Roku goes wheel-to-wheel with Apple and Netflix with first live sports offering

Roku has squared up to the world’s best streaming services like Apple TV Plus and Netflix by announcing its first foray into today’s big new TV battleground: live sports.

A new deal with Formula E, which is the electric car sibling of Formula 1, will see Roku and CBS Sports become the exclusive home of the racing championship from January 2024. 

As part of the deal, Roku will stream 11 races on the free, ad-supported Roku Channel, while CBS will show five races per season (which will also stream on Paramount Plus). Both of these will be available in Roku’s Sports Experience hub, which launched in November 2022 to give users a centralized place for sports streaming.

This new Formula E deal is Roku’s first foray into live sports – and that’s a pretty big deal. The electric car championship isn’t on the same level as Formula 1 (the latter gets about 70 million global viewers per race on average, compared to Formula E’s average of about 23.8 million per race last season), but it’s grown significantly since the series started in 2011.

It also gives Roku a unique live sports offering – and one that’s crucially also free – in a streaming space that’s increasingly becoming sports-obsessed. For example, Netflix is apparently in talks to create a “new, celebrity-driven golf tournament” that’ll be live-streamed and will draw on some familiar faces from Drive To Survive and Full Swing.

Apple TV Plus, meanwhile, now has Friday Night Baseball and the rights to Major League Soccer, alongside some new sports-friendly tricks on Apple TV 4K like ‘multi-view’. And YouTube TV has NFL Sunday Ticket, although the streaming service is also losing regional sports channels like SportsNet New York.

So while Roku can’t yet compete with ESPN’s Formula 1 livestreams, or Apple’s Major League Baseball shows, this first step onto the sports grid shows that not all live sport has to necessarily be locked behind a paywall.   

Analysis: Live sport is the new streaming trophy 

Apple TV Plus no longer has a free offering for its Friday Night Baseball show (above). (Image credit: Apple)

The world of live sports is changing fast now that all of the big streaming services are looking to play, so Roku’s move into Formula E makes sense. But it’s also potentially a big deal for fans who are worried about the mounting costs of different streaming subscriptions.

Al Griffin, TechRadar’s Senior Editor of Home Entertainment in the US, explains: “Live sports is turning out to be a key selling point for streamers in the US, with Apple TV Plus showing Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer games and Amazon Prime Video getting Thursday Night Football,” he says. “Both of those are subscription-based services, though, so Roku offering live sports on a FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) channel is significant,” he adds.

And live sports isn’t the end of Roku’s ambitions. It also thinks that in the near future “every single home will have an operating system”, CEO Anthony Wood told Axios recently. That’s why it’s been making a new smart home package that lets you monitor your home through your TV.

For now, though, Roku is focusing on challenging Android TV and Amazon Fire TV in the race to become the world’s popular smart TV platform, and Formula E is a helpful turbo boost in that direction.

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