How Apple TV+ Got Its Own Roku Button

Roku Voice Remote Pro with Apple TV Button1 Credit: Roku
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It looks like Apple has managed to pick up some prime real estate on at least one major media streaming platform, with its Apple TV+ service now getting a coveted position as one of the four quick-access buttons on Roku’s latest remotes.

While these shortcut buttons have existed on remote controls for set-top boxes, smart TVs, and other streaming devices for years, they’re traditionally occupied by much more popular and mainstream services like Netflix.

For example, when Sony unveiled its Playstation 5 media remote last fall, the four buttons on that one were dedicated to Disney+, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube, while remotes from Panasonic, Philips, Sony and Samsung TVs have long sported at least one special button dedicated to Netflix.

To be fair, Roku’s collection of quick access buttons have a somewhere more diverse history. While Netflix has been a staple of the remote since early 2015, the others have varied between services like Amazon, HBO Now, Hulu, Sling, Starz, and Vudu, to name just a few. Roku has also released different versions for some countries in the past, with services specific to those markets. For example, a version of the remote sold in Canada once had a “Cineplex” button for quick access to a streaming service offered by the Canadian movie theatre chain.

So, with all of that in mind, perhaps it’s not so surprising that Apple had managed to convince Roku to give special placement to the Apple TV+ service. After all, it ultimately just comes down to money, and Apple has plenty of that lying around.

According to Bloomberg, Roku offers up this button space on its remotes to whoever is willing to pay. The price cited in late 2019 was $1 per customer, per month, but it’s likely the price has increased since then, and with multiple companies vying for placement, it’s more likely that Roku auctions off its button space to the highest bidder.

Nearly every inch of real estate on Roku is for rent. For $1 million, a streaming service can take over the Home Screen to advertise a show. Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, and YouTube have paid Roku to build brand-specific buttons on its remote controls; these lead users straight to those services. At $1 per customer for each button, the cost can quickly add up to millions of dollars in monthly fees.

Lucas Shaw and Gerry Smith, Bloomberg Businessweek

That said, regardless of the cost, it’s a smart move for Apple in trying to get priority placement for its Apple TV+ service. As The Verge wrote last year, “the Netflix button is an advertisement masquerading as a product,” and there’s no doubt that Apple plans to use its placement on the new Roku remote to generate even more mindshare for its streaming service.

After all, while Apple TV+ would otherwise be easily lost in the shuffle, the presence of a big button right on the remote is going to encourage Roku customers to at least check out the service and take advantage of Apple’s free trial. If they like what they see, they may even stick around and start paying for it.

When it comes to building a subscriber base, Apple TV+ has been off to a slow start, with a solid but limited catalogue of original shows. Its growth also hasn’t been helped by the global health pandemic, which has shut down or delayed production on many of its flagship shows. While Apple boasts of a large viewing audience, many folks are still getting the service for free as the result of purchasing an Apple device — a trial period that Apple has extended not just once, but twice.

That said, Apple is well known for playing the long game, and since Apple TV+ isn’t part of its core business, it can afford to be patient while it builds a subscriber base more organically. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to keep on doing everything it can to promote the service, of course.

Roku has also been getting somewhat cozier with Apple over the past year, perhaps hoping to use the partnership as a competitive advantage to distinguish it from competing devices like Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast. For example, Roku is the only third-party dedicated set-top box to support AirPlay 2 and HomeKit on its 4K devices, and it recently announced that it now plans to bring those features to its HD boxes as well.

The Apple TV+ button can be found on the new Roku Voice Remote Pro, which also features a rechargeable battery, headphone jack, and two other customizable shortcut buttons.

Apple’s new button appears alongside buttons for Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu. The Apple TV+ button is also being added to the remotes that are bundled with the newly announced Roku Express 4K and Roku Streambar Pro, although those remotes don’t include the two customizable buttons.

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