Roku is one of the most popular media boxes on the market today. With over ten million devices sold, the platform is well bound to become the leading streaming device on the planet, and a platform to be reckoned with in terms of presence. Building an own channel (or app, whatever you call it) is the best way for VOD providers to tap into the explosive growth.

Why launch a Roku channel in the first place?

Although still not very popular in most European countries, Roku pioneered streaming in the States, and is a household brand in many parts of the world. It’s an open platform and encourages developers from around the world to build their own apps (or channels, using Roku’s nomenclature) to grow their audiences. As a publisher of a VOD platform, being present on Roku is a strategic move and a surefire way to expose your brand to a much larger audience. The channels are available through various Roku streaming players, Roku TV™ models, and Roku Powered™ players, which makes it much easier to monetize the content. 

The two models for channel development

Roku offers two disparate modes of channel development for VOD providers: the Roku Custom Development using Roku’s SDK and the Roku Direct Publisher method. The decision between the two will largely determine the channel’s overall cost of development and go-to-market timeline.

Now, let’s have a closer look at how the two development methods differ under the hood.

Direct Publisher

Building a channel with a Direct Publisher is the cheaper, easier and less labor-intensive option. Here, Roku does all the heavy lifting for the publisher and automatically generates a fully-functional channel, completely free. No coding skills are required, which is a major draw, and although publishers going with the Direct Publisher can develop apps quickly and easily they are losing the more advanced features.

Custom development with Roku SDK

Roku offers developers all the necessary APIs, libraries, and developer tooling to allow them to build channels for publishers. This approach requires expertise in the software development domain, but offers nearly unlimited UI and feature customization options. 

The channel will take significantly longer to develop and will likely have higher maintenance costs over time. Publishers who choose to build their own channel typically have a well-defined cross-platform streaming strategy, a large user-base, vast development resources, and/or have custom requirements for their channel that can not be achieved using Direct Publisher.

The advantages of custom development with Roku SDK Developer

Roku SDK Developer is geared for providers who have custom channel requirements. Typically they are prioritizing user experience and long-term profitability over the speed of development.

If you’re looking to develop a cross-platform streaming strategy with excellent user experience on each device (Roku stick, mobile, web, etc.) and want to monetize the content with subscriptions or rentals – using Roku’s developer APIs will be the best choice for you.

The advantages of channel development using Roku SDK Developer:

  • Consistent cross-platform UI – building your own channel from scratch gives you complete control to mirror the UI of your application on other devices, creating a consistent experience for your end-users.
  • Enhanced engagement – Present your content to your users however you would like, be that through a recommended content carousel, a grid of content, or an EPG view.
  • DRM support – Secure your content through DRM encryption.
  • Billing – Monetize your users through a variety of billing models: Subscriptions, in-app transactions, or a one-time pay-to-install fee.
  • User authentication – Allow users to authenticate into their accounts to restore their preferences, bookmarked content, and better understand their streaming behaviors.
  • Third-party analytics – All Roku channels, including those built with Direct Publisher, receive audience engagement reports from Roku to better understand how users are engaging with their content. However, only a custom-built channel has the capability of integrating third-party analytics providers into their channel, such as Google Analytics or Brightcove.

How much does Roku custom development cost?

The development costs are often between $15,000 and $20,000. But getting your Roku app built is only half the battle; scaling, enhancing, and supporting the platform as you grow is equally a time consuming and expensive task. 

How long does Roku custom development take?

Depending on the scale of the project, the Custom Development method can take between 3 to 6 months.

Method 2: Roku Direct Publisher

With Roku Direct Publisher you can create your channel with a few simple steps:

1: Set up a Content Hosting Solution

First, you need to find an Online Video Platform (OVP) or Content Delivery Network (CDN) to host your content and deliver it to your Roku channel.

2: Create a Content “feed”

The feed is a piece of code that contains all the metadata needed to play your content on a Roku device, i.e. the title, URLs, and content description. The feed must be prepared in the form of an MRSS, XML, or JSON file.

3: Use Direct Publisher

Once you’re done, you can start getting acquainted with the Direct Publisher interface. The tool will guide you step by step through the process of building your channel and publishing content, but first, you will need to complete the following prerequisites:

There are just three steps to get started with Roku Direct Publisher:

Roku Direct Publisher vs Custom Development

The Direct Publisher method does not allow VOD providers to monetize their channels through on-screen purchases and subscriptions. But Direct Publisher is a very smart solution for small businesses or those just starting out within the streaming space.


Feature Direct Publisher Custom development
Coding required NO YES
Monetization through video ads YES YES
Monetization through subscriptions or transactions NO YES
Roku Search Automatic Additional work required
Optimized for Roku OS updates YES NO
Integrated support from top OVPs YES NO
In-app branding YES YES
UI customizable Limited customizability Highly customizable
DRM support NO YES
Account authentication NO YES
Audience engagement analytics YES YES
3rd-party analytics support NO YES
Source: Roku

How much does it cost to develop a Roku Channel

Roku does not charge any setup costs or monthly fees to maintain your channel. But streaming your content through Roku will cost you.

Setup Fees

If you’d rather not do it yourself, you can outsource the development process for your Direct Publisher channel, and the costs can start from $1,500. 

If you build a channel this way, you will be able to host videos (with ads), although you can’t implement any monetization on your own

Due to the low setup costs, Direct Publisher channels are the ideal option for companies looking to stream free content on a private channel.

However, to create a paid channel that supports subscriptions, an SDK Channel would be a better choice. In this case, the sky’s the limit. Your costs will vastly depend on the scale of the project and the experience of the development team you partner with.

Hosting Fees

When setting up your Roku channel, you should also take into account content hosting fees. You will need to stream your content from a video hosting provider like Online Video Platform (OVP) and Content Delivery Network (CDN).

How to monetize your Roku channel

Roku offers many monetization methods but the choice depends on which development method you use. Monetization features are available from the Developer Dashboard. 


Advertising on your Roku channel can follow one of the two models: Inventory Split or Revenue Share.

Inventory split

Inventory split involves displaying a combination of your and Roku’s ad inventory on the channel. Split method is the default model for Direct Publishers, where the publishers are responsible for sourcing and configuring 70% of the ads on their channels – and reap 100% of the ad revenue. This model gives you more control, as you can manage your ads and pick those that are the most relevant to your target audience. 

Roku, on the other hand, manages the remaining 30% of ads, and gets 100% of the profits earned. 

Revenue share:

In the Revenue Share model, Roku manages 100% of your channels. This saves you a lot of work, but at the same time you only get 60% of the net revenue. For what it’s worth, Roku promises to serve ads that maximize your monetary returns but are also relevant to the users – which is also their best interest to retain viewers. 

This model is an excellent opportunity for personal and small businesses who, instead of monetization, would rather focus on creating great content. 

Roku Pay

Roku Pay is only available in channels launched with SDK Developer. It allows you to implement a variety of content gating options, e.g. sell access to content, offer free trials, charge one-time fees, or offer monthly and yearly subscriptions. The opportunities here are endless.

Roku takes 30% of whatever money you make this way, which is the only downside of the method.

Product Placement

Product placement is an advertising method that’s not really dependent on Roku, and each VOD provider can manage it on their own. It involves featuring certain products (e.g. clothes, jewellery, cars or foods) in actual video content without making it clear to the viewer that it’s an ad.

Looking to Create a Roku Channel?

Roku’s SDK Developer is designed to help developers create custom Roku channels from scratch, but this method requires significant technical knowledge, which is why it is always recommended to use the services of a development company specialized in this area. 

Ideally, the developers should have Roku-relevant experience such as the knowledge of the Scenegraph framework and Roku’s proprietary coding language “BrightScript”. If you’re looking to build an advanced Roku Channel drop us a message and see how we could help. By partnering with an experienced development team that’s well-versed with the SDK Developer framework, your channel will gain the quality of the leading channels.