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When Roku decided to head to SXSW for the first time, it didn’t just bring a small team—it created an entire purple-drenched city occupied by friendly monsters. And it all started with one well-known screensaver.
For March 11-12, the streaming platform invited festivalgoers inside Roku City, an immersive look into the vibrant cityscape known by Roku users. The interactive, multilevel pop-up allowed visitors to stroll through elements of the popular metropolis as giant robots walked about the town (from the safety of a projection screen, naturally).
At the center of the bustling activity was a partnership with Best Buy that continues to expand both in the brand’s imaginary world and the real-life retail space.
“We share an ethos with Best Buy. Both companies are entertainment- and consumer-obsessed,” Julian Mintz, Roku’s co-head of U.S. brand sales, told Adweek. “There really was no one else that we thought about in terms of partnering to bring all of this great entertaining content to life.”
Welcome to town
According to the brand, the SXSW experience was developed from Twitter research showing that the screensaver was mentioned once every 12 minutes. Internal research also showed that 2 out of 3 users would actually visit the city if given the opportunity. Recently, Roku City was even the subject of a New York Times deep dive.
“We debuted Roku City in 2017,” Mintz explained. “The whole goal of it was to surprise and delight our viewers, to really immerse them in entertainment and to spark their imagination. Right away, it became a hit and it’s only become more and more popular.”
The ambitious Downtown Austin space encompassed a number of different scenes in which visitors could literally insert themselves, including a beauty salon where guests could get flower crowns and face jewels, and a rooftop diner with bookable booths through OpenTable. The brand even replicated Paris’ Pont des Arts—also known as the Love Lock Bridge—by giving guests a lock that they could dedicate to their true love and secure on the bridge to the next room.
But the centerpiece was arguably the Best Buy Home Theater Experience, a replicated living room with multiple screens offering peeks at some of the platform’s original programming. This included a full trailer for its original comedy series Slip starring Zoe Lister-Jones, which the platform teased during last year’s Cannes Lions festival.
“The goal of the company is to bring all the best content to our users,” said Mintz. “Transparently, there’s been a little bit of subscription fatigue. More and more, our viewers want free content—they’ve been telling us that forever. Being able to program original content directly to their needs has been a really successful strategy for us, and we’re looking to continue to bring that to our users this year.”
While the brand has tapped into the culture surrounding Roku City at previous events, SXSW provided an opportunity to approach the theme at a much grander scale, allowing the brand to compete visually with fellow streamers like Paramount+ and Amazon Prime.
Said Mintz, “We thought with SXSW’s mix of music, television and culture, there was really no better place for us to bring our brand to life.”
Best (Buy) buddies
The activation coincided with the recent announcement of the first Roku Select and Plus Series TVs, which will be available exclusively at Best Buy. The new deal also includes the Roku Wireless Soundbar, which will be available in stores and online later this month.
Additionally, Roku will use first-party data from Best Buy to inform targeted ads, making them more relevant and performance-driven. The ad partnership is key for the brand as it surpasses 70 million active global accounts.
“Our goal is to create a better TV experience for everyone,” Mintz said in a separate statement. “We’re bringing together our entire business to build the future of entertainment and advertising—making the TV experience simpler, offering the right marketing, data, tech and scale to drive real results, and helping win the entire streamer’s journey together with Best Buy.”