Monday, March 7, 2022

Roku and Private Channels

For a while, Roku allowed a group of apps that didn't go through Roku's app certification process. They still do, but with enough restrictions that you can say that they don't. Let me explain.

First, understand that Roku doesn't refer to apps by the term "apps." Roku calls them "channels," but they're apps. You call them apps. I call them apps. Roku calls them channels. In Rokuland, channels = apps. Mostly.

Roku allowed Private Channels, also called Non-Certified Channels, on the platform. But here's the thing. Private/Non-certified Channels/Apps were not supposed to be forever and ever. You see, Roku wants to do this little thing called making money.

Apple makes a lot of money from services and subscriptions. Most of their money isn't from selling Macs or iPhones. It's from the services that come along with that. Apple gets a cut of any sales or subscriptions purchased through their App Store. And that is the source of most of Apple's money.

Roku is similar in that it makes money from sales and subscriptions through its system. Roku Pay, as they call it, allows you to easily purchase or subscribe to content. It also makes it easier for Roku to get a cut of that sweet sweet subscription money.

To get an app in Roku's Channel Store, the developer must offer purchases and subscriptions through Roku Pay. Now, this does not mean the user can only subscribe via Roku Pay. The user could still subscribe directly to the service using their Web browser, for instance, and use those credentials to log in to the app and use the service on Roku. But, Roku requires them to include Roku Pay as an option. Private/non-certified apps don't go through the certification process, and Roku gets nothing from them.

So why would Roku even allow private/non-certified apps? Well, now they don't. Not really. But they did in order to allow the developer to put the app out there and work all the bugs out before getting it certified and into the Channel Store. It was a huge unrestricted beta app program.

Here's where it all fell apart. App developers would develop apps (duh) and put them into the private/non-certified app library. Users could enter a code and install the app on their system. That's great, right? Well, not for Roku. Remember, Roku is in business to make money. Same reason everyone in business is in business. And these private/non-certified apps don't generate money if they never get certified and moved into the Channel Store.

So, why didn't these developers move their apps into the Channel Store? Three main reasons.

  1. Laziness. They didn't go through the trouble of coding the app to the standards Roku set forth. Some private apps actually caused problems for some Roku devices. Some couldn't be removed from the devices. Standards reduced the threat of apps causing problems. Plus they ensure Roku Pay works and Roku gets its share of subscription money.
  2. Greed. If the app is moved to the Channel Store, they have to include the ability to use Roku Pay. That means Roku gets a cut of the subscriptions. If the app isn't in the Channel Store, then Roku doesn't get a cut. The developer gets around it, mooching off of Roku's platform.
  3. Incompetence. Some app developers simply can't code well enough to get their app into the Channel Store. If coding was easy, everyone would do it. But it's not. And for some, it's too hard. Sometimes, the developer doesn't want to go through the trouble (see Laziness) but sometimes the developer just isn't good enough of a developer to make it happen. The tough word for this is incompetence.
  4. Other. Probably other reasons too. So more than three, but I only went into three. Sue me.

What Roku did was to revamp their system. They still allow non-certified apps, but they call them "beta apps" and there are a lot of restrictions.

  • Developers can have only 10 beta apps at a time.
  • Only 20 users can have any one beta app at a time.
  • Each app has a life of 120 days, then *poof* it goes away.

I personally think the 20 users restriction is too low, but it is what it is.

So if your precious app that you need or your entire world falls apart and you find yourself on the ledge of a building, now you know why.

Oh, and if your Streaming Life depends on non-certified Roku apps, you're doing it wrong.

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