Amazon and Roku Fight for Smart TV Screen Time

Amazon and Roku are in a quiet race to grab as much of the smart television market as possible. The announcements made by both companies at this year’s IFA tech expo make it especially clear that they are going to be elbowing each other for room in this space.

Amazon Fires, Roku Rises

Amazon’s effort to put a Fire TV in every home is ongoing but kicked into a higher gear after the company announced partnerships with manufacturers like JVC, Grundig, and Toshiba to build more than a dozen new TVs with Amazon Fire embedded within. That’s on top of its updated Fire Cube and the new Fire TV edition soundbar built by Anker announced last week.

Roku had growth news to share at IFA as well. The company is extending its licensing program to Europe for the first time, letting TV makers there, starting with Hisense, build Roku televisions and use the Roku OS in other smart TVs. Roku also added some hardware to its offerings, with a Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer in the works.

License to Watch

The licensing of operating systems and televisions designs is important to Amazon and Roku as they stretch to become the most widely used smart TV system. Amazon and Roku don’t have to build televisions if they can get TV makers to use their designs and their software. Roku was built on exactly that model, to the point where the company now claims to be the best-selling smart TV operating system in the U.S., with a third of all televisions using its platform.

For Amazon, the smart TV space is only one of its many irons in the fire. The company often bills its smart TV services as one facet of its larger smart home product line. That may be why Amazon does seem to be winning against Roku. Roku and Amazon Fire both debuted around five years ago, but Amazon Fire has grown to more than 37 million users, while Roku has around 30 million active users. The competition between the companies doesn’t prevent cooperation. Roku even has an Alexa skill to enable voice commands for its platform

While Amazon sells Fire TVs as part of a larger Amazon home, Roku may be more appealing for those who want a smart TV without everything the Amazon name implies. In terms of the difference in what each offers to the person turning on the television, it may be mostly peripheral, or about what technology and services the television is connected to. Whichever brand is more likely to drive purchase decisions will be the one TV makers want as a partner.

Taking on Samsung and the Gang

Amazon and Roku aren’t the only options out there for a smart TV operating system. Where they have the edge is the breadth of their respective partnerships, especially for lower-cost televisions. Technavio lists Samsung, LG, and Sony as the three largest TV makers worldwide and accounted for about 50% of U.S. smart speaker sales in 2018 according to Statista. They each supply their own OS. So, Amazon and Roku are fighting over the manufacturers in the remaining 50% that will use a third-party OS.

The smart home platform competition, in general, is far from resolved. When it comes to value segment smart televisions right now, however, it’s going to be Amazon versus Roku.


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