By Phil Autelitano
UPDATE: For a faster, easier solution check out my new Publish Your Own Roku Channel book and channel-building program at www.mediarazzi.com!
When I developed my first channel back around 2010, it was a daunting task to say the least. Roku uses it’s own, proprietary coding language called, “BrightScript,” which, even for an advanced coder such as myself, is very difficult to learn and master. I still wonder if the Roku Developer Software Developer Kit (SDK) back then was even written in English because it was so complicated. I spent hours upon hours coding, and testing, and re-coding, and basically, trial-and-erroring my way through to my first finished Channel. It got approved, but to call it half-assed would be an understatement. I learned a lot from it, however, and I grew as a coder, and as a Channel Publisher.
Are You a Content Creator or a Coder?
Most would-be Channel Publishers wouldn’t have the time nor the patience — nor in some cases, the resources — to learn to develop a channel this way. In fact, I’ve discovered that most aspiring Channel Publishers are NOT coders in any way, shape or form — most are content creators, and content creators don’t have the time to learn how to develop Roku Channels from scratch. They’d much rather be doing what they do best — creating content.
Since that first channel, I’ve developed and launched hundreds of channels over the years. The code itself hasn’t changed (much), only the various processes by which we code and develop channels has changed. Various software programs and SaaS (Software as a Service) products have since come into play (supposedly) making channel development easier for the Do-It-Yourselfer, but even for coders like me, they can often be time consuming and costly to learn. Some programs have come and gone, others have stood the test of time — and are really great products for developing channels — but again, there’s that learning curve, and that time factor, and that energy factor that go into creating them. For me, it’s what I do. For Advergent, it’s what they do. For you, it’s probably not how you want to spend your Saturday afternoon.
The Five C’s of Roku Channels
If you CAN do-it-yourself, I’d suggest doing it. You might even want to consider taking my new Do-It-Yourself Roku channel workshop. It will be a fun and rewarding experience to finally get it right and see your finished Channel on the TV screen. Doing-It-Yourself CAN be costly, however. In addition to the time and energy, you’ll need the key components that go into every Roku Channel. I call these the Five C’s of Roku Channels:
- Concept — this is your IDEA for your Channel, it includes the logo, graphics, layout and design elements of your channel that make it attractive to viewers. This is the FUN part of developing your Channel.
- Code — this is the actual programming (as in computer programming, not television programming) for your Channel. It includes the channel code as well as the channel “feed” that needs to be created for your Channel. (The feed is code that delivers your content to your channel from your Content Delivery Network (CDN), both of which I discuss next.) The channel code must be written in Roku’s proprietary BrightScript and the channel feed must then be written in either MRSS XML or JSON. This is the TECHNICAL part of developing your channel.
- Content — this probably goes without saying, but your content is the video content you want to distribute via your Channel. You should already have that. (I’m going to tell you where to get more for FREE in a few moments.) Content must gathered, uploaded, encoded, then links must be generated for both video and screenshots, then those links must be added to the code (above), and then titles, descriptions, durations and other metadata in many cases must be added as well. This process is called, “Content Ingestion” and it is the most TIME-CONSUMING part of developing and launching your Channel. Beyond the coding, most of the WORK will be in Content Ingestion, linking, etc., going forward.
- Content Delivery Network (CDN) — this is a special server on which your content is stored AND from which it is streamed to your Channel. For most, this can be the biggest expense. A CDN is like web hosting, but NOT. You can’t use traditional web hosting to store and serve your video content to a Roku Channel. You CANNOT link your YouTube videos and serve them from YouTube to your Channel, either. If you could, then this would all be a lot cheaper to do. But you can’t. And it’s not. Though Roku and Connected TV use “Internet Protocol (IP)” to stream content, they simply can’t stream directly from the Web. (There’s a long and technical answer to this that is probably beyond the scope of this book.) Instead, you need to use a CDN that is designed specifically for streaming to Connected Television platforms. The CDN alone can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousands of dollars just to set up, and then in most cases there’s monthly fees and BANDWIDTH charges. If you’re Doing-It-Yourself, this is the MOST EXPENSIVE part of developing and launching your Channel.
- Commitment — Once you have all of the above in place, the MOST IMPORTANT part of developing and launching your Channel is making the COMMITMENT to manage it, maintain it and update it on a regular basis. You can throw a Channel up on the platform and never touch it again, and you will still get viewers — at least once or twice anyway. They’ll visit your channel the first time, browse your content and maybe find something to watch. Then they’ll return a few days or a week or a month later to see what’s new. If there’s nothing new, they probably won’t come back again. The KEY to a successful Roku Channel is to keep your content FLOWING; to keep it updated and fresh, on a regular basis. That takes commitment.
If all of that sounds easy enough to you, then I totally suggest you try Doing-It-Yourself. I’ll even recommend THREE programs here that will help:
Roku Direct Publisher
Roku offers its own, totally-free channel-building system available at http://developer.roku.com. You simply sign-up and follow the instructions to develop and launch your own channel. It’s all window-driven, much like adding a product to eBay. You give your Channel a title, you add descriptions, you select colors, upload logos (in the required sizes and formats) and so on. However, it does have some obvious pitfalls for the novice Channel Publisher.
Getting Started with Roku Direct Publisher
First, you will still need your own Content Delivery Network (CDN) — again, this can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousands of dollars, plus monthly fees and bandwidth in many/most cases — OR you can use Advergent’s Content Delivery Service (CDS) which is a much less-expensive alternative to costly CDNs. Advergent CDS provides the same quality of service and reliable streaming as the more costly CDNs but at a fraction of the cost, starting at just $12.95 a month, depending on how much content you have to serve, with NO additional bandwidth fees.
Next, Roku Direct Publisher requires every channel to have its own channel “feed.” This is a separate piece of coding that provides instructions to the CDN (or CDS) above as to what video content to show and where. You’ll need to write your feed in either MRSS XML or JSON. Then you’ll need a place to HOST your feed. (The feed can actually be hosted on typical web hosting, whatever that costs you.)
The Feed File Challenge
Creating a feed file is where most aspiring Do-It-Yourselfers hit a wall. Suddenly, the “easy way” to building a channel becomes far more complex and many give up. Never fear though, because Advergent now offers custom MRSS XML and JSON Feed Templates that you can use (starting at just $49.95), along with simple-to-follow instructions and tech support to help you get your feed right. You simply copy-and-paste your content links into the feed file template, add titles, descriptions, etc., for each video, and BOOM, you have a Roku-Ready feed for your Channel. Advergent will even HOST your feed file for a nominal monthly charge.
Cost of Using Roku Direct Publisher
All in, provided you have your channel logo and graphics to start, developing a channel with Roku Direct Publisher (free), plus Advergent CDS service, their custom MRSS XML or JSON feed, and hosting for your feed, you’re looking at as little as $73 a month to launch Do-It-Yourself, not including the time and energy and resources that go into ingesting your content to the CDN, or into managing, maintaining and updating your Channel each and every month.
Instant TV Channel
Another great tool for the Roku Channel Do-It-Yourselfer is Instant TV Channel (ITVC) — http://www.instanttvchannel.com. This is a “cloud-based” Roku development service that costs $49.95 a month. I’ve personally used it for several channels and I love it. It offers greater flexibility in developing your channel. You can create different layouts, you quickly integrate advanced functionality, you can integrate more advertising streams than you can with Roku Direct Publisher, and more.
With ITVC, you may find the setup part is a little complicated and involved than with Roku Direct Publisher, but ITVC makes the “feed” portion much easier by doing that work for you. Instead of having to code your video content directly into an MRSS XML or JSON feed, ITVC creates and maintains the feed automatically. You simply add your video titles and descriptions, as well as your video links and screenshot links into ITVC’s User Interface, rather than into a code file, and results are instant. (Hence the name, “Instant TV Channel.”)
You Don’t Need a Feed File
With ITVC, you won’t need a feed file, but you’ll still need hosting for it and for the various code files ITVC automatically generates and updates for your channel. With ITVC you don’t really have a choice for that because it requires you to use Amazon AWS, which by the way, is totally-free for the first year and then $1–10 a month thereafter, depending on how much traffic your channel gets. With ITVC, you’ll still need a Content Delivery Network (CDN), and once again, your best and least-expensive option for that would be Advergent Content Delivery Service (CDS) starting at just $12.95 a month.
Cost of Using ITVC
All in, the cost to launch a Roku Channel using ITVC ($49.95/month), Amazon AWS (free for one year) and Advergent Content Delivery Service (CDS) can be as little as $63 a month. Again, as with Roku Direct Publisher, that doesn’t include the time and energy and resources that go into ingesting your content, or into managing, maintaining and updating your Channel every month going forward.
Channel Testing and Approval
With both of these solutions — Roku Direct Publisher and ITVC — the channel testing and approval process can take anywhere from one to six weeks. (And no one ever really knows exactly how long.) So be sure to take that into consideration when figuring out your channel’s launch and promotional schedule.
A Faster, Easier Solution is on the Next Page
Remember MOST OF THE WORK (that is, the “labor,”) involved in developing, launching and maintaining a Roku Channel lies in Content Ingestion and Channel Management. Before you decide to Do It All Yourself, you have to stop and think how much your time is actually worth to you. If you have the time and the patience to do it, and to learn how to use the above programs, by all means, do it. If not, here’s a much FASTER and EASIER way to develop and launch your own Roku Channel, regardless of your budget. Time- and energy-wise, this is definitely your least-expensive option:
If you were to Google the going rate for Roku Development from a professional developer, you’d find rates anywhere from $50 to $150 a hour and more. Roku Development is NOT cheap. Well, it hasn’t been. Not until NOW, anyway, because for as little as $295 (set-up) and $9.95 a month, Advergent will develop, launch AND maintain your Roku Channel for you. They’ll do it ALL …so YOU don’t have to.
Advergent vs. Roku Direct Publisher
If you were to amortize the cost of using Roku Direct Publisher to launch a bare minimum channel with just 25 videos (and using the cheaper Advergent CDS solution), it would be $873/year. An ITVC channel, using the same, would be $756/year. And remember, with BOTH of the solutions, YOU are the using your TIME and ENERGY and RESOURCES to manage, maintain and update the channel. On average, it takes about an hour to make a handful of video updates. If you’re adding 10–12 new videos every week, that time and energy can add up fast. Not to mention, you’re using the bandwidth of your Internet provider (so make sure you have Unlimited.)
That same channel, developed, launched and maintained by Advergent, will cost you $495 one-time for setup, then $9.99/month for Content Delivery, feed file, feed hosting, and ongoing management, maintenance AND updates. All in, that’s just $614 for the first year, and then only $119.40/year thereafter — and a considerable savings over Doing-It-Yourself. (It’s even less if you opt for Advergent’s annual payment option, you’ll save two months’ fees!)
Of course, that’s the Advergent Starter Plan, the least expensive of their plans for channels with 25 videos or up to 20GB of video total. For larger channels — that is, channels with more video content — the setup price and monthly fees tier upwards based on how many videos your channel actually has.
Advergent offers four channel plans, ranging from $295 setup to $3,499 setup, and $9.95/month to $99.95/month, respectively. When considering which plan is right for you, consider the amount of time that would actually go into ingesting and generating links for each of your videos, then physically linking them into your channel code, adding titles, descriptions, screenshot links, etc. You’ll quickly see why each plan is a great deal in relation to the amount of video content and work involved with each — and on top of that, THEY do all the work for you on an ongoing, monthly basis, as-needed. It’s all Pay-As-You-Go, too, so you can start small and build your way up over time, increasing plans as your channel grows and can afford to.
There’s simply NO better way to develop and launch a Roku Channel. Where it can typically take 1 to 6 weeks for approval with the other solutions, with Advergent, you can see your new channel approved in as little as 7 days.
Are Your Needs Greater?
If, however, you feel that your needs as a content creator and aspiring Channel Publisher are far greater than what the above three solutions can offer, then I’d suggest you check out Mediarazzi (www.mediarazzi.com) as we deal with larger content creators, studios, brands and corporate clients and partners looking to develop more complex and sophisticated channels than what those three solutions can provide. Mediarazzi also develops channels for Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, Sony and Samsung Smart TV Networks, LG TVs, Tivo, and more.
Phil Autelitano is founder/CEO of Mediarazzi, a leading developer and producer of TV channels for Roku and Connected TV platforms, and the author and creator of the new “Publish Your Own Roku Channel” book and program series. www.Mediarazzi.com