The Magic of Roku City? Rockin’ UX

Roku City is a shining example of how killer UX is pioneering digital space and how it could change the game for your company. (Photo: Roku)

What started as a simple screensaver has become a dynamic destination. What?

If you let a Roku idle for a bit, you land in an immersive, magenta-hued cityscape, where you can explore art deco theaters, cozy diners, elegant cafes, noir-ish mansions, and a romantic moon-kissed lagoon, all with a Blade Runner-esque vibe. This noteworthy screensaver has taken on a life of its own — known on social channels as Roku City — with fans dreaming of packing their bags to move in. That’s the power of some seriously good UX.

When most folks flick on their Rokus, the streaming hub that says it has more than 70 million active accounts, it’s generally because they want to watch a movie, show, or event. However, what has become quite clear is that many of these people are also spending a bit of time watching Roku’s dynamic screensaver.

“This particular screensaver has taken on a life of its own,” said the New York Times last year, pronouncing that idle Rokus had become “the unlikely venue for a massive public art experiment.” With the sheer size of Roku’s customer base, millions of homes peek into Roku City every night, providing a window into its dazzlingly enigmatic streets. “It’s always golden hour in Roku City — it’s really appealing to everyone,” shared Cheryl Singletary, a design director at Roku. And over time, an enthusiastic subculture of Roku City devotees has emerged on the web.

This digital cityscape was born in 2018 and was designed by Kyle Jones, a freelance graphic designer at the time who now works at Pixar. He imbued the digital urbanscape with 30 plus movie references, from the emerald city of Oz to Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong, Spider-Man, and more — crafting an aesthetic that dances between Art Deco and noir.

In the foreground, we see a shining strip of theaters with lit marquees, romantic restaurants, cafes, and apartment buildings. But across the river is a more pleasingly frightful affair, with rampaging monsters, voluptuous volcanoes, and other assorted chaos. This friction-y contrast is part of what makes Roku City so mesmerizing and easy to space out to as your mind wanders into the contours of this land that is, yes, a screen saver.

Now, this digital Gotham is folding in something new: advertising.

While it’s a nascent endeavor, it’s a sign that Roku is pioneering new ways to grow at a time when other streaming services are cutting costs to stem subscriber loss. Roku had a strong last quarter of 2023, growing total revenue 20% year-over-year and, for the first time, opened Roku City up to major brand advertisers like MaNel and McDonald’s, integrating those brands’ visuals into their now-iconic screensaver, presenting a new way to engage their audience.

Earlier this summer, Grimace appeared in Roku City, bringing McD’s Golden Arches and all to R.C.’s Main Street, part of the first branded ad deal on the screensaver. Barbie’s marketing campaign this summer included adding an extravagant three-story Dreamhouse to Roku City, complete with an extensive shoe closet, hot pink slide, and rocking dance floor — along with a Barbie-branded Roku Movie Theater, with billboards showcasing the film’s trailer — representing a revolutionary approach to movie marketing. And more recently, an Acura dealership and a Walmart opened their own virtual storefronts, leaving some to speculate that Roku City may be spawning Roku Suburb.

Right now, it’s not clear exactly how much money Roku City ads may be bringing in, but Roku has said that there is more to come, suggesting that demand is higher than capacity. What is clear, however, is that Roku is building an ad-friendly digital city — which has become increasingly valuable real estate.

Last May, Paramount+ muscled into the Roku City space with its own “neighborhood” vis-à-vis a brand takeover that reimagined R.C.’s digital streetscape with Paramount-centric landmarks, from its logo to visual homages to Star Trek and Top Gun: Maverick among others — with billboards in this Paramount corner leading straight to Paramount content. What makes these engineered spaces valuable is the UX that makes them believable. Digital innovation is entering a new era of invention — and stellar UX is at the helm.




The contours of the marketing landscape are ever-changing; Roku has crafted a monetizable digital metropolis, birthing a completely new way to engage with its customer base. Marketers, take note. If you want to lead your company’s UX marketing innovation charge but need help figuring out where to start, Creative360 can help you dream up a whole new world where you can proudly plant your very own brand flag.