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Did You Know The First Roku Player Was A Netflix Player?

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Roku image showing the original 'The Netflix Player' from 2008.

Roku might be one of the most popular streaming player brands today, but many owners of a current Roku device might not be aware that the first Roku was developed by Netflix. Before the ‘Netflix Player’ could hit store shelves, Netflix canceled the launch, and this eventually led to the launch of the first Roku player.

After years of delivering DVDs to homes, Netflix started streaming in 2007. With the company shifting to streaming, Netflix was understandable considering launching a streaming player for subscribers to access the service on. According to a 2013 report by Fast Company, the ‘Netflix Player’ was “a black and boxy device, as plain and compact as a necklace case.”

According to the same report, and weeks before the player was due to launch, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings worried that a Netflix device would make it harder for the company to forge partnerships with third-party device makers. In spite of years developing the device, these concerns led to the cancellation of the project, bringing an end to the Netflix player.

Well, not quite the end. Instead of releasing the device, the streaming player was spun off to Roku. According to CNBC, Roku received cash, 20 to 30 Netflix employees, patents and “an unfinished device” in return for 15% of Roku’s equity. Soon after, however, and again due to competition fears, Netflix sold its Roku stock.

Before Netflix got around to selling that stock, the first Roku player hit the market in May 2008, ushering in the era of Roku. Launched as the “Netflix Player by Roku”, here’s how Roku described the device back in 2008.

The Netflix Player makes it easy to instantly watch movies and TV episodes over the Internet on your living room TV, or anywhere you have a TV and an Internet connection. Compact and lightweight, inexpensive but powerful, simple to set up and use (it’s the perfect answer for people who just can’t get enough Netflix).”

In a 2013 blog post celebrating the shipping of five million Roku players, Roku Founder and CEO Anthony Wood stated the Netflix Player by Roku branding came about due to Netflix being “the first available channel” on the device.

While technically true, Netflix was indeed the first channel available on Roku, the reason was more likely a direct result of the first Roku player being an evolution of Netflix’s own player.

Regardless, Roku has continually grown over the years and is now a streaming giant, ending 2023 with more than 80 million active accounts. Along with the vast number of accounts, a wide variety of Roku players (and even Roku TVs) have been released since the first Roku player arrived in 2008.

John Finn

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