Roku Beefs Up Sports Portfolio With UFC Streaming

Roku has added another key component to its sports-content package, agreeing to multiyear deal with UFC to stream both live and on-demand content on its digital video player. The UFC channel joins the MLB.tv channel and the NBA Game Time app in Roku’s growing portfolio of sports content.

The new Roku channel will feature all major UFC pay-per-view events live, starting with UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans on May 29 from Las Vegas. In addition, the 500,000-plus owners of Roku over-the-top set-top boxes (as of January) will have access to the UFC Vault, as well as live pre- and post-fight events including weigh-ins and press conferences hosted by UFC President Dana White.

“I think this agreement shows that [the Roku] platform is very viable for the delivery of live sports content to the television,” says Brian Jaquet, director of corporate communications, Roku. “More and more live sports content is becoming available online, and we’re showing that we can take that experience to the TV in a more social environment.”

The Roku streaming player, which also features non-sports channels such as Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, is available in a standard-definition model ($79.99) or in an HD model ($99.99) with resolution up to 720p. The Lenoxx-based device can be connected to the Internet wirelessly or via Ethernet.

“Once it’s connected, in the case of Netflix, for example, you select something to watch.” says Jaquet. “Then, based on your IP address, the Roku box pings the CDN [content-delivery network] that Netflix uses — whether it’s Limelight, Akamai, etc. — and [the content] is streamed to your device.”

Last fall, Roku introduced a new SDK (software-development kit) for its video player, using the h.264 codec and HTTP Live Streaming, which is used for streaming to Apple’s iPhone and iPad. HTTP Live Streaming is an adaptive-bitrate technology that enables content to be shifted or manipulated in real time and adjusts to the available bandwidth and screen-rendering capabilities to produce the best possible streaming experience. While the Roku player itself has enough memory to hold only about two minutes of content, HTTP Live Streaming ensures that there is minimal to no buffering of the video stream.

“HTTP Live Streaming is something that Apple has made pretty popular because both the iPhone and iPad now use this protocol for the delivery of live content,” says Jaquet. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for content providers to deliver content to our platform. We integrated HTTP Live Streaming into our platform because we know that UFC and MLB are already encoding into this protocol to stream their live events to the iPhone or, in MLB.tv’s case, the iPad. So it’s a real easy integration for these content owners to take that protocol and integrate it into our system.”

The video content on the Roku channel is essentially an extension of what is currently available on UFC.com. PPV events can be ordered directly on the user’s television for $44.99, the price when PPV events are ordered to view on the Website. UFC Vault content (archives, preliminary fights, etc.) can be accessed on the Roku box with a Vault subscription from UFC.com. In addition, individual archived fights can be accessed on a $1.99 à la carte basis.

“It’s one thing to watch PPV UFC on your computer screen, but it’s an entirely different experience to be able to have that same breadth of content — both live and on-demand — available to watch on the TV,” says Jaquet. “You just can’t get that from cable. You’ll get the PPV fight, but then there’s all this other content available online that Roku enables you to bring to the TV screen.”

Thus far, Roku’s box has been seen primarily as an outlet for on-demand TV and movies, but the company’s continued push into  live sports streaming has gone a long way toward opening new revenue streams.

“People talk a lot about whether or not over-the-top [set-top boxes] are really a viable platform for content like live sports,” says Jaquet. “Are there certain types of content — like live sports —- that you’re just not going to be able get over the top that you would be able to get through traditional cable, satellite, and telco providers? But we are proving that we’ve got the type of platform that large content owners, especially those streaming live events or games, can use to expand and diversify their distribution model. I think that’s very attractive to them.”