Roku Effectively Bans Porn With Private Channel Crackdown

Roku Effectively Bans Porn With Private Channel Crackdown
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Taking action against the uncertified channels it has long ignored, Roku announced a policy shift last week that will see the company effectively ban private channels, including porn streaming services, on March 1, 2022.

In the past, adult content providers like Pornhub had used private channels — also known as hidden channels or non-certified channels — as a way to allow users to manually add their services without being listed in Roku’s channel store. Official channels need to pass Roku’s sniff test and go through an official certification process before being published, meaning that private channels, in addition to being used by developers for testing purposes, were oftentimes used as a way to smuggle content that’s not allowed in the company’s channel list to Roku’s users.

In addition to Pornhub, several other adult platforms are set to take the fall on March 1, including pay-per-view platforms like Adult Empire and AEBN and adult subscription services like Wicked, Adult Time, and Naughty America, according to Protocol.

Conscious of the impact the policy shift stands to have on developers, Roku also announced the creation of an Independent Developer Kit (IDK), which will allow anyone testing content to “code in their favourite programming language to create applications outside of streaming channels,” including games, apps and other utilities.

As part of the new policy, Roku will launch a new beta channel feature, which will allow developers to test their applications before they hit the Channel Store, just like private channels once had. Each beta channel will be limited to 20 users, and each developer will be limited to only two beta channels, each with a maximum 120-day testing period.

“At our annual developer conference in October, we announced the launch of Beta Channels, a new feature that aligns with industry standards and offers a more dynamic and flexible environment for developers to test their channels prior to launching in our public channel store,” a Roku spokesperson told Gizmodo. “With the launch of the Beta Channels feature, non-certified channels, which have previously been available to support development testing, are no longer necessary and will be removed by March of 2022.”

Although it’s unlikely that blowback from the unsanctioned content contained within private channels instigated Roku’s policy shift, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t gotten the company in hot water before. Roku sales were temporarily banned in Mexico in 2017 after the company lost a legal battle over its willingness to turn a blind eye to the tendency of private channels to facilitate piracy. After its reinstatement in Mexico, Roku took steps to get out in front of the problem of non-certified channels, including displaying a message that warned users accessing content via a private channel that it might be offensive or otherwise inappropriate for some audiences.

Lest you worry for the survival of porn providers and other non-sanctioned content providers, don’t: plenty of smart TV platforms have browser capabilities that make it easy for users to surf the web to their heart’s content, and Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Android TV both allow users to side-load Android apps from third-party sources in a manner similar to Roku’s private channels. In other words, if there’s a crack in the system, porn providers will find a way to shimmy through it — they might just have to get a little creative.