[A2k] Library loaning Roku's with Hulu and Netflix subscriptions

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Sat Feb 23 10:06:05 PST 2013

One Way To Get Streaming Content from the Library: Ephrata PL Looks to
Expand Roku Lending Program

By Matt Enis on February 20, 2013 Leave a Comment

A Roku lending program launched last year byEphrata Public Library
(EPL) in Pennsylvania has proven so popular that the library is
planning to invest in several more of the media streaming devices in
the coming months.

“We’re adding our third and our fourth [soon], and I would say this
year, we will probably add six to eight,” said EPL Executive Director
Penny Talbert. “There are always holds on them, and they’re
circulating for a week.”

EPL purchased two Rokus last Spring at the suggestion of the library’s
technology manager. As Talbert noted, the units didn’t require a huge
initial investment to try. The basic Roku LT units cost $50. For each
unit, the library purchases dedicated subscriptions to Netflix and/or
Hulu Plus, which currently cost $7.99 per month each, as well as other
content from TED, Allrecipes.com, the BBC, and other sources.
Subscriptions are set up so that patrons can’t use EPL’s account to
make additional purchases while they have the units.

For comparison’s sake, Talbert noted that the total cost of the Roku
and a dedicated subscription is less than libraries pay for content in
many other formats. Many individual ebooks, audiobooks, or single
seasons of a television series on DVD cost more than one Roku unit,
she said.

“If that television series is available on Hulu, do the math. It’s not
only cost savings, but space savings, and what you can offer your
patrons. …This is a great way to send, basically, 100,000 movies home
with a patron.”

Likewise, the Roku lending program may be a stopgap relevant to the
concerns of librarians who worry about the increasing push toward
streaming-only content, such as the much buzzed-about “House of Cards”
remake debuted recently by Netflix. In attempt to compete with premium
content creators like HBO, Netflix has in the works a number of
programs available only to its streaming service customers, many of
which may never become available on traditional physical media like

Upon checkout, patrons receive the Roku unit, its remote and power
cord, and an HDMI cable. EPL produced a video with straightforward
setup instructions, which patrons can view on the EPLDigitalLibrary
section of their website. So far, most patrons haven’t needed much
help, Talbert said.

“I’m really surprised how few problems we’ve had with people hooking
them up to their televisions. Our technology manager made the [setup
instruction] videos and we were prepared for this, but I still
expected to get lots of calls from people asking how to hook it up to
their wireless, or how to hook it up to their TVs.”

There are drawbacks. Loaning out one Roku for a week could diminish
the circulation of other media—potentially multiple DVDs. Streaming
movies will require a broadband connection, which many patrons may not
have at home. And, although the matter has not been challenged in
court, there have beendebates about whether library programs that
involve Netflix or similar consumer lending programs may violate those
companies’ terms of service. Talbert said that the library has read
the terms of service for the content providers carefully, and believes
that EPL is in compliance, due to the maintenance of dedicated
subscriptions for each device, and the fact that EPL does not use the
devices to broadcast content to public audiences within the library.

Regardless, those providers, along with Roku, may be pleased to learn
that after the library introduces them to the technology, many EPL
patrons decide to buy their own units and presumably their own
subscriptions. Yet that trend could also have an uncertain impact on
the library’s media circulation in the future.

But, delivering content and introducing patrons to the latest content
delivery technology are both important components of the library’s
mission, Talbert said.

“That’s one of the ways we prove our value. We know more about
technology than most people coming through our doors, and our job is
to help educate them.”

As for the program’s potential impact on media circulation, “it is
tough,” she said. “Oftentimes your funding is tied to circs, and that
is an impressive number to be able to hand out to your local funding
bodies, whoever that might be. So it’s important, but at the same
time, it’s not important enough to keep things away from patrons.”

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