Why Doesn’t Roku Offer A Web Browser?

One redditor wonders why Roku doesn’t offer a web browser. Only Roku employees know for sure, but we can make some educated guesses.

First, and most likely, is that web browsing just isn’t what Roku’s designed to do and therefore not something they’d prioritize development or support of (despite the many web technologies brought to bear behind the scenes). But, while Roku doesn’t provide the processing power or underlying Android-based framework of Fire TV, this isn’t a technical limitation as we’ve been doing web (poorly) on television for 25 years. e.g. WebTV and my Sega Dreamcast. In fact, we’ve seen a few 3rd party attempts at a Roku Browser app, such as the “private channel” Browser X.

Leading into point two. As highlighted on reddit, there are additional business considerations at play. Roku acts as a massive content gateway, doing deals with video providers and offering users (and those companies) a side entrance to accessing video could become counter-productive. Likewise, piracy has been a consideration — leading, in fact, to a temporary halt of streaming box sales in Mexico followed by removal of “private channels” there and soon to be dropped here in the US as well.

But under what sorts of conditions might Roku make a browser available? YouTube. Google has threatened to remove YouTube from Roku December 9th due to stalled retransmission negotiations surrounding the YouTube TV channel. Without getting into the he said/she said PR spin, if the two are unable to work a deal, Roku will lose one of the most popular video sources. And a browser app accessible to the YouTube URL might just help fend off a number of defections… that would also eat into the bottom line, as advertising remains one of Roku’s primary revenue streams plus fewer viewers also means less leverage for other retransmission dealios. Of course, Google would take issue with such a move and we’d could see history repeat itself when Google had unofficial YouTube access removed in 2011 – but it might buy some time.

9 thoughts on “Why Doesn’t Roku Offer A Web Browser?”

  1. I am increasingly soured on Roku wanting to be business gatekeeper to services so they can get their cut of revenue. So many other platforms are agnostic and just provide the framework for who ever wants to build an app. So many other choices from integrated like LG Web OS to Xbox / PS or Apple TV that don’t seem to have these pointless fights. I think Roku risks losing more than they will gain in frustrating customers.

  2. I guess I should mention I own 0.397578 shares of Roku. But may pick up more on the current dip. Although, if YouTube goes, I guess there could be a bigger dip.

    Brian, I think most platforms have negotiated deals. Roku’s just seem more frequent contested or at least more public. Apple TV is probably the most agnostic or at least safest place to avoid losing apps, maybe Android TV/Google TV second.

  3. I understand Roku’s concerns as to protecting its revenue channels (no pun intended). But, at the same time, anyone who wants to surf the web for content or otherwise already can do so on any of a myriad of devices right at hand–I don’t know that Roku having a browser would negatively affect much of anything on the Roku platform. In fact, a browser could enhance the Roku universe by keeping users on it more and thereby potentially increasing (paid) content access.

    The benefit and value of these types of ancillary services should not be underestimated–with a large-capacity flashdrive left plugged into my Roku Ultra, I’ve been using my Roku device, of late, more as a media player than anything else.

  4. I don’t think a browser will help Roku if YouTube leaves. Ever since YouTube shut down its TV web interface (https://www.slashgear.com/youtube-is-discontinuing-its-tv-interface-for-web-browsers-13591695/), the experience of YouTube in a TV browser is horrible. A better solution for Roku would be to rely on casting YouTube. They’re already set with AirPlay for iPhone users and they can create their own DIAL receiver app for YouTube so that Android users can cast videos as well.

  5. A browser allows customers to watch content that was banned from youtube on other websites that host video. Perhaps Roku could make a deal with these other websites that host video to build an app for Roku.

  6. Hey, folks, don’t you have a smartphone? Most allow you to project your phone screen image through your WiFi-connected streaming stick.

    So navigate on your phone to the content you want, share it to your TV through your streaming device, and voila! Full browser capability – or at least as much as your phone’s browser gives you

  7. I’m getting a new streaming device and it’s not a Roku. I’ve been a local customer but this is stepping over the line for me. They’ve already pulled YouTube TV and come December 9 no more YouTube and word is Amazon Prime is next. So long, Roku. Go play Big Brother. I’ll stick with devices that let me decide for myself if I want them.

  8. Funny. None of that youtube disappearing / amazon leaving ever happened. Guess they all decided to play nice (with likely funds changing hands somewhere).

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