Programmer profile: The Roku Channel

The Roku Channel is crafting a content strategy that capitalizes on consumer interest in AVOD.

Despite a pandemic-fueled ad sales slump, the ad-based video on demand (AVOD) model is thriving. More than half of Canadians use ad-supported platforms to stream content, according to a Fuse Insights study commissioned by AVOD platform Roku, with the platforms accounting for roughly 10% of total streaming time in Canada.

Roku launched in the Canadian market in 2018 and has recently acquired Canadian content as The Roku Channel originals, including New Metric Media’s Children Ruin Everything (pictured above) for the U.S. and adult animation Doomlands, produced by Blue Ant Media-owned animator Look Mom! Productions. The company is also investing further into its originals strategy, hiring ITV America’s David Eilenberg as its head of original content.

Playback spoke with Jennifer Vaux (pictured, left), senior director, content acquisition for The Roku Channel on how the company is crafting its content strategy to capitalize on the growing consumer interest in AVOD.

roku-oct-2021- jennifer vauxPlayback: Before the pandemic, AVOD was considered a growing avenue for consumers. How much growth have you observed in the last two years?

Jennifer Vaux: In our 2021 “The Streaming Decade” report we found that 42% of streamers in Canada used ad-supported streaming services. Free is a very strong value proposition for a consumer. It’s accessible, it’s easy to use, you can just jump right in and start watching content.

What are some of the key content trends you’ve seen from the Canadian market since the 2018 launch?

JV: We’ve seen a lot of growth in VOD, but also in our FAST channels. We’ve got over 100 free live TV channels across news, sports and entertainment, including branded IP, like The Red Green Channel. CBC News is a partner. We’re super excited to see people still want to watch linear. They want that lean-back experience, but they also want the complement of the VOD side of it.

Would you say there are certain genres that audiences tend to lean more towards?

JV: We see everything work, from procedurals, dramas and true crime, but we also see a lot of strength in comedies and unscripted. I think what we’re able to do, especially because we have such a strong algorithm in The Roku Channel, is we’re able to serve up the content that audiences tend to want to watch, and we surface it up to the top.

How does that impact your acquisition strategy?

JV: With The Roku Channel, we have this flywheel of content where you get great content on the service, it grows engagement, which then accelerates the ad revenue, which then allows us to reinvest in more content, so people are able to find what they want to watch when they want to watch it. As a result, we are sourcing broadly from existing distributors.

We work closely with CBC, as I mentioned, and we license movies of the week and romance from Incendo. It’s definitely a challenge from an acquisition point of view because we do have to look at everything, but we want really good relationships with Canadian [distributors] and producer partners.

How much do those MoWs factor into the overall content strategy?

JV: It’s a part of the strategy. We also have our Roku original strategy where we’re using the data to determine what we want to make and what resonates with our audience. We launched our first Roku original movie, Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, and these holiday movies do really well at that time of year for the MoW space. We’ve just announced Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, which we’re super excited about.

We’re approaching content from a portfolio mix, so longer-form series that drive engagement, but also movies that drive a lot of reach and excitement. Recognizable talent is super important because you have to get people engaged right at the get-go from that thumbnail art. Like, ‘Do I want to spend time with this property? Do I recognize the talent? Do I recognize the value proposition of the title?’

With Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, it’s pretty clear what that movie was about. That’s what we’re focused on is how do we encourage the audience to spend time with content they want to watch, whatever mood state they’re in.

What advice would you give a distributor or producer interested in selling or pitching original content?

JV: For original content it has to go through our originals team and through the usual channels, whether it’s through a distributor or an agent. We are still a pretty small outfit, so we can’t take unsolicited pitches. Colin Davis, who oversees scripted, and Brian Tannenbaum, who oversees unscripted, have their contacts and their network and they go to markets.

This article originally appeared in Playback’s Spring 2022 issue

This interview has been edited and condensed