If the streaming wars reinvented network television, the digital streaming device Roku amounts to something like basic cable. Through purple software packaged in a set-top box or smart TV, Roku peddles a discount option for the average viewer, bundling a limited range of shows and movies on what they call The Roku Channel. For a wider selection, users can consult the Channel Store, an App Store-esque glut of paid, free, and amateur offerings. It’s a popular set-up. As of June, some 43 million households had an active Roku account—millions more than the population of California.
Scrolling through the Roku Channel Store is the TV viewer’s answer to crate-digging: thousands of titles, many of them familiar, multiple copies of Jerry McGuire, and a sprawling collection of obscure odds and ends, detritus from the over-productive arm of the American entertainment industry. A recent trip through its 3,000-odd selections turned up a military tactical guide called Warrior Poet Society Network, a Lego toy review channel 111LegoNetwork111, a collection of aquatic screensavers called Reef Diving Backgrounds, two separate shrines to the 1950s crime show Racket Squad, and a tween program called 911 Gurls’ Topics, whose series include “Do It Gurl,” Do It Gurl Season 2,” “See Gurl Try,” and “What’s Up With Haley?”
Roku’s low bar for entry, however, has also made it a home for content unwelcome on other streaming services. Earlier this month, Gizmodo reported on three Roku channels—Peeps TV, Pride Outdoor Network, and Sabbath School TV—that promote anti-vaxx quack science and misinformation about the global pandemic, including the viral conspiracy video Plandemic, and its equally debunked sequel Indoctornation 2.
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