Meet Roku, which means “six” in Japanese.
Roku is a streaming video player device that can be purchased for about $50 that hooks up to a television and allows free viewing of on-demand internet movies and TV shows on more than 600 channels; the majority of which do not incur any monthly charges.
“I really believe it is the next generation of television,” said Dale Jackson, who along with his partner Paul DiFranco, has set up a 15,000-square-foot Roku television studio in Chantilly called Zom-Bee TV.
The studio features classic horror films hosted by commentators and original programming including the shows Cinema Insomnia, Corpse Collective, and music show The White Label Lounge.
The channel launched on Oct. 14.
Jackson said that for movie and television content owners or distributors, Roku represents a very cost-effective means to deliver shows to a rapidly increasing number of households.
As an open platform, Roku’s streaming player enables content owners to bypass traditional distribution routes and reach viewers and consumers directly. “Roku’s platform allows a wide variety of channels and one benefit is that, at least for right now, it is not regulated,” he said. “So we are free to have guests on our shows speak freely.”
The studio sells advertising and so far has landed Best Buy, McDonald’s, Nicoderm and the North Face as clients, according to Jackson.
“We are able to minimize royalties overhead by showing old horror movies that are in the public domain,” Jackson said.
Barely over a month old, the studio is already expanding its programming.
The studio’s White Label Lounge show is its first non-horror-themed program, and features local hosts Steve Nerangis, 40, and Pete Buchbauer , 29, as they interview musical guests and recommend new music right from the Chantilly studio off Gum Springs Road.
“Because we are from different musical generations but both have good taste in music, I think we keep the show fresh,” said Buchbauer.
In a few shorts months of recruiting, the show has landed interviews with an array of musical artists from around the world, including members of bands Styx, Senses Fail, Kix, Vampires Everywhere!, Faster Pussycat, The Early November, Fozzy, In Flames, Cherri Bomb, Lostprophets, and Foxy Shazam, as well as actor Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” and the filmmakers behind the documentary short “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”
“I sort of think of our show as a cross between Last Call with Carson Daly and the way MTV used to be, when they were about new music,” said Nerangis. “We generally start off by recommending a band, then showing a video or two, and then interviewing someone from that band in depth.”
Local viewer and fan Amy Helmick, 36, says she is hooked on the show.
“It is unique in that it is local but also very good,” she said. “I like the music, and the recommendations so far have been top notch.”
Helmick said she became acquainted with the Roku player when her boyfriend, who works at Best Buy, came home with it one day. “It is really convenient and I like the fact that you don’t have to pay for a lot of the programming,” she said. “We are thinking about cancelling our cable television now.”
Jackson said that does not surprise him.
“I hear that from a lot of young people,” he said. “Roku is growing constantly and very well could spell the end of cable television. Cable companies are definitely not fans.”
Jackson said he is happy to be entering such a growing industry trend in television entertainment on the ground floor, and hopes to grow with it.
The studio currently employs about 13 people including set designers, sound technicians and camera operators. There is also an intern from George Mason University working there as the studio’s erstwhile social media director.
Andrea Sakellaropoulous, 21, is an English major with a concentration in film and media studies. “I really like being here,” she said. “I think this experience is going to help me break into this industry.”
“Roku is building a streaming brand and taking on cable,” Jackson said. “It is already in Canada and Europe as well as in the U.S., and many companies including Dish Network and Netflix are already onboard.
“I certainly hope that by this time next year, Zom-Be TV is firmly entrenched, and producing at least 10 original shows fulltime. That’s my goal for right now.”