Roku, the maker of hardware to stream online content, is now plugged into 5 million U.S. TVs, according to a post on the company’s blog late yesterday.
That’s not a huge number, compared with Netflix’s (NFLX) 33 million streaming customers worldwide, but it’s not a blip either.
It represents roughly half of the country’s broadband households that don’t subscribe to cable.
Roku, which essentially sells a black box the size of a hockey puck that connects to late-model TVs, also appears to be picking up steam. In the first 2½ years since its 2008 launch, it was selling about 31,000 devices a month, on average. Since January 2012, it has been offloading 167,000 a month.
So how has a scrappy little hardware maker held its own against Apple (AAPL) and giant cable companies? In a word: content. Building on its seminal Netflix offering, Roku has locked up deals to add 750 channels, including streaming versions of Pandora (P), Spotify, HBO (TWX), and loads of such games as Angry Birds. Most importantly, it won the blessing of Amazon (AMZN), which routes its On Demand offerings through Roku devices.
Apple, meanwhile, has sold about 10 million of its competing device. But it seems less focused on killing cable than on sucking customers deeper into its vortex of devices. Apple still doesn’t offer Amazon video (to no one’s surprise), and it touts a customer’s ability to access iTunes music and cloud-based photos and videos as much as it pitches “Wreck It Ralph” rentals.
Still, a set-top box seems anachronistic in our Wi-Fi world. If, rather when, streaming services are built directly into TVs, it’s hard to imagine Roku keeping pace with Apple, no matter how much Jeff Bezos bets on it.