— What Could Roku Mean to UUs?

September 9, 2013 at 11:16 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 2 Comments

Even though I’ve spent significant time working in the world of SmartTVs and app development for them, I only just now have made the connection between digital ministry and the power of internet delivered TV shows.

Earlier this year, I had  three set-top boxes  — one from Google, a Roku box and an Apple TV one — attached to the back of my HD TV.  The three tiny black boxes look like giant beetles feeding off the internal organs of my Samsung. The difference between Roku and Apple TV is that Apple TV is tied to a viewer’s iTunes account. It’s terrific because its much nicer to watch movies and shows from the iTunes store on a TV monitor than a tablet, iphone or laptop.  Roku, unlike Apple, aggressively seeks out and encourages worldwide developers of TV-like programming.

It’s not easy to find faith-focused content in iTunes. It’s a snap in Roku.

Today, I browsed through several dozen religion-based channels on Roku.  There are several channels for buddhism, Judaism, christianity, hinduism, and islam. I haven’t found one liberal faith though. One of the most powerful benefits of these channels is religious education.

I recently talked about MOOCs (massively open online courses) in this blog and what a boon they’d be to UUism. So too would a SmartTV channel for UUism.  SmartTV penetration in the US has yet to reach critical mass levels. But it will in a few years.  It is nearly at 50% penetration in Europe.

A UU Roku channel could have all kinds of liberal faith programming that would be more compelling than most TV available today.

It’s a pipe dream most likely. However, it’s interesting to watch many of the religion channels on Roku as a practice in faith development.

If you have a wi-fi setup in your house for internet access, you can buy a smartTV (one that connects to the internet) for less than the cost of a tablet.  Add a Roku box for less than $90, and off you go into the universe of free and premium Roku channels. Comparatively, In most parts of the US, cable tv costs significantly more money.

For example, here on Cape Cod, Heather and I are paying nearly $100/mo for basic cable and internet. We don’t watch the cable tv but cannot decouple it from the monthly cost.  So last night, out on my deck, I flipped through Roku channels and watched international news from various parts of the world and sampled a variety of channels.

One other benefit of Roku, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber (those who pay a one-time fee annually to cover postage on shipping for the year) you can play original Amazon TV content.  One guilty pleasure of mine is AmazonTV’s show, “Under the Dome.”

Roku, offers an alternative if you have wi-fi in your home. You won’t get free access to all programming on channels such as HBO, PBS, Disney and other well-known networks, but you will get a good selection.

I added the PBS channel on my smartTV through the Roku box and was able to choose the PBS station affiliate I wanted. WGBH-Boston was available, but I chose the San Francisco affiliate, which had all the same shows as WGBH but also a local show for the Bay area.

Meanwhile, BBC-America, a premium channel in cable TV services, doesn’t have a Roku offer, but AcornTV does, and it provides a number of British shows for free.

I’ve left out a lot about Roku. You can see all the channels it offers — 100s of them — on the company’s website. Many are free and many have a premium subscription fee.

I’m not buying content on Roku right now.  There’s enough to keep me entertained that’s free. I am, however, getting tired of my remote controls, keyboards, phones and tablets littering the coffee table. You can put apps on your various devices that control smartTV surfing. I use my iPad to move about AppleTV because its remote is cumbersome.


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  1. Reblogged this on A Material Sojourn and commented:
    We have a Roku 2. It is hooked up to a large, traditional tube-style tv. We do subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, and I have occasionally listened to NPR on it as well. I noticed the Religious channel category, and I had some of these same thoughts, but unlike the Catholics, we don’t have the well-funded (inter)national parent organization that can afford to put out regular, quality content. If I win the lottery, maybe I’ll set up a trust to spread the great work that the CLF is doing to more platforms…

  2. A most interesting article. Thanks for the tip, June.

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