast dongle last year, Roku sales went up 60%; when Apple announced its $99 Apple TV, he said, “our sales doubled.” (Roku’s own new $50 Streaming Stick just became available this week from Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon.)

Nevertheless, Wood and Roku likely are watching the Amazon rumors closely. Although 65% of Roku device sales are from brick and mortar stores, Amazon is Roku’s No. 1 distribution partner, Wood said.

Getting a sreaming device right, he said, is no easy task.

“If they launch now, boy, good luck,” he said. “The amount of software that goes into a box is amazing.”

Who uses Roku?

Wood described Roku users as “active streamers.” About two-thirds are pay-TV customers, the other one-third are cord cutters and cord nevers, a group that grows “one or two points” a year.

They still stream Netflix content more than any other content on Roku (and there’s a lot of it, some 1,200 channels are available now, up from 600 a year ago), although its share has slipped somewhat.

Roku even offers start up Aereo, which collects over-the-air signals rom broadcasters and streams them to subscribers, although only on a private channel.

“Customers want access to the content Aereo gives them,” he said. “And our view is that anything that’s leagl should be on Roku.” 

Making more content available online has been a boon to viewers, Wood said.

“Customers have more choice,” he said, adding that the majority are willing to “pay for access to great content” and increasingly are willing to look beyond traditional delivery means to find it.

Wood – who counts among his backers Fox, BSkyB and Hearst – believes TV eventually will be distributed via the Internet, and that the transition is accelerating.

And, he says, cable TV operators are preparing for it, gradually phasing out legacy STBs for more modern technology, especially apps for TVs.

And that, he says, will be a major business for Roku, which currently is licensing its platform to Smart TV vendors TCL and Hisense, which are set to roll out Roku-powered sets this fall.

More, he says, are on the way.

Roku also currently has a deal with Time Warner Cable that allows subscribers to use a Roku box as a second STB. Wood said that the experience isn’t yet as good as using a TWC box, but that it improves every couple of months. The company also supplies a white label box for Sky’s NowTV in the United Kingdom.

As to competition from Amazon, Google and Apple? Wood says to bring it on, suggesting it all serves to boost everone’s business.

Most analysts agree Roku currently is selling more streaming STBs that anyone but Apple, something he believes will change. 

“Apple TV is essentially an accessory for the iPad,” he said, adding that he believes Apple is confused in the ecosystem.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn