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Roku is rolling out its own version of Alexa for home speakers and TV soundbars

But the video streaming company isn’t making its own smart speaker.

American domestic interior showing portable Vinyl Record player and discs.
We can’t show you a Roku-enabled audio system, since the devices don’t exist yet. But here’s what a record player looked like in 1965.
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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Roku already competes with Apple, Amazon and Google when it comes to streaming video. Now it’s going to take on the big guys with its own digital assistant, too.

Roku, which sells its own streaming video devices and makes streaming video software for other companies’ TVs, says it will roll out its own version of Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant later this year.

Unlike its rivals, Roku doesn’t plan to create its own speakers and other hardware with its digital assistant — instead, it wants other manufacturers to use Roku’s software in their own speakers and devices.

The company says its “Roku Entertainment Assistant” will show up this fall as part of a software upgrade.

When it does, it won’t be nearly as ambitious as Alexa, et al. Instead of marketing the software as artificial intelligence that can schedule your appointments, turn off your bedroom lights and order your groceries, the Roku assistant’s primary job will be to help you play music and video on devices throughout your house.

Here’s Roku’s theoretical example, from a press release: “Customers will be able to say, ‘Hey Roku, play jazz in the living room’ and a smart soundbar with Roku Connect will begin playing music — even if the TV is turned off.”

Roku doesn’t say which music services its software will work with, but the company says it doesn’t plan on offering its own service. So presumably it will want it to work with offerings from Spotify, Apple, Amazon and everyone else that streams tunes.

Roku’s scaled-down version of Siri isn’t a surprise: The company has been moving into voice-activated software for a while, and “acqhired” a Danish “multi-room audio startup” in September.

The more modest move also makes sense. While Roku’s rivals want to own your entire digital life, Roku’s plan is simply to make money when you stream video, by charging video companies to show you TV shows, movies and ads. If linking your home stereo or a TV soundbar to your Roku box makes you more likely to keep using your Roku box, mission accomplished.

This is normally the part of the story where you note that Roku, which went public last year, is going up against much, much, much bigger competitors, who are using home video and audio as a way to extend their reach, not as a full-fledged business.

And Roku’s main strategy — positioning itself as a mass-market, low-cost alternative — seems like it will eventually hit a wall. Amazon, which marked down its entry-level Echo Dot smart speaker to $29 for Christmas, says it sold “tens of millions” of Alexa-enabled devices over the holidays.

But Roku has been successfully competing against much bigger rivals for some time, and investors are now rewarding it: The company, which said it would do north of $500 million in revenue last year, now sports a $5 billion market cap.

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