Looking for something to watch? Roku, and its sponsors, would like to help

With updated brand-studio programming, the streaming platform aims to attract media and entertainment sponsors.
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· 5 min read

If the entertainment biz knows one thing, it’s that people sometimes have a hell of a time figuring out what to watch next. It takes an average of seven minutes for a user to decide to watch on a streaming platform, according to Nielsen, and one-fifth of would-be streamers throw up their hands and don’t watch anything at all.

Roku, which sells streaming devices and has a smart TV operating system, is renewing an effort to solve that conundrum for its viewers while also offering places for brands to get in front of Roku users.

Roku’s brand studio, which debuted in March last year and is a part of the streaming platform’s increasingly robust advertising operation, is intensifying its courtship of ad dollars this fall with the return of its weekly series, Roku Recommends. The series, hosted by Maria Menounos and Andrew Hawkins and produced by Funny or Die, highlights five new shows and movies across various streaming services like HBO Max, Disney+, and Netflix.

Peppered in between the countdown are brand-sponsored segments, like a superhero-movie roundup sponsored by Metro by T-Mobile and a “misery loves company” movie roundup sponsored by Geico.

The series’ 35-episode first season landed among the top 10 video on-demand programs on The Roku Channel, according to the company. Now, the second season, which premiered this month, has increased its ambitions.

“We’re kind of going bigger and better,” said Chris Bruss, head of the Roku Brand Studio and a veteran of Funny or Die. “We want to have more talent in the studio with our hosts. We want to do more field pieces. We want to be able to send correspondents to the red carpet, do set visits, to go do interviews.”

As the streaming wars have intensified, Roku’s brand studio is also aiming to work more closely with the media and entertainment brands eager to get their shows, movies, and apps in front of audiences. The second season of Roku Recommends has included a sponsorship from Vix+, the Spanish-language subscription streaming service from TelevisaUnivision, and will include the Weather Channel’s streaming app, which is available on Roku devices.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from media and entertainment companies to be able to highlight…upcoming streaming titles,” Bruss said.

More, more, more

Roku Recommends isn’t the only offering Roku’s brand studio has for advertisers. The brand studio also produces the monthly series Watch Along, where hosts Tiffany Smith and Andre Meadows watch movies and, during short breaks, share trivia and fun facts in sponsored segments, Bruss said.

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Also common are one-off series, Bruss said, including the six-episode The Show Next Door, sponsored by Maker’s Mark, in which actor Randall Park interviewed celebrities like Tony Hale and Nicole Byer over specialty cocktails. (The series ranked as the seventh most popular comedy on The Roku Channel in September 2021, the company said.) Arriving next month on The Roku Channel is a three-episode docuseries sponsored by Mast-Jägermeister US titled The Lesbian Bar Project, hosted by Lea DeLaria of Orange is the New Black fame.

This fall, the brand studio took on one of its largest projects yet for HBO Max, tied to the release of House of the Dragon. As part of a widespread partnership, the HBO series  got top placement on the Roku interface and a specialized hub featuring a Roku device giveaway and details about the new series. The brand studio also created Roku Rundown, a one-off special hosted by Watch Along’s Smith and Meadows featuring show details and fan and talent interviews.

The project required coordination across departments, Bruss acknowledged. The result, Bruss said, was “good for HBO as a client in terms of their paid media, as well as good for the audience that we have here at Roku, as well as good for HBO as a streaming channel.” The company is now considering developing Roku Rundown into a recurring feature.

As Roku continues its own push into original content, expanded offerings from Roku’s brand studio can serve as internal advertising. Roku Recommends is in touch with The Roku Channel’s marketing department in order to stay up-to-date on upcoming releases that are a priority for the company, Bruss said, and episodes this month included a promotion for the Roku Originals series Emeril Tailgates. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the upcoming Roku original film starring Daniel Radcliffe as the titular Weird Al, which will stream for free on Roku beginning Nov. 4, is also likely to get top billing.

“I have to imagine that’s something that we’re all really going to want to highlight in an upcoming episode of Roku Recommends,” Bruss said, “because it’s what people are talking about, it’s what people are searching for, [and] it’s also a priority for The Roku Channel.”

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