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Roku Makes a Big Budget Bet On Original Content

The streaming service is investing heavily in its free channel, recruiting Daniel Radcliffe for a “Weird Al” Biopic.

Break out the accordion, as Daniel Radcliffe will portray the beloved parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic in a biopic that will be available exclusively on the Roku Channel  (ROKU) - Get Roku, Inc. Class A Report.

The film, titled “WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story,” will be directed by comedy writer Eric Appel, who penned the screenplay alongside Yankovic, and produced by Funny Or Die and Tango 

The exact details of the plot are so far unconfirmed, but in a press release Roku promised that “the biopic holds nothing back, exploring every facet of Yankovic’s life, from his meteoric rise to fame with early hits like “Eat It” and “Like a Surgeon” to his torrid celebrity love affairs and famously depraved lifestyle. "WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story" takes audiences on a truly unbelievable journey through Yankovic’s life and career, from gifted child prodigy to the greatest musical legend of all time.” 

Considering that the five-time Grammy winner is famously mild-mannered (he’s a teetotaling vegan), expect a parody of traditional biopics then. 

Roku Makes Moves Into Original Content

If you want to get hip to the streaming revolution and check out all the cool new shows you’ve been hearing about (if you’re not caught up “Yellowjackets” you may as well go live in a cave), you either have to buy a new Smart TV, or you need a digital media player such as Roku, Apple TV  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report or Amazon’s Fire Stick  (AMZN) - Get, Inc. Report to get you connected. 

The first Roku iteration was developed in conjunction with Netflix  (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report, and hit the market in May 2008, just as it was making the transition from being a mail-delivery service for DVDs to becoming the streaming giant we are all familiar with. 

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Roku now “powers more smart TVs and streaming boxes in the U.S. than any of its competitors,” according to The Wall Street Journal. While you can still use the Roku to watch pay streaming service such as Netflix, the company is increasingly turning its focus to selling advertisements in the streaming apps it carries, including its own Roku Channel app.

The channel is free to use, with advertisements, and features a hodgepodge of television titles such as “House” and “2 Broke Girls,” and films like “Out Of The Furnace.” It’s not available on competitors such as Apple TV, but you can stream it through your laptop.  

As is required of any streaming service that wants to stay competitive, the Roku Channel has a smattering of original, exclusive content, mostly material that it purchased in a fire sale from the short-form streaming company Quibi after it went out of business. 

Programs such as “Mapleworth Murders,” a “Murder She Wrote” spoof from Paula Pell, John Lutz and J.B. Smoove that earned three 2021 Emmy acting nominations, have their fans, but so far the channel hasn’t produced its “Stranger Things” or “Orange Is The New Black,” i.e. the breakout hit that lures people to check out the service. 

As of the third quarter of last year, Roku reported a total of around 56.4 million monthly active users in the United States, according to Statista. But it’s actively looking to grow those numbers and its selection of original content, in an effort to get the public to associate it with free streaming programming, thus boosting its ad revenue.

In an earnings call from the third quarter of last year, Anthony Wood, founder  Chief Executive Officer of Roku said that "the primary focus is on the Roku platform where The Roku Channel has become a very important asset for us. It's very successful and continues to do well,' adding that "we've created this virtuous cycle where we can invest more in content that brings in more viewers that brings them more advertisers that provides more dollars to spend on content.... you just get this cycle that's really working well for us."

In December, it unveiled its first film “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas,” a continuation of the cult TV hit “Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.” There's more on the way, as Roku has more than 50 original shows in development in the next two years, including the upcoming show “Children Ruin Everything,” from “Schitt’s Creek” creator Kurt Smeaton, according to The Journal. So don’t be too surprised when you start seeing more big name projects heading to the service, as it has to do something to get people to know it exists.