There are thousands of official channels in Roku’s official Channel Store – but did you know that there are “secret” private channels you can add, too?
Read on to learn:
- How channels drive Roku’s success
- Why Roku lets you add channels that are not in its store
- Where to find private channels
- How to install private channels on Roku
- Examples of private channels you can add
What Are Roku Channels?
If Roku was a brand-new startup, it would call its channels apps. However, the iPhone was only a year old and the Apple App Store did not even exist when Roku introduced its first Netflix streaming box in 2008. Roku stayed with its TV origins by using the term “channels” instead of “apps” when the company rolled out its open content platform in 2009.
Related: The 100 Best Roku Channels – Movies, TV, Kids, Sports
Channels provide a quick way to expand your Roku device’s capabilities. It’s so easy to create a channel that you can now find thousands of channels in the official Roku Channel Store. Roku’s fifteen million customers streamed more than seven billion hours of content via channels in the first half of this year alone.
What Is a Private Channel?
Even with the thousands of channels available through the Roku Channel Store, you may not find exactly what you want. Many Roku customers expand their content options by adding so-called private channels to their Roku devices.
Is it a way to pirate content?
No. Roku makes it very clear that bypassing copyright laws violates its terms of service. The main reason Roku created the private channel feature is to give developers a way to test their channels with wider audiences without posting unfinished work to the Roku Channel Store.
A developer can distribute access codes to smaller communities of Roku enthusiasts who try out the channel, report bugs and suggest improvements.
The private channel system improves the quality of channels that appear in the Roku Channel Store. Cluttering the store with half-baked beta channels would create a poor user experience. Letting developers get their testing done outside the “official” system creates a better experience for everyone.
Roku’s private channel crackdown
Over the years, however, some channel developers took advantage of Roku’s hands-off approach to private channels by creating channels that contained pirated content.
Over the past few years, however, Roku began cracking down on what they call “non-certified” channels that violate its developer terms of service or distribute pirated content.
If you use private channels that cross the grey zone into piracy, you may receive a penalty on your Roku account if that channel gets flagged later on.
When you try to add a channel that is not in the Roku Channel Store, this message appears:
THIS IS A NON-CERTIFIED CHANNEL. Roku requires all channels to abide by Roku’s terms and conditions and to distribute only legal content. Roku does not test or review non-certified channels. By continuing, you acknowledge you are accessing a non-certified channel that may include content that is offensive or inappropriate for some audiences. Moreover, if Roku determines that this channel violates copyright, contains illegal content or otherwise violates Roku’s terms and conditions, then ROKU MAY REMOVE THIS CHANNEL WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE AND YOUR ACCOUNT MAY BE BLOCKED FROM ADDING ANY OTHER NON-CERTIFIED CHANNELS.”
If you aren’t careful about the private channels you install, you could find yourself blocked from using any private channels at all.
Roku sales banned in Mexico
One reason Roku has gotten tougher with the piracy situation is the effect it has on its mainstream business. A court in Mexico issued a ban on all sales of Roku devices after a cable company filed suit.
Hackers were selling services that let Roku owners in Mexico bypass subscriptions for content streams from HBO and other content providers. Bloomberg reported that Mexican cable company Cablevision sought the ban on Roku sales along with restraints on banks and convenience stores to block payments to hackers.
Roku’s private channel crackdown may have contributed to the success of its IPO. The company saw a 68% spike in share prices on the first day of trading. The specter of conflict with the media industry may have hurt their chances of seeing that kind of success.
“We are actively cooperating with the content community and other rights holders in their efforts to combat piracy,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in mid-August. In response, piracy channels announced the end of their support for Roku.
Roku isn’t waiting for piracy-enabling channels to do the right thing. In addition to hiring anti-piracy staff, Torrentfreak reported that Roku replaced the XTV channel with an FBI anti-piracy warning. People hoping to use Roku to get free, unlicensed content will need to look someplace else as Roku tightens their policies with respect to private channels.
Installing Private Channels on Roku
Despite the crackdown, you can still find thousands of legitimate private channels. Installing a “white hat” private channel on your Roku is very straightforward. The tricky part is finding it in the first place.
Finding private channels
Since private channels are not certified or supported by Roku, you won’t find anything about them on your Roku device or the Roku website. Instead, you’ll need to rely on channel directories to find what you’re looking for.
One of the best channel directories out there right now is Thomas Roth’s RokuGuide. Roth created RokuGuide in 2010 to help end the frustrations he experienced with his first Roku device. In addition to reviewing certified channels in the Roku Channel Store, Roth also maintains a list of private Roku channels you can install. Although he does not perform detailed reviews of the private channels, Roth screens the channels to ensure they work and offer something of interest. Each RokuGuide entry has a brief description and screenshots to give you an idea of the user experience.
Another popular channel directory is Roku Channels. It has a list of more than seventy private channels with descriptions and screenshots.
Although not as user-friendly, the TVStreamin channel directory relies on volume to make up for its lack of detail. You can find thousands of private channels in TVStreamin lists, but there are no descriptions, reviews or screenshots.
Channel access codes
Roku issues developers access codes for private channels which the developers pass on to customers. You must tell Roku what the access code is so it can match that to the right channel.
If you want to get the Silent Movies Channel, for example, you need to know that the access code is “ROLLEM”.
How to install a private channel
You can install officially certified channels from the Channel Store on your Roku device, but you can’t install private channels on Roku directly. Instead, you have to enter the private channel’s access code via the Roku website.
After signing in, select My Account from the drop-down.
Then scroll down to Manage account and select Add channel with a code.
Enter the code on the next screen. Be careful here as the codes are case sensitive.
You’ll see a popup with Roku’s warning about private channels. It basically says that Roku reserves the right to remove channels that violate its anti-piracy rules – as well as take away your ability to add private channels if you abuse the private channel system.
If you are confident that the private channel is legit and you are OK with Roku’s terms, click OK.
Next you’ll see another pop-up. This one gives you basic details about the channel, like whether it requires a payment to install. Select Yes, add channel if you want to proceed.
Finally, you’ll see a message that confirms that the private channel was added to your account.
At this point you have two ways to proceed. You can either wait about 24 hours for your Roku device to perform its daily update check or force a manual Roku update.
You can force a manual update by navigating to Settings – System – System Update – Check Now. The private channel should appear at the bottom of your channel list.
What Kind of Channels Can I Get?
Finding channels that both work and have decent content can be a frustrating process of trial and error. Here’s a quick look at some of most popular private channel options.
The Tested channel is a good example of the benefits and pitfalls of private Roku channels.
The producers of Adam Savage’s video website Tested either didn’t have the time or didn’t have the budget to create a dedicated Tested channel to place on the Roku Channel Store. A fan took it upon himself to create a private channel – and the Tested team let it happen.
The Tested channel works fairly well overall, but it is not as well maintained as an official Roku channel. Empty content sections and other quality control issues give Tested a work-in-progress feel.
The Silent Movie Channel (ROLLEM)
The Silent Movie Channel team curates movies from the classic era before talkies arrived on the scene. Silent films are classified as public domain works and can be found legally in many places online. The Silent Movie Channel gathers them all together in one place.
One thing you should know before you try out The Silent Movie Channel is that the quality of the films varies wildly. Some of the movies still look good, but others have obviously suffered from wear and tear.
Redbox on Demand (RBXDIGITAL)
DVD rental service Redbox dabbled in video streaming a few years ago, but it soon abandoned the effort. When it decided to try streaming again, Redbox decided to take a less public approach by creating a private channel for Roku.
Anyone can install the Redbox on Demand private channel. However, only those who got an official invitation from Redbox can access Redbox’s on-demand video content. If you don’t have an invitation to join the channel, you can still use the Redbox on Demand to watch trailers of upcoming and new movie releases.
Roku channel developer Nowhereman is quite prolific. In addition to Nowhereman’s certified Roku channels, Nowhereman also maintains more than a dozen private channels.
The channels listed below represent our picks for Nowhereman’s best private channels. Check out the Nowhereman website for the full list.
Nowhere TV (H9DWC)
This “grab bag” channel relies on freely available content pulled from a variety of online sources.
Though it contains some interesting content, Nowhere TV is an example of the issues you’ll find on many private channels. Since the Nowhereman team does not update Nowhere TV on a regular basis, videos may disappear at any time.
Unlike other developers, Nowhereman is up-front about the lack of quality control on the channel, saying “there are never any guarantees.”
Nowhere Archive (NMJS5)
The Nowhere Archive taps into the public domain videos and community content hosted by the Internet Archive. Here you can watch Woody Woodpecker and other classic animations, US Congressional testimonies and speed runs of Grand Theft Auto. (Warning: some of the community-submitted content may be NSFW)
Nowhere Coin (nowherecoin)
If you’ve invested in Bitcoin, then you can afford to turn your 4K Ultra-definition TV into a Bitcoin price-ticker. That’s all this screensaver channel does – but you’ve got the coins to make it worthwhile, right?
Make Your Roku Uniquely Yours
Hopefully, this guide has shown you that private channels are about more than just dodging copyrights. Private channels offer you a way to open up an even wider universe of niche and specialty content for your home entertainment system.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.