Roku CEO Anthony Wood explains why people don’t want to talk to their TVs and why he no longer reads business books
Roku has built a dominant position as the co-leading streaming video distribution platform in U.S. households, in a near dead-heat with Amazon. The two companies own more than 70% market share, according to research firm Parks Associates.
But can Roku maintain its lead over Apple and Google if Americans’ future is a house controlled by a voice-enabled smart-home device that can turn on and off a television and change the channel?
That’s not what people want, claims Roku CEO and founder Anthony Wood. He spoke with CNBC’s Alex Sherman in an exclusive interview.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Wood’s thoughts on Roku’s culture can be found here.)
Sherman: Let’s talk about interactivity. Is it just a matter of time before Roku lets me watch sports and bet from my TV at the same time and do other sorts of cool stuff people have never seen before?
Wood: It’s a complicated question. A couple points. One, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but even today, many companies just don’t really understand the attitude people have when watching TV. They want to sit there, drink their beer, and watch TV. You’ve seen over the years, there was this whole phase where there were interactive TV companies. They all failed, because people don’t want to do that. My philosophy is to keep things very simple. So any time interactive ideas have come up, we would not do that.
That said, there are some exceptions. For example, advertising — we offer interactivity to our ad partners. If you see an ad you’re interested in, like a car ad, you can browse, or do something simple like press a button and send me a text with an offer. So, we experiment with that type of interactivity because it doesn’t get in the way of the viewing experience. If you want to get a free coupon because you’re interested in a commercial, press a button, you can do that.
One of our main goals as a platform is to help you find content that you want to watch. Things like universal search — where you can search across services for an actor or a movie — and get information about if something is free on one service or you have to pay for it on another, that type of interactivity is something that people love, if it’s around discovering content. So, we’re looking for other ways to help people discover content that’s interactive in its nature.
In terms of sports betting — maybe. We’ll see.
Is the future of the TV ecosystem one where every device in the home is connected, and I just call out to my TV and it turns on, and I don’t need a remote anymore?
We are incredibly focused on being the best TV experience. That’s why we’re successful. There are a lot capabilities that I think are silly. People generally do not want to talk to their TV to turn it on, for example. Because as soon as you turn it on, you need to pick up your remote control anyway.
Well, you do today, maybe, but theoretically, you don’t have to, right? Why can’t I control everything by voice? Isn’t that easier?
I don’t think people want to talk to their TV. In cases where it’s faster and easier — search, for example — we make voice remotes. We focus on integrating voice into areas where it can really make a difference, like entering your password or your e-mail address or searching — those are things where it’s tedious to tap stuff out on your remote. But other areas, like just scrolling up and down or the power button, it’s actually easier to use the remote.
But I always lose my remote.
Well, that’s why we let you use your phone as a remote. We also have a cool feature called remote finder, where we help you find your remote for you. We’re big believers in remotes. You look at Chromecast, they made a huge bet that people wouldn’t use their remotes. That wasn’t the case.
One topic that investors are curious about is international expansion. Do you have a broad road map for international? I know you’re in Canada, Mexico and Brazil a little bit. But there’s a whole world out there. What’s the plan? Lay it out for us.
We have a strategy. We have tactics and road maps which we don’t disclose. But our strategy is pretty straightforward. If you look at the evolution of our business model, first we focus on scale, and once you have enough scale, then you start focusing on monetization. That’s the same strategy we’re talking on international. With most countries, we are still at the building scale stage as opposed to the monetization. There are some exceptions. With Canada, as you mentioned, that’s the first country we entered. Now we sell ads there and we have The Roku Channel there. So we’re doing monetization there.
The other part of our strategy is using the same techniques that have worked for us in the U.S. and applying them internationally. So, focus on growing our smart TV market share — we’re No. 1 in smart TV market share in the U.S. We’re No. 1 in Canada. We’re No. 2 in Mexico. Samsung is No. 1 there, but we’re catching up fast. So focusing on smart TVs and selling low-cost players is how we gain scale. For example, when we launch a player now, we launch it in many countries at the same time as opposed to just the U.S.
If you look at all the countries that we’ve entered, our market share is growing and we’re doing well. Android has been the default choice internationally for a long time because it was the only option. So they’re our biggest competitor. But as we add new countries and start focusing on them, we have an awesome solution. The same reason we’ve won in the U.S. is the same reason we expect to win internationally.
I’ll get into this in the main feature more in depth, but after you started Roku, you worked for Reed Hastings at Netflix for about nine months. Have you modeled your leadership at Roku after him? And if not, has there been anyone you’ve tried to emulate?
My relationship with Netflix is obviously very important to Roku, but I only worked there for nine months. It was nine months. It was a great experience. I’ve got lots of people I respect, but I haven’t tried to copy anyone in particular. I used to read a lot of business books when I was younger, but now I’ve stopped.
Is there a reason you stopped? Did you feel like you just didn’t get any use out of them anymore?
I think you go through different phases in your career. When you first start out, just like when you first start out in college, you just have no clue. So, reading books and talking to people is a good way to learn the basics. As you advance, I think, you become much more experienced, and you find that a lot of the books are not helpful. Like, “Oh yeah, if I didn’t know anything, that’s what I’d do,” but that’s not actually the right way to do it.
One of the best things I’ve done to help me build my skills since Roku has grown is to have an adviser — kind of like a coach. He used to be the CEO of a public company. So when I have issues, I talk to him. That’s David Krall. He was the CEO of Avid. He works one day a week for us being an adviser. Talking to an experienced CEO is helpful.
Describe yourself as a leader.
What I try to do is hire good people — people I want to work with, so there’s a good chemistry and team — and devise a strategy and some high-level goals. I might come up with the strategy or work with the team to develop the strategy, but there will be a strategy. I think I’m pretty strategic. And then, focus on execution, giving people the freedom and whatever they need to do their job. That’s what I spend my time on — hiring and strategy.
You’re 56 years old, is that right?
Maybe. That sounds right.
Do you expect to be running Roku as an independently traded company ten years from now?
I have no idea. I’m happy running Roku right now. I have no idea what I’m going to do 10 years from now.
Do you know who your successor at Roku will be?
All public companies have to have a succession plan, so we have one. I focus a lot on developing talent on my team. But often there’s talent outside the company as well. So, I don’t know. I have no plans to leave, but if we were to hire a new CEO, I’d imagine we’d look internally and externally.
TikTok halts e-commerce service in Indonesia following ban
A merchant sells crystal ornaments via a live TikTok broadcast.
CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images
TikTok Indonesia said it will end transactions on its e-commerce marketplace by Thursday, in order to comply with new local regulations.
The announcement comes after the Indonesian ministry of trade last week set a one-week deadline for TikTok to become a standalone app, without any e-commerce feature, or risk being shut down.
“Our priority is to remain compliant with local laws and regulations,” said TikTok in a statement on Tuesday.
“As such, we will no longer facilitate e-commerce transactions in TikTok Shop Indonesia by 17:00 GMT+7, October 4, and will continue to cooperate with the relevant authorities on the path forward,” it said.
The move comes after President Joko Widodo recently called for social media regulations. He said the influx of such platforms has contributed to a sales decline for domestic businesses by flooding the market with foreign imports.
The new regulation could deal a major blow to TikTok’s Southeast Asian ambitions. CEO Shou Zi Chew previously said that the app will invest billions of dollars into the region as it looks to diversify its business globally as U.S. pressure escalates.
Indonesia is TikTok’s largest Southeast Asian market and second-largest market globally with 125 million users after the U.S., according to the company.
Sachin Mittal, head of telecom, media and technology research at DBS Bank, previously said that TikTok “operating as a standalone app may still be challenging.”
He explained logging into a separate app might lead to a sharp drop-out rate as most purchases on TikTok are impulse buys.
Ripple obtains full license to operate in Singapore as it expands in Asia-Pacific
Brad Garlinghouse, chief executive officer of Ripple Labs Inc., speaks during the Token2049 conference in Singapore, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.
Joseph Nair | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Cryptocurrency company Ripple said on Wednesday that it has obtained a major payments institution license in Singapore, a strategic step toward growing its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
The new development comes less than four months after the Monetary Authority of Singapore granted an initial in-principle approval in June. With the full license, Ripple will continue to provide regulated crypto payment services in Singapore.
“Over 90% of Ripple’s business is outside of the U.S., and Singapore – and to a larger degree Asia Pacific – is one of its fastest growing regions,” the company said.
Ripple said it will continue to prioritize the region for adoption of its crypto payment services.
Monica Long, president of Ripple, told CNBC in an interview last month that the Singapore office’s “headcount has more than doubled in the past year because our business within the Asia-Pacific region has really exploded.”
Singapore has led crypto regulation in the region. The country’s Payment Services Act — which regulates payment services and the provision of crypto services to the public — has been in effect since January 2020.
The city-state has also stepped up scrutiny on crypto firms. It ordered crypto service providers to safekeep customer assets under a statutory trust before the end of 2023. It also restricts such firms from facilitating lending or staking of their retail customers’ assets.
“Since establishing Singapore as our Asia Pacific headquarters in 2017, the country has been pivotal to Ripple’s global business. We have hired exceptional talent and local leadership … and plan to continue growing our presence in a progressive jurisdiction like Singapore,” Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, said in a statement.
“Under MAS’ leadership, Singapore has developed into one of the leading fintech and digital asset hubs striking the balance between innovation, consumer protection and responsible growth,” said Garlinghouse.
The comment stand in contrast to Ripple’s situation in the U.S., where it and Coinbase are embroiled in lawsuits with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC charged Ripple and its founders in 2020, alleging they illegally sold its native cryptocurrency XRP without first registering it with the SEC. But in July, a landmark ruling determined the token was not, in itself, necessarily a security.
Coinbase, Ripple and other crypto firms have slammed the U.S. for a lack of clarity around crypto rules and threatened to leave the country in response to the SEC’s crackdown.
Coinbase announced on Monday that it has obtained a major payment institution license in Singapore, after obtaining in-principle approval about a year ago. Ripple and Coinbase join more than a dozen firms that are licensed to offer crypto services in Singapore.
Intel plans to IPO programmable chip unit within three years; stock rises after hours
Pat Gelsinger, CEO, of Intel Corporation, testifies during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on semiconductors titled Developing Next Generation Technology for Innovation, in Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Intel said it will treat its programmable chip unit as as a standalone business, with an aim to spin it out through an IPO in the next two to three years.
The chipmaker’s stock price rose 2.3% in extended trading after the announcement on Tuesday.
Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group will have its own balance sheet as it heads toward independence. The company will continue to support the business and retain a majority stake, and could also seek private investment.
Sandra Rivera, who leads Intel’s broader Data Center and AI group, will become PSG CEO. Intel will manufacture the group’s chips.
The move follows Intel’s spinoff last year of Mobileye, its self-driving subsidiary, and continues a strategy under CEO Patrick Gelsinger to control costs and focus on the foundry business and core processors in an effort to catch Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. in manufacturing by 2026. Intel acquired the FPGA business when it bought Altera for $16.7 billion in 2015.
“Our intention to establish PSG as a standalone business and pursue an IPO is another example of how we are consistently unlocking more value for our stakeholders,” Gelsinger said in a statement.
The move also highlights the strong demand in the semiconductor industry for field programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs. Lattice Semiconductor, a maker of FPGAs, has seen its stock rise about 30% so far in 2023, and reported 18% growth in sales in the most recent quarter. AMD, Intel’s chief rival, bought FPGA maker Xilinx for $35 billion in 2022.
FPGAs are simpler than the powerful processors at the heart of servers and PCs but are often more flexible, respond faster and can be more power-efficient. They’re “programmed” after they’re shipped for specific uses in data centers, telecommunications, video encoding, aviation and other industries. FPGAs can also be used to run some artificial intelligence algorithms.
Intel’s FPGAs are sold under the Agilex brand. Intel doesn’t break out PSG sales yet, but said in July that the unit had three record quarters in a row, offsetting a slump in server chip sales. PSG has been part of Intel’s Data Center and AI group, which generated $4 billion in sales in the second quarter.
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