In a costly bid to boost the Apple TV+ subscriber base, Apple has purchased a shortcut button for its streaming app on new Roku remotes.
The remote for Roku’s Express 4K+ Streaming Media Player (above), unveiled on June 30 and now being promoted on Roku’s home page, features the Apple TV+ button in its lower left-hand corner.
However, the actual addition of the Apple TV+ button to the 4K player’s remote (as well as to the remotes for Roku’s Voice Remote Pro and Streambar Pro) — while revealed back in April by The Verge — has to date not been officially announced or promoted by either Apple or Roku.
Some industry observers have asserted that the low-key approach reflects Apple’s desire to play down its “desperation” over the streaming service’s relatively modest subscriber growth.
The button marks the first time that Apple has ever put its branding on a competitor’s hardware. And not coincidentally, it is timed to coincide with the official July 1 end of the free Apple TV+ service that’s been in place for as long as 20 months for millions of consumers who got that freebie as a perk along with the purchase of any Apple device.
As previously reported, Apple launched its offer of a free year of Apple TV+ service offer with device purchases to help build a user base for the streaming service when it launched in November 2019, but is now paring that offer down to three months of free service.
The big question is how many users now losing the free offer will opt to cancel when Apple begins billing them $4.99 per month.
While Apple has yet to report actual subscriber numbers for Apple TV+, estimates have put total users (paid and free) at about 40 million as of the end of 2020 — and in January, a Moffatt Nathanson survey found 62% of Apple TV+ subscribers reporting that they are on a promotional offer.
Having a shortcut button on millions of Roku remotes, alongside much-larger competitors Netflix (208 million subscribers) and Disney+, as well as Disney’s Hulu (41.6 million paid U.S. subscribers – up from 32 million a year ago), is a powerful marketing opportunity for Apple TV+.
When users hit the button, they are routed directly to the streaming app and prompted to set up a paid account.
In 2019, Bloomberg reported that Roku charges streaming services $1 per customer for having a button on its remote.
Roku, which reports having more than 53 million active accounts, also benefits from increased reach through streamer shortcut buttons.
LightShed Partners analyst Rich Greenfield, speaking to The New York Post, described the Roku Apple TV+ button as a “shocking” development that signals that Apple has finally conceded that it can’t just stay within its own walled garden.
“Nobody ever would have expected this,” he added. “The thought that Apple, rather than create a device that’s going to replace Roku, is now buying a button next to Netflix or next to Disney+ just shows you that as they get into the content business, they need to be everywhere.”
Greenfield believes that one part of Apple TV+’s problem is confusion in the marketplace: Consumers don’t understand that the streaming service’s availability is not limited to Apple TV devices.
Seeing Apple TV+ on a Roku remote button next to Netflix’s could help convey that message, Greenfield noted.
Although Moffett Nathanson has said it believes Apple TV+ lacks sufficient content to attract enough paid subscribers to make it profitable, much of the streamer’s value to Apple is in helping to drive customers for its lucrative subscriber services offerings.
Apple TV+ is among the numerous services available, with a one-month free trial, within the Apple One services bundle.