Roku offers all the hate and conspiracies rampant on One America News to over 63 million Americans — for free
Roku is keeping a far-right channel unsuitable for cable news on life support
Update (1/17/23): This article has been updated with additional information.
Millions of Americans can watch One America News fundraise for insurrectionists, spread white nationalist conspiracy theories, and explain why gay people are susceptible to satanic possession for free via North America’s most popular, ad-supported streaming service, Roku.
Since at least 2018, anyone with an internet connection has been able to stream OAN Plus – an OAN offshoot dedicated to opinion shows and so-called investigative special reruns alongside the occasional news broadcast – via Roku’s free ad-supported, live-TV streaming service.
Roku’s streaming service is a key part of Robert Herring’s business plans
Roku has over 63 million active users worldwide, and The Roku Channel — which houses its live TV content — regularly ranks within its top five channels by active account reach and streaming hour engagement. In a letter to shareholders, Roku stressed that The Roku Channel “ranked first in reach amongst AVOD/FAST services in the U.S. and Canada” in TiVo’s video trends report from 2022’s second quarter.
AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) and FAST-TV (free ad-supported streaming TV) models like The Roku Channel are subsidized by ad revenue, meaning Roku advertisers are unwittingly funding OAN’s extremist programming.
OAN’s inclusion on FAST-TV platforms like The Roku Channel has been a key focus of network founder Robert Herring’s business strategy. In May 2020, Herring stated that “non-traditional television viewing and revenue” would “be a big part of our revenue stream moving forward.” According to a 2022 press release, FAST distribution has enabled OAN to reach over “250 million monthly active users” worldwide.
Herring’s pivot reflects larger trends within the TV industry. FAST-TV has been a core part of Roku’s strategic plan to crush cable, with the service expanding into the “last foothold of legacy pay TV in the US:” live sports and news programming. A 2021 survey found 61% of users without traditional pay TV watch live news multiple times a week; Roku responded with a “Live TV” widget that made it easier for customers to access live news.
The unhinged content on OAN Plus: Free with Roku
The Roku Channel lists OAN Plus between Steve Bannon’s propaganda network America’s Voice Live and Reuters. OAN Plus offers such content as interviews with Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups, commentary from extremists banned from the U.K., puff pieces about former President Donald Trump, and conspiracy theories.
The network’s programming has repeatedly landed OAN in risky legal territory — and it’s proved too problematic for cable. Last year, three cable providers dropped OAN, including DirecTV, owned by OAN’s original funders, AT&T. Hosts responded with network-sanctioned meltdowns.
Since, OAN has become even more of a platform for white nationalism, violent extremism, hate, and anti-government disinformation. It has served as a Putin propaganda machine, aired commentary equating gender-affirming care to Nazi medical experiments and marriage equality to slavery, fawned over insurrectionists, and spread bizarre medical disinformation — including claims that birth control is turning women gay.
Roku’s OAN subsidy symbolizes a worrying trend across streaming platforms
Roku’s decision to subsidize OAN speaks to a larger issue wherein streaming services platform extremist content. At least seven other FAST/AVOD services available to download on Roku’s channel store also provide OAN Plus. One such app is Klowd-TV, the Herring-owned FAST-TV provider, which also offers toxic conspiracy theorist channel Infowars via its free news package. As of last April, the Ashtabula County Republican Party’s Roku Channel also carried OAN Plus.
The Roku Channel also offers the widely discredited election conspiracy theory film 2000 Mules for free, which one OAN host highlighted in a January 13 viewer-mail segment.
Infowars — a friend to OAN — caused its own controversy for Roku back in 2019 after Roku announced it would carry the Infowars Live channel not long after parents of Sandy Hook victims sued host Alex Jones for defamation. Roku reneged on the decision following sustained backlash from customers.
Roku has resisted calls to drop OAN, even though other platforms have realized the risk the network brings. In 2020, the streaming platform refused to remove OAN despite widespread condemnation of the network’s attack on Buffalo, New York, protestor Martin Gugin, which was then spread by then-President Trump. At the time, the Roku channel was prominently featuring OAN Encore — now OAN plus.
Despite its dwindling audience, OAN has leveraged its brief moments in the spotlight to become a major radicalizing force across right-wing politics. By failing to drop OAN, Roku is drawing out the hateful sputter from a dying network.