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Numbers don’t lie: Roku’s streaming spats have given Amazon the edge

For a long time, we’ve thought of Roku as the streaming media king. Not just because its software is so easy to use and its devices so affordable, but also because of its popularity — the company has traditionally enjoyed a much larger share of the streaming market than its competitors. But it looks like the company’s contentious relationships with some of the biggest names in streamed entertainment may be hurting that reputation: Amazon has just announced that its Fire TV platform has hit 50 million monthly active users on its devices globally, a number that comfortably edges out Roku, which reported 46 million monthly active users in November.

It took Roku a number of months to solve its differences with NBCUniversal’s Peacock, but a similar dispute with entertainment giant HBO Max continues, with no end in sight. These spats alone don’t necessarily account for Roku’s slower growth when compared to Amazon’s Fire TV, especially given that both Peacock and HBO Max are U.S.-only services right now. Other factors include the aggressive rollout and pricing of Amazon’s new Fire TV devices, which in some cases deliver more features for less money than the equivalent Roku devices. Amazon’s Alexa is now built into every Fire TV device, as one example.

Indeed, the popularity of Fire TV streaming devices like the Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Stick, and Fire TV Stick Lite must be considerable since Fire TV doesn’t possess Roku’s large presence on smart TVs or smart soundbars.

The Fire TV platform doesn’t offer as many apps as Roku, and it lacks a free-to-watch standalone service like The Roku Channel, which can be accessed on the web without an account.

Nonetheless, Amazon continues to refine the Fire TV offering. Earlier in December, it began to roll out a new version of its user experience, putting a greater emphasis on content discovery and recommendations along with a simpler menu structure.

Amazon also announced that it has added the ability to do two-way video chats on the second-gen Fire TV Cube for those who buy compatible webcams.

NBCUniversal’s Peacock remains unavailable on Fire TV, but HBO Max was added in November, giving Fire TV users the opportunity to watch Wonder Woman 1984 in 4K Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos when it debuts on the service on December 25. Given that Warner Media recently dropped the bombshell that its entire movie release schedule for 2021 would be going direct-to-consumer via HBO Max, the service’s continued absence from Roku could hurt the streaming device maker even further.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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