Streaming

Why Roku’s ‘Weird Al’ biopic starring Daniel Radcliffe could usher in a new era for the platform

“I think it really may bring a bunch of people to discover The Roku Channel for the first time,” says head of originals David Eilenberg.
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Roku

· 4 min read

Make a high-profile new film available to watch for free? Weirder things have happened.

On Friday, the connected-TV platform Roku is releasing Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, the Daniel Radcliffe-led biopic parody, on The Roku Channel. The film, which was well received following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, marks another step forward for Roku as it wades further into original programming in an attempt to make its free, ad-supported platform stand out amid considerable competition.

“The signs point to [this being] a moment in which we get to introduce The Roku Channel to a whole gigantic new swath of viewers,” David Eilenberg, Roku’s VP, head of originals, told Marketing Brew. “It’s generated a huge amount of its own awareness and intent to view. Beyond just having something great here in the early stages of our development, I think it really may bring a bunch of people to discover The Roku Channel for the first time.”

The saga begins

Weird, which also features Rainn Wilson, Evan Rachel Wood, and Quinta Brunson in supporting roles, is arguably the platform’s biggest title yet and only its second high-profile film release. (The first original film to premiere on The Roku Channel was last December’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, a one-off holiday special based off the Emmy-winning series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which Roku acquired streaming rights to after it was canceled by NBC after just two seasons.)

The film is getting star sponsorship treatment, too. The company said this week that T-Mobile will serve as a sponsor of the title, with prime placement in Weird promotions and related content on the Roku platform.

A star-studded original movie on Roku is an almost-unthinkable pivot from a few years ago, when Roku  insisted to reporters that it wasn’t pursuing original programming. That changed when the short-form streamer Quibi shut down, after which its original programming became available at fire-sale prices. Roku scooped up the rights to some of that content, and the rest, they say, is history.

That history is still being written, and Eilenberg, who joined Roku in March of this year, has been on a tear commissioning new programming to bulk up the service’s offerings, which include new seasons of ex-Quibi series, new originals, and yes, films.

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“It’s not like we launch Weird and then have to wait a year to present something new to the audience,” Eilenberg said. “We do have a pretty steady drumbeat of launches already set.” That includes titles like the reality competition series The Great American Baking Show, the reality rom-com film To Paris For Love, and the comedy series Slip.

The hope with all of the originals, Roku CEO Anthony Wood told investors Wednesday afternoon, isn’t so much to differentiate Roku products as it is to keep platform engagement high.

“It’s all in service of creating a good business around The Roku Channel and getting customers to come into The Roku Channel and watch content,” Wood said.

Good enough for now

Eilenberg said titles like Weird resemble the kinds of programming he is looking to green light for The Roku Channel—“smart, fun, general entertainment that can create mass reach,” he told us. But as with other streaming services, there are few silver bullets in entertainment that appeal to everyone, so Eilenberg said that he is focused on identifying what he described as programming “adjacencies.”

“There are very few people who are just like, ‘I only watch this genre of show,’” Eilenberg said. “The person who just watched Weird may want to watch another comedy feature, but it’s just as likely that they want to watch an unscripted show that has the right tone for their tastes.”

Roku uses data signals like past viewership and popularity of licensed titles to help inform decisions about what shows get the green light in an effort to feed different viewership niches. With that said, Eilenberg said there’s still a desire to try to strike gold with unscripted programming that can get people invested week after week, like the business reality show Undercover Boss, he said.

If done right, Eilenberg hopes to convert the 65.4 million monthly active Roku users into reliable viewers of The Roku Channel.

“There are still plenty of people who have Rokus that may never have visited The Roku Channel or watched a Roku original,” Eilenberg said. “It’s a great place to start.”

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