Roku launches LatAm beachhead following Mexican expulsion

After being booted out of Mexico this summer, Roku is launching its streaming players and platform in 10 new Latin American countries in the coming weeks, hoping that the new regulators won’t view the devices in the same light as a Mexican judge ruled – as a content pirate’s best friend.

The susceptibility of Roku devices to hacking could be one of a few reasons why investors are anxious about fluctuating stock prices since its successful recent IPO. The piracy problem in Latin America is well documented. While countries such as the UK have been aggressively stringent in culling illegal sources of content such as Kodi this year, in many regions Kodi remains a popular go-to source for things like live soccer matches, particularly on relatively cheap and easy to manipulate hardware like Roku.

Focusing on how much content it can make available on a single platform, rather than investing in top technologies at a high price point, has made Roku into a global success story. Its Publishing Platform can allow content owners to launch their own streaming channels without entering a single line of code,  yet this strategy is coming back to bite it. Roku’s recent exile from Mexico might be the first of many, unless a serious large-scale effort across Latin America, involving the major operators, OTT services, internet giants and governments, is successfully implemented to tackle the escalating piracy problem on the continent. There have been half-hearted attempts, but simply suing people isn’t the only way to go about things.

Consumers and content publishers in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru will soon have access to Roku’s streaming platform and newly unveiled players – the Roku Streaming Stick+ and Roku Express.

The $39.40 Express is the lowest priced Roku device to roll out in some markets such as the UK, although this might not be in the case in the new countries of launch. The $105 Streaming Stick+ is the first to support 4K and 4K with HDR at up to 60 fps, and comes equipped with an advanced wireless receiver with up to four times the wireless range – achieving this reception boost via the somewhat unorthodox method of moving a wireless antenna from the device into the power cable. To stop users picking and choosing micro USB chargers for the Streaming Stick+ and therefore losing reception, Roku has decided to use the outdated mini USB port – assuming that most consumers today don’t have any old mini USB cables to hand.

Roku has around 15.1 million active accounts today. Its 10 new territories at launch have a combined population of 190 million, with an average internet penetration of 38%, which gives Roku a potential customer base of around 70 million consumers – and a whole host of bad news for the local pay TV operators. Mexico alone is home to 127.5 million people, so the regulatory hurdles there will be trickier to maneuver.

Sales of Roku devices were banned in Mexico in July this year after it lost a legal battle with Mexican cable TV operator Cablevision. The Televisa subsidiary alleged that too many of Roku’s streaming devices were being hacked to allow users to view pirated content, and a judge then halted importation of Roku devices.

This wasn’t the first incidence of Cablevision throwing its toys out of the pram amid threats from new competitors. Last year it pulled all its original content from Netflix in attempt to convert subscribers over to its own continent-wide SVoD service Blim, which has been mocked by consumers for its inferior quality. Televisa’s influence over the rest of the continent makes it likely to be first to throw up a fresh court case against Roku outside of Mexico.

Roku is continuing to fight this ruling. At the time, Cablevisión spokeswoman Maria Eugenia Zurita said, ”Cablevisión cannot allow the content that it licenses from domestic and foreign companies to be illegally used. We would also like Roku to better supervise the use of its software so that it’s not used inappropriately.”

GM of Roku TVs and players Chas Smith said, “Streaming is gaining popularity quickly around the world, and in particular, in Latin America because it allows consumers to watch TV on their terms. To meet the demand we are launching our affordable and easy to use streaming players in various countries in Latin America. The Roku Express+ is one of our most popular streaming players, and is a great starting point for first time streamers because it works with virtually any TV. We’re also delivering our all-new Roku Streaming Stick+ that provides a cutting-edge streaming experience on both HD and 4K TVs.”7