Why Many Video Publishers Think Roku Beats Amazon’s Fire TV Despite Growth in Active Users

“Amazon is surprisingly green when it comes to selling or swapping OTT promotional opportunities,” one executive says

Amazon’s Fire TV may have Roku beat on the number of monthly active users, but many U.S. video publishers say they are finding greater reach audience development opportunities on Roku.

In interviews with seven small and medium-sized streaming companies with monthly viewers from 100,000 to 10 million-plus, a reoccurring takeaway was that compared to Amazon’s Fire TV and Apple TV, Roku is winning their hearts — for now.

Three of the publishers noted that Fire TV is one of the fastest growing connected devices in terms of reach. “FireTV has improved over the past few months and has grown steadily month over month,” one publisher with several channels on both platforms said. “It’s closing the gap on Roku and we’re not 100% sure why. We think it’s because of increased consumer adoption of the platform overall. We’re not doing anything differently to drive the growth.”

(Amazon and Roku did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

Still, the seven video publishers — who all declined to be identified to preserve their relationships with both companies — consistently noted three key reasons why Roku remains a dominant platform for their content initiatives despite Fire TV’s rise.

1. Roku brings in more traffic.

Last month, Amazon Fire TV overtook Roku in user count, according to the streamer’s recent announcement that it had reached 34 million monthly active users. Roku has around 29 million, according to its most recent earnings report. But, for ad-supported streamers in the U.S., that 29 million base is stretching further.

One New York-based streamer with multiple OTT applications on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV said approximately 50% of views in April came from Roku. Combined, Fire TV and Apple brought in 40% of the views, while Android accounted for just 10%. Findings between Roku and Fire TV were similar among five other streaming companies, with Roku typically accounting for approximately 50% to 70% of views.

These numbers correlate with past reports that examined the share of viewership among the streaming hardware devices on the market, suggesting that Amazon’s lead on Roku has yet to catch up to video publishers. In the first quarter of this year, Amazon Fire TV captured 18.6% of OTT viewership. While that’s up significantly from its 11.4% share in Q1 2018, Fire TV still lagged far behind Roku’s long-standing lead of 42.4% share. Though it is worth noting that Roku’s growth is slowing and increased less than 2% only from the same period last year

2. Better audience development opportunities 

Roku’s lead boils down to “experience and time in market,” one executive from a streaming company that works with both platforms said. “Amazon is a much larger company where streaming came later than e-commerce. Roku understands that discoverability is key considering the amount of apps available on their [set top] boxes.”

Roku, which houses over 5,000 channels, has multiple places within its platform where it promotes partner content to consumers, such as its “Featured Free” section, which has a tab located on the Roku home screen. The company rotates partner content in and out of the section and can be a good means of discovery for those who get that placement. Being included in the “Featured Free” section led to traffic increases of 12% for the AVOD platform Popcornflix, according to the company. Roku also includes partner content in its ad-supported streaming service, The Roku Channel, giving partners another path to revenue and point of discovery.

However, several publishers noted that Amazon Fire TV has placed a growing focus on helping video publishers with audience development, through unpaid marketing paths like placement on the platform’s “Featured” section.

3. Roku is better at providing and communicating ad opportunities 

“Amazon is surprisingly green when it comes to selling or swapping OTT promotional opportunities,” one executive said, noting that Roku moves quickly and “has more advanced ad serving capabilities on the platform.”

Publishers also noted that Roku provides better support when it comes to informing partners about its ad business. “Roku’s team is constantly reaching out, trying to make sure we understand the advertising platform and how it works,” a Los Angeles-based video publisher with multiple channels on each platform said. “Haven’t heard a peep from Amazon.”

“They’ve invested a lot into it,” a San Francisco-based video publisher added. “They have their own Roku ad network, their own, like, sales team — obviously Amazon has their own everything, but Roku puts a lot of effort into that. They’re constantly pushing it. Even when you do a deal with them, they always try to get access to your free ad inventory.”

However, one Los Angeles-based publisher said that Amazon had kept in close contact with its executives on all fronts, noting that communication likely depended on the relationship a video publisher has with each company.


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