How To Create a Successful Roku Channel

Dash Media TV has developed over 200 channels. I’ve seen channels come and go, not just some I’ve developed, but many (dozens, if not hundreds) I haven’t. Some Roku channels stand the test of time, others are here and gone. It all comes down to what I believe are FIVE characteristics that make for a great Roku channel. If your channel has all FIVE characteristics, you’re golden — your audience loves it, and they keep coming back for me. If it has two of them, you’re 40% golden; your audience is more sporadic, your channel is doing “OK” but it could be doing a lot better. And if it has none of them, well… you’re fucked — your audience hates it, no one is adding it, those that do are dropping it, and you’re not getting a lot of return viewers.

The more of these FIVE characteristics your Roku channel has, the better it will do both in terms of viewers and revenue. Here they are, in order:

#1 — An Catchy Name

The name of your channel, along with #2, can make or break your channel before viewers ever decide to Add it. If you’re a major brand, or studio, or artist, with a name that people recognize, USE IT. Red Bull, Cuisinart, WWE — these are all brand names that people know and recognize it. They could call their channels anything else, but they use their brand names because people RECOGNIZE them.

If you’re not a major brand, however, you have to come up with a name that’s short and sweet, that tells people who you are and what your channel is about, without being long and drawn out, or confusing. Short and sweet and catchy will always win out over long and boring or generic. I see a lot of church channels, for instance, naming their channels after their churches. While this is “nice,” and convenient, it’s not exactly effective; the channel name doesn’t stand out and pretty much gets lost among all the other church channels. You need to be more innovative and CREATIVE in coming up with channel names.

The FIRST thing potential viewers see is your channel name and channel icon — in most cases, that’s your ONLY chance to get them to click-through, see what your channel is all about and ultimately, add it.

#2 —An Attractive Channel Icon

This goes along with your Channel Name and is the visual representation of it — these are the very FIRST things potential viewers see; their first glimpse into your channel and what it’s about it. Most channel-add decisions are made at first glimpse of a channel name and icon.

An attractive Channel Icon is just that — it ATTRACTS viewers. Maybe they see that famous brand logo they know and love (or at least, recognize), and add your channel. That’s great. But if you’re not a famous brand, they need to see something equally appealing that catches their eye. Whatever it is, it must compel them to see more. This is no place to skimp.

Be honest with yourself, is your channel icon attractive?

Be even MORE honest with yourself, do people outside your brand’s world even KNOW who you are or what you’re about? Simply throwing up a name and logo that MOST of the world doesn’t know will not get you much in return. Coca Cola can do it, many major brands can, but the rest of us, we need to be more creative to match their pulling-power.

Of course, there’s not much you CAN do in the limited 540×405 space Roku allows you for your channel icon. Solid and gradient backgrounds work well. Simple is better. If you try to squeeze too much into your icon, it becomes too busy and looks cheapish and amateurish and does more to work against you that for you. Keep it simple, but be creative.

Use a font that’s different from everyone else’s, that stands out, but at the same time is EASY TO READ. Crazy cursive fonts or very ornate fonts are a huge NO-NO. It should be clean and easy to read.

Stick to two to three colors — so long as one of those colors is white. Unless it’s the Rainbow Channel, two to three colors (one of them being white) is a good Rule of Thumb. Why white? White is white is white — everyone’s TV screen display will display colors differently. That awesome, bright Ferrari Red on your screen may look boring-burgundy on mine, but white is always white. If your content is fun, use fun, bright colors. If it’s serious, use serious tones. If it’s luxury content, use luxury colors. Bright yellow for a horror channel probably won’t work, but black and blood-red will sing!

Any artwork should be relevant to your logo and your content. Don’t muddy up your channel icon with images that overwhelm the channel name or logo. Images faded into the background may look good on your computer screen, but they can look like crap on the TV screen. Be sure to offset your text from any backgrounds by applying a knock-out — that is, add some solid color around the text to separate it. Don’t use a “Drop Shadow” in Photoshop to do it, as Drop Shadow can render differently on a TV screen. Same goes for “Stroke.” Instead use, enlarge the text in a separate layer, using your background color, and place it behind the visible text, but above the image. Layer it, people.

Also, be sure the text doesn’t run too close to the edge of the channel icon, give it about 10% all around. Your image or background image, however, should “bleed” off the icon. This creates a nice, professional effect.

Go to every category in the Roku Channel Store and look at all the channel icons “above the fold” — that is, the first NINE of every category, before you have to scroll to see more. Those channels are in those positions (save for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon) because they are POPULAR. Use those channel icons as a guide in creating your own.

#3 — A Compelling Channel Description

After your channel name and icon, the next thing potential viewers see is your Channel Description. This is a short, two to three lines of copy that describes what your channel is about. Notice I said “copy.” In advertising, “copy” is text that’s written to ATTRACT, to compel, to evoke action. Write your channel description as if you’re trying to convince someone to BUY your content in as few words as possible. Technically, you are SELLING something — you’re selling potential viewers on adding your channel.

A boring description can stop potential subscribers dead in their tracks. A catchy one, however, and they won’t be able to add your channel fast enough. ENTICE them into adding it.

“Lose weight fast! Add the Weight Loss Channel today and shed pounds by tomorrow.”

will work much better than:

“The Weight Loss Channel presents a series of educational and instructional videos designed to help you lose weight fast.”

Rule of thumb: There should ALWAYS be a meaningful statement of benefit in your Channel Description. No one cares that you’re the leading expert in Widgetry. Instead, they want to know how Widgetry will BENEFIT them.

#4 —Kick-Ass Content

This probably goes without saying, but Content is King. Now that your channel name, icon and description have prompted a viewer to add your channel, it’s time to WOW! them with your content. While channel name, icon and description are the most important factors to ATTRACTING new viewers, CONTENT is what keeps them coming back.

I’m not going to spend too much time telling you WHAT content to present but rather HOW to present it. Here are my five rules of content:

  1. It must be COMPELLING. That means in must be INTERESTING and worthwhile. It should be inherently entertaining. Boring content is the fastest way to get un-installed.
  2. It should be QUALITY. Not just quality in terms of video quality, which should be SD or better, and preferably HD (240p web video looks like SHIT on a TV screen, by the way), but quality in terms of me spending my valuable time watching it, which brings me to…
  3. It should have VALUE. If I’m going to spend my time watching, or spend my money subscribing to it, or watch TV commercials in exchange for it, it damn well better be worth it. I better LEARN something, or be ENTERTAINED, or whatever the purpose of it, else I’m NOT coming back to it.
  4. It should be ORGANIZED. Content should be classified into relevant sub-categories, making it easy to browse, with actual titles (not file names) and informative descriptions.
  5. Screenshots should be ATTRACTIVE. Every video in every category should have an attractive screenshot, whether it’s a movie “poster” or simply a screenshot of the content. Screenshots should be appealing, and NOT just some random screenshot that was automatically generated. Viewers want to see a visual description of what’s in store, and NOT an image of ending credits or the blur of someone moving or someone with a dorky-looking look on their face, mid-sentence.

Roku requires all content to have relevant titles, descriptions, screenshots and run times. These should ALL be on-point. Just as your channel description is copy that entices people to click on your channel, so too, should be the video descriptions — they should entice viewers to click on that video.

Organizing your content into categories should create a nice FLOW to your channel. The most popular categories should be at the top. Put your best content at the top. Then move down from there. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, from your channel name to your icon to your descriptions to your content, it’s ALL about putting your best foot forward.

The real key to successful content — and ultimately a successful channel — is CONSISTENCY. (That should be #6 on the list above, but warrants its own paragraph here.) Your content must be consistent in that it all jives together (it’s all relevant to each other) and also consistent in the fact that it’s updated regularly.

If you just throw a bunch of content on a channel and never touch it again, you’ll get a lot of viewers, but over time, they’ll drop off because there’s nothing new. A successful Roku channel is one that keeps viewers COMING BACK for more. It’s the same as any business — the REAL MONEY is made in the repeat business. So if you want your channel to be successful, you have to focus not just on getting new viewers, but keeping them, and keeping them coming back. That means making regular and consistent updates to your content.

#5 —Reasonable Monetization.

We launch these channels to make money off them. Whether it’s to generate revenue through actual monetization like advertising streams or subscriptions, or to generate brand awareness and loyalty that results in more product sales, or whatever, the whole idea here is to MAKE MONEY from your content.

As a viewer, however, the last thing I want to do is FEEL like I’m PAYING for content. If you inundate me with advertising straight off the rip, I will resent you and I’m gone. If I feel like I have to WORK to watch and enjoy your content, I’m gone. If I feel “taken” by you, in that I spent $0.99 or $4.99 subscribing to a bunch of crap, again, I’m gone.

Monetization must be subtle. Too many ads before or during content quickly makes a “free” channel NOT FREE. A good rule of thumb for advertising is NO ADS up front, then ads every 10–12 minutes of content. (Roku recommends 7–10, but I think even 7 is too often.)

Subscriptions should be cheap. Charging $10 a month for content is way too much. Viewers can get a lot more out of a subscription to Netflix and Hulu for that. Besides, in most cases, they’re already spending $10-$20 a month in subscriptions to those channels, they really DON’T want to spend more if they don’t have to. And if they do, it darn well better be worth it.

I can’t tell you here whether it’s better to do an AVOD (ad-driven) or SVOD (subscription-driven) channel for your content, but I can tell you that whichever you do, it needs to be as subtle as possible. The moment a viewer REGRETS subscribing to your channel — whether it’s “free” (AVOD) or not (SVOD) — they will uninstall it as quickly as they added it, even more so, and they will tell all their friends how much your channel sucks.

It’s a fine-line between advertising and subscription. (I don’t suggest doing both, unless you’re Hulu). I recommend that unless you already have a built-in viewership, or an established following, or a marketing plan in place to get subscribers, or content that can ONLY be sold via subscriptions, that you go the AVOD route. There’s a lot of money to be made either way.


While I can’t guarantee the success of your Roku Channel, I can tell you that if you take those FIVE things into account when launching it, your chances for success will be far greater than if you don’t. There are of course several other factors that go into developing and launching a successful Roku Channel, but that’s the kind of info I charge for. =)

By Phil Autelitano

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