Fixing A Common Misconception About Roku

No guys. You do not have Roku on your Samsung TV. No, Amazon does not have Roku. That is the Roku channel. Since Roku launched the Roku channel there has been a constant misunderstanding about what the channel/app actually is and what it does.

The Roku channel is not a free service. It is not a paid premium service, and it is not a replacement for having an actual Roku device. Why do people think it is so many different things? Because Roku sort of mixed up its messaging around it.

On Roku devices and Roku-powered TVs, The Roku channel is less a content app and more of a portal to a number of choices. When it launched it was nothing more than a collection of programming that could be viewed for free via some of Roku’s thousands of apps. Now the Roku channel offers free content from partners, a service marketplace where people can sign up for streaming services and be billed through Roku, and its own live streaming channel grid for passive watching. Roku also began offering a pared-down version of the Roku Channel on other streaming platforms. This option is strictly an on-demand free content service. Those are a lot of things to unpack and have led to people thinking that Roku now costs money to use.

What is free on the Roku Channel?

There is a lot of content on the Roku channel that is free to see on-demand. There are multiple categories of movies and TV shows like most traditional apps. The content rotates over time and will feature themed options during holidays. We are not going to list everything on the channel, but more we want to point out that the free content is in fact plentiful.

The Live TV Channel Guide is another feature of the Roku Channel. The Live TV Channel Guide is a service onto itself. It gathers multiple streaming options that play continuously 24 hours a day in a way that feels much more like a traditional TV setup. The grid allows users to jump ahead to see what will be playing and when. The variety of channels ranges from news channels to reality TV and game shows. It’s worth taking a look at. On Roku devices the company decided to break the live guide off as a separate app while also leaving it in place as an option in the Roku Channel.

What is not free on the Roku Channel?

The Roku Channel (on Roku Devices) has a section titled “Browse Premium Subscriptions”. This is not a listing of free content. It is a marketplace where customers can sign up for other streaming services that have monthly fees. Users can sign up for things like Showtime or Hallmark Movies Now Directly through Roku and be billed by Roku. Why would someone want to pay for a service through Roku? For simplicity’s sake. Remember, you registered a credit card when you set up the Roku account. Roku does not charge anything to that card just to have a Roku on your TV. But if you choose to sign up for a service through Roku instead of going online and signing up through a website Roku can use that card for charges and be kind of a middle man between you and the service.  Whether that makes anybody’s life easier is up to one’s personal preferences.

Because there is an option to get paid services from Roku in a Roku branded environment it muddles the idea that Roku is a free device with no subscription fee. People who sign up for say Showtime or Britbox through Roku will mistakenly tell people that their Roku costs a said amount a month to operate. Even more confusing is that some of Roku’s search results will return choices that say watch with Roku channel for (fill in the blank) per month. This makes people think that the Roku Channel does in fact charge for streaming.

Why do I see Roku on other streaming devices and smart TVs?

What you are seeing is an app for Roku Channel or in some cases (on mobile devices) a Roku mobile app that does everything from controlling Roku devices to playing content. How is the Roku channel app on a different streaming platform different than the one on a Roku? The Roku channel app on streaming devices and smart TVs that are not powered by Roku does not have the “Browse Premium Subscriptions” section. The mobile app on the other hand does multiple things. At its core, it is a remote control substitute. It also lets users watch content from the Roku Channel. Roku uses both the mobile app and the TV apps to get into the lucrative market for ad-supported streaming. But understand, having a Roku app on say a Samsung TV does not then grant you access to the thousands of apps available via an actual Roku device or Roku TV. It is just an app along the lines of Crackle, an app that has on-demand and live streaming options.


Sure it all seems simple to people who have been using the Roku platform for years and watched the Roku channel grow and change since launch, but to people who just jumped in there is a lot to take in and plenty to confuse people. A lot of these issues could be fixed by using different terminology, but the truth is once you ask people to understand the terminology and differentiate between multiple options you have already sort of lost the battle. Oh this is the part of the channel where you can add paid things that will be integrated into the free guide and be billed by Roku on the device that advertises that all you need to do to view free TV is have Internet. Over the course of writing, this piece found myself having to really think about the words I was using to describe everything as not to confuse myself and I have been using Roku devices almost since they launched. So if you have been confused don’t feel bad. If you are Roku, maybe its time to find a way to make things simple again.