The move, first reported by the New York Post on Wednesday, indicates Apple is apparently reaching out to streaming hardware makers with a request for preferred product placement in an attempt to drive subscribers to the fledgling streaming service.
Touted as a convenience by most hardware manufacturers, remote control presets are precious real estate: Manufacturers forge agreements with streaming platforms in exchange for including a preset to their streaming service on a remote control.
Roku is not alone in this pay-to-play scheme: Smart TV makers like Vizio and LG have been doing the same for years. Amazon recently decided to get into the game when it released an upgraded version of its Amazon Fire TV remote earlier this year, which includes four streaming preset buttons for the first time.
Roku remotes have traditionally been limited to just four streaming preset buttons. Netflix and the Walt Disney Company’s Hulu have long enjoyed preferential treatment on those remotes, leaving just two other buttons up for grabs.
Crackle, Sony’s PS Vue, Starz, M-Go, Rdio, Vudu and the Roku Channel have all been spotted on Roku’s remotes over the last few years. The majority of those services are still in play, though some — including PS Vue, Rdio and M-Go — have folded.
The New York Post did not say which service was displaced on Roku’s remotes, but archive photos reviewed by The Desk revealed it to be Dish Network’s streaming TV service Sling TV. The app still remains available to download on Roku devices, and users can program one of two customizable preset buttons on some remotes to open Sling TV with one press.
Though Apple and Roku compete in the streaming TV hardware space, the two companies have enjoyed a unique business relationship: Roku’s line of streaming hardware became some of the first to offer Apple’s Airplay 2 protocol. Roku was also the first company to gain access to the Apple TV Plus app at a time when the service was still largely available only on Apple’s own Apple TV hardware.
Apple’s cordial relationship with Roku may not be the only reason for its decision to buy a preset button: The company has largely relied on extensive free trials to draw people in to Apple TV Plus, a $5 a month or $50 a year streaming TV service full of original, but largely uncompelling content. Customers who agreed to buy an eligible Apple device like a phone, tablet or computer were given free access to Apple TV Plus for a limited time, and many of those extensive free trials are coming to an end in July.