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Roku IPO will test investor appetite for consumer devices after Fitbit plunge

  • Roku is going up against Apple, Amazon and Google in the streaming device market.
  • Increasingly the company wants to be viewed as a provider of software.
  • Investors have shown little confidence in independent hardware companies.
Anthony Wood, founder and chief executive officer of Roku Inc.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Anthony Wood, founder and chief executive officer of Roku Inc.

Roku is poised to test the public markets, but it first has a big question to answer: Why should investors be excited?

Consumer devices have been a sinkhole for public investors of late. GoPro, the adventure camera company, has plunged 38 percent in the past year and is trading 63 percent below its IPO price from 2014. Fitbit has performed even worse, with shares of the fitness tracker down 61 percent in the past 12 months, and 71 percent below its 2015 debut price.

Roku faces very similar challenges. The company, which makes devices for streaming TV shows and movies, is in direct competition with the biggest consumer device companies — which also happen to be the most valuable businesses in the world.

Those brands have much greater brand recognition and marketing budgets that are many times bigger than Roku's. According to Roku's own admission in an IPO prospectus filed Friday afternoon, the company has to fight for shelf space in retail stores.

"Competition is intense for these resources, and a competitor with more extensive product lines and stronger brand identity, such as Apple or Google, possesses greater bargaining power with retailers," Roku said in the filing.

"In addition, one of our online retailers, Amazon.com, sells its own competitive TV streaming products and is able to market and promote these products more prominently on its website, and could refuse to offer our devices," the company added.

Sales at Roku, which includes revenue from the device and from subscriptions on the platform, rose 16 percent in the latest quarter to $99.6 million. Its net loss increased by about 10 percent to $15.5 million.

Investors are so bearish on the space that they're valuing GoPro and Fitbit at less than one times revenue. Meanwhile, Jawbone started shutting down in recent months, after demand dried up for its fitness trackers and bluetooth speakers. Even more ominously, juicing start-up Juicero completely closed up shop on Friday.

While many other factors could play into Roku's eventual market cap, if the company can't command a higher multiple than GoPro or Fitbit, it will be valued at less than $500 million.

'A unique solution'

However, Roku does have a story to tell that takes it out of just the hardware game. The company generated 46 percent of revenue in the period ended July from subscriptions and advertising on the platform. More importantly, sales in that segment surged 95 percent, turning Roku into more of a software and content company than a device maker.

When viewers watch stations like CBS News and Vice, Roku gets to collect ad revenue. For subscription services like HBO Now and Hulu, the company earns a cut when people sign up from the device.

Some TV manufacturers also pay a licensing fee to embed Roku's service in their devices. The company said this year there will be 150 models available in the U.S. up from 100 in 2016.

In its upcoming roadshow, Roku will likely be trying to convince investors that its future is not in selling devices, but in powering them.

Here's more from the prospectus:

"As smart TVs take over most of the overall TV installed base over time, we believe we can power a very large portion of TVs based on our unique solution for TV brands."