Blurred Lines: Is Roku a Platform or a Publisher?

Platform, publisher, or some next-gen amalgam of the two? As ad tech companies race to dominate the streaming/CTV/OTT market, Roku’s strategy is looking more like an attempt to build out an entire ecosystem — from devices to ad serving pipes, to measurement — one that now includes a new branded content offering.

As THR reports, the company essentially acqui-hired the branded content team from Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die, who will helm the new studio and produce everything from short- and long-form shows, to custom “interactive” ads and integrations for brands. One such integration: A March Madness-themed campaign for TurboTax that gives viewers access to free college basketball games, along with a companion augmented reality (AR) app.

The new branded content studio is Roku’s latest push into creating and publishing shows vs. just distributing or monetizing them. In January, the company bought all of Quibi’s programming — including shows that never saw the light of day — followed by acquiring the rights to the cult classic IP that is This Old House.

Viewers will be able to access the Quibi shows, episodes of This Old House, as well as all the branded content from the new studio on “The Roku Channel,” Roku’s own free, ad-supported hub within its platform.

So … the question becomes, how will Roku’s own IP compete with all the other shows (and apps, ads and branded content) in terms of getting user attention? And does that make Roku a “frenemy” to publishers looking to develop branded content deals themselves? (For example, if a megabrand like Pepsico wants to use videos to reach a specific target audience — let’s say Millennial Moms — will they go to a digital-first brand like Refinery29 directly, or will they work out a deal with Roku to create content that mimics Refinery29’s vibe?)

When it comes to managing content distribution rights and ad revenue shares, the CTV/OTT landscape is already pretty tricky for publishers to navigate. Roku’s “all-in-one” ambitions have seemingly just added another layer of complexity to the mix. (We’ll explore this blurred line between CTV platforms, publishers, friends and enemies during our PubForum Virtual — there’s still time to register and join the conversation. And it’s free for pubs, brands and agencies)!