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What is The Roku Channel? Content, cost, and how to use it

If it’s your first time on the Roku platform (or even your 100th), you may notice an option called The Roku Channel once you are finished setting everything up and logging in with your Roku account. Unlike some third-party apps that you have to download, The Roku Channel itself is already pre-installed and ready to go. But that leads to a big question: What exactly is The Roku Channel, and should you care?

Roku’s own channel is a hub with a wide variety of content, and it is an excellent starting place when first learning how to use and customize the smart platform. We are big fans of Roku devices and TVs, especially for those looking for an affordable streaming platform, and The Roku Channel is one of the advantages that you get: Here’s everything you should know.

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The Roku home screen with several channels.
Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends

What is The Roku Channel?

The Roku Channel is Roku’s own streaming app for delivering its unique content to users. It works in a similar way to apps like Hulu or Netflix, except it’s created to support a wide variety of content directly from Roku. The Roku Channel was first released in 2017 and has been updated a number of times to improve access and expand the content.

The Roku Channel should not be mistaken for the Roku smart platform that hosts The Roku Channel and other apps: You’ll always find The Roku Channel on this platform, but it is separate from the platform itself.

Does The Roku Channel cost money?

The base tier of The Roku Channel is free to access, and any content delivered by Roku is free to view. But, as we will explain below, that doesn’t mean everything advertised on The Roku Channel is free to view — some services will come with their own fees. However, there is no charge to access the service as long as you have a free Roku account.

Roku Channel Home Page example.

What sort of content is on The Roku Channel?

The free content on The Roku Channel rotates frequently and represents a wide variety of genres, so it’s difficult to give a precise list of everything it has. However, you can use The Roku Channel to view things like:

  • Shows like Alias and Army Wives
  • Movies like Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Terminator Salvation, and Coraline
  • Original series like Swimming with Sharks
  • The pilot episodes of recently launched shows like Interview with a Vampire
  • Docudramas like Killer Kids
  • Cooking, nature, and game shows
  • Kid’s content like Peppa Pig
  • 24/7 news broadcasts from channels like ABC, NBC, FOX, and others

What can I add to The Roku Channel?

Much like Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, and similar apps, The Roku Channel allows you to add premium subscriptions within the app to access content delivered by third-party streaming services. That includes things like Discovery+, AMC+, Starz, Showtime, Paramount+, and dozens of others. There are two important points to keep in mind here.

First, you don’t need to use The Roku Channel to pay for, log in, and watch these services, not even if you are using a Roku TV or device. You can download the third-party apps themselves onto the Roku platform (as long as they are available) and use them independently without ever visiting The Roku Channel. The big advantage here is that you can use The Roku Channel to organize all your streaming services in one place and pay for them with one payment.

Second, Roku will automatically deduct monthly payments for these services from the payment option linked to your Roku account. That means you need to be very careful when choosing advertised content on the Channel, or picking shows or movies that are marked Premium. You could sign up for a monthly fee without easily realizing it until Roku sends you a bill.

Where is The Roku Channel available?

There are not many regional restrictions for The Roku Channel. If you have a newer Roku device and a Roku account, for example, you should be able to access it right out of the box. The exceptions are the live news broadcasts, which are only available in the United States and Canada at this time.

Roku Channel App iOS version.

Is The Roku Channel available as a separate app?

Yes, it is, you don’t need to use Roku’s smart platform to access it. You can download the Roku app to access it for iOS here, or for Android here, or use the web app here.

This independent app on a mobile device also adds some unique new features that you may want to use along with your Roku device. It can connect with the Roku platform and allow you to remotely switch devices, use the app like a remote, or switch to silent listening if you have a pair of earbuds handy.

Do I have to use The Roku Channel on a Roku device?

No, you can get full use of any supported apps on Roku without touching The Roku Channel itself. But it’s a lot of free content, which may be hard to pass up. Additionally, the exception would be subscriptions for some content on The Roku Channel that do not have a corresponding third-party app available to download on the Roku platform: You may have to boot up The Roku Channel for content like that.

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