If you own a Roku device, you may have heard the big news that Roku is shutting down access to all private channels starting in March 2022. This drastic decision has many Roku users like yourself feeling confused and frustrated. You may be wondering, what exactly are private channels, why is Roku doing this, and what are the alternatives? Don‘t worry, I‘ll explain everything in this comprehensive guide.
What Are Private Channels on Roku?
First, let‘s talk about what private channels are.
Private channels, also called non-certified channels, are channels that are not officially approved for the Roku platform. These channels allow Roku owners like yourself to add unauthorized third-party content to your devices.
Between 2009-2021, private channels were highly popular among Roku users. At their peak, there were estimated to be over 900 private channels providing niche content to millions of users.
These channels offered access to content you simply couldn‘t find on Roku‘s official channel store, such as:
- International programming from various countries
- Specific sports and PPV events
- Adult content
- Specialty hobby content
- Web shows and indie creator content
Private channels appealed to users because Roku has no review process for these non-certified channels. This meant there were little to no restrictions on the type of content that could be offered.
Of course, the downside was that these channels were not vetted for quality, safety, or reliability by Roku in any way. But many users considered that a fair trade-off.
Entire online communities existed dedicated to finding, reviewing, and sharing information about new private channels. For years, these communities represented much of the value proposition of owning a Roku device for a subset of enthusiasts.
Why is Roku Shutting Down Private Channels?
Now that you understand the appeal of private channels, you‘re probably wondering why Roku would take the drastic step to remove them entirely.
In October 2021, Roku announced the upcoming launch of their own Independent Developer Kit (IDK). This IDK will allow developers to create custom channels and apps for Roku, similar to private channels.
Shortly after announcing the IDK, Roku declared they would be removing all existing private channels by March 2022. Here is their official statement:
"With the release of the IDK and beta channels, Roku will remove non-certified channels from the platform by March 2022."
On the surface, Roku claims this move is to "better align with industry standards on developer QA testing of channels and limiting distribution of channels to a small set of users."
Essentially, Roku wants to bring these non-certified channels into their official developer platform. This would allow Roku to vet each channel and exert more control over channel quality.
However, there may also be other motivations at play driving Roku‘s decision:
- Roku likely wants to limit piracy concerns associated with private channels
- Removing private channels allows Roku to boost advertising revenues across their approved channels
- Channels with adult content created brand safety risks for Roku‘s advertisers
- Private channels diluted Roku‘s negotiating leverage with content providers
While Roku claims their IDK will fill the void left by private channels, users have their doubts. The IDK will still involve Roku‘s review process, which may limit the variety of channel offerings.
How Are Roku Users Responding?
The Roku community has responded very negatively overall to the plan of removing private channels.
Many users specifically purchased Roku devices because of the flexibility private channels offered. In online forums and communities, Roku owners are expressing frustration and betrayal.
Long-time Roku enthusiasts feel this decision essentially reneges on the openness and customization that initially attracted them to the Roku platform.
A survey showed 87% of polled Roku owners planned to switch to a different streaming device brand because of the loss of private channels.
Users worry that without private channels, the Roku Channel Store will become much more restricted. Some believe this is the start of Roku tightening control, and even more channel limitations may follow.
Of course, not everyone will miss private channels. Some users are fine sticking with Roku‘s official channel lineup. But there‘s no denying this is the end of an era for Roku.
Top Alternative Streaming Devices
So if you‘re a Roku owner looking to switch devices when private channels disappear, what are your options? Here are some top streaming devices to consider as Roku alternatives:
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K – The Fire TV UI may take some adjusting to after Roku, but the platform is far more open. You can install third-party apps outside of Amazon‘s app store, especially by jailbreaking. The 4K model provides smooth streaming.
NVIDIA Shield TV – The NVIDIA Shield TV is a powerhouse device designed for home theater and gaming. You get full access to the Google Play Store for apps. It‘s pricier but very versatile.
Apple TV 4K – Apple TV runs on the tvOS platform. It‘s more locked down than Android TV, but offers seamless integration with iPhones and other Apple devices.
Google Chromecast with Google TV – This budget-friendly streaming stick comes with the Google TV interface. It provides easy access to Google Play Store apps and Google Assistant.
TiVo Stream 4K – Built on Android TV, TiVo Stream 4K grants access to all Google Play Store apps. It comes with advanced streaming integration and support.
I recommend fully researching each platform before deciding. Android TV offers the most flexibility overall. But Fire TV or Chromecast provide better value.
Jailbreaking the Fire TV Stick 4K
If you want to replicate some of the freedom of Roku private channels, I suggest looking at jailbreaking your new streaming device.
Jailbreaking refers to gaining full admin access to modify the device‘s operating system. This allows installing otherwise restricted apps and tools.
The Amazon Fire TV platform is the easiest to jailbreak. There are various third-party launcher apps that can customize the Fire TV interface and unlock special capabilities.
By jailbreaking your Fire TV Stick 4K, you can:
- Install any APK app files beyond the Amazon Appstore
- Remove pre-installed Amazon apps if desired
- Use app stores like Aptoide TV to gain additional apps
- Access restricted streaming apps and build your own channel lineup
Just be sure to use reputable guides for jailbreaking to avoid any issues. And only install apps from trustworthy sources. But overall, jailbreaking can bring back some of the customization and control you‘re used to.
The End of an Era for Roku
There‘s no doubt we‘ve now reached the end of an era in Roku‘s history. For over a decade, Roku‘s selling point was the ability to add private channels and customize your experience.
Roku clearly believes their new IDK program will satisfy that niche audience going forward. But it remains to be seen if that will truly provide the same variety and flexibility as the "wild west" of private channels.
As a long-time Roku user myself, I‘m disappointed by this decision. It takes away much of the uniqueness of the platform. But as other options like Fire TV continue maturing, there are still good alternatives available.
No matter where you end up, enjoy your streaming and take care! Let me know if you have any other questions.