Roku has removed all private channels from Roku devices

February 25, 2022 - 16:13 -- RokuGuide

Roku has removed all private channelsFollowing through on an earlier announcement, Roku, Inc. has removed all non-certified (aka "private") channels from Roku devices as the company implements two new developer features, beta channels and the Independent Developer Kit (IDK). Unfortunately for many Roku users, neither of these are able to take the place of the old private channels, which allowed developers to distribute content to unlimited numbers of users, as discussed below.

The primary intent of private channels was to allow developers to test channels before publishing them in the Roku channel store while also providing a means for limiting access to small audiences. For those unfamiliar with private channels, there were only two differences between public channels and private channels: Private channels were not listed in the channel store and had to be installed with the use of a "vanity code" through the Roku website; and private channels were not reviewed by Roku for compliance with technical requirements.

The existence of private channels carried a sort of mystique with some within the Roku user community, and listings of private channel vanity codes became popular, especially in Roku's early days. Aside from use for testing, many of the private channels were simply creations by hobbyists who didn't care about widespread dissemination, or they carried special-interest content that appealed to a vary narrow range of viewers. As Roku made it easier to publish in the public channel store and third-party tools such as Instant TV Channel simplified channel development for non-programmers, the number of new channels publicized in private channel lists greatly dwindled.

Another common use of private channels was to distribute content that didn't meet Roku's terms of service for the public channel store. Adult channels flourished after the first erotic streaming service appeared on a Roku private channel in December 2009. However, recent controversies over content on PornHub, including a lawsuit by three dozen women, spurred a backlash against Roku by some activists.

As a side note, many media outlets were reporting that Roku was banning porn channels, but that is only a side effect of the overall private channel shutdown. Calling these headlines "clickbait", The Washington Times reported that a Roku spokesperson sent them "a statement saying that the decision to eliminate 'non-certified' channels aligns the company's screening of content with what Apple, Amazon, Samsung and Xbox already do with apps... The company said the fact that Pornhub and other adult entertainment platforms had found their way onto Roku televisions through private or non-certified channels was incidental to the decision, which intends to standardize the tools that app developers use to create channels."

Piracy was likely a bigger concern for Roku than adult content in the decision to drop the private channel program. In 2017, a court order banned Roku devices from being sold in Mexico after Cablevisión claimed that "hackers would develop unsupported channels with access to pirated content on Roku and sell subscriptions to users over WhatsApp." Although complaints in the U.S. never reached that level, many Roku users will remember the shutdown of XTV, a popular private channel with live streams of cable networks and on-demand episodes of popular TV series, after claims of copyright infringement.

Officially, neither adult content nor piracy were mentioned by Roku as reasons for the removal of private channels. Instead, Roku's announcement states that it "is sunsetting non-certified channels to better align with industry standards on their two different use cases: developer QA testing of channels to be certified and published to the Roku Channel Store, and limiting distribution of channels to a small set of users." The beta channel feature will limit a single developer account to 10 beta channels that can be installed by a maximum of 20 test users at a time. Beta channels automatically expire 120 days after creation, meaning they are no longer available on the Developer Dashboard and are disabled for all users who have installed them. These limits on the number of users and duration a beta channel can exist make it impractical to use beta channels for widespread distribution of content.

As for the IDK, it lets individual developers and enthusiasts build and sideload applications on IDK-supported Roku devices for their own personal use. Although it would be technically possible for a developer to widely distribute IDK channels for others to sideload, users must put their Roku device into developer mode, accept Roku's SDK license agreement and set a password on the device, then use a web browser to connect to the Roku device's IP address and upload a zip file that contains the IDK channel. On top of that, a Roku device can run only one sideloaded channel at a time; any time you sideload a new channel, the previous sideloaded channel is removed.