The TV Sector's Latest Bad Idea: Ads That Play When You Press Pause

from the more-and-more-ads dept

The TV industry is certainly skilled when it comes to ignoring the will of the customer. You’ll recall that as the cord cutting and ratings free fall began, the sector’s very first impulse was to double down on a lot of bad ideas, from mindlessly raising rates, to editing down programs or speeding them up to shove more ads into each viewing hour. And as new innovations like ad skipping DVR technology emerged, the industry’s very first impulse was to first sue companies in a bid to ban the tech, then “innovate” by charging users more if they did want to skip ads.

This week, both AT&T and Hulu (which AT&T now owns a chunk of via its Time Warner merger) unveiled their latest “innovation” in delivering ads that users don’t want: ads that run when you press pause and leave the room. According to AT&T, the tech should emerge sometime next year for its DirecTV and IPTV (formerly branded U-Verse) TV customers:

“AT&T also has hopes to use the pause to lend new momentum to TV advertising. The company, which owns DirecTV and U-verse, expects to launch technology next year that puts a full-motion video on a screen when a user decides to take a respite. ?We know you?re going to capture 100% viewability when they pause and unpause,? says Matt Van Houten, vice president of product at Xandr Media, AT&T?s advertising division. ?There?s a lot of value in that experience.”

Said “value” will certainly be in the eye of the beholder. Consumers that have made it clear they don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for traditional TV and watch ads aren’t going to be particularly thrilled to engage in another, entirely new layer of ads. And the “value” of layering more ads when users press pause and (usually) leave the room certainly isn’t going to be any kind of panacea for the problems that plague the sector (high prices, too many ads, terrible customer service, bloated & inflexible pay TV lineups, and sagging ratings).

For its part, AT&T makes the case that you’ll need some additional advertising in streaming because low subscription prices aren’t enough to pay for content development in the streaming era:

“At a September conference held for advertisers, AT&T executives made the case that even new forms of video entertainment ? including streaming ? require ad support. ?If we are to continue this pace of developing content of this quality in these volumes, then we need advertising to pay for some of the content,?said Brian Lesser, chief executive of the company?s Xandr unit, while speaking to reporters at the event. ?I don?t believe ? nor does anybody on the team believe ? that subscription video on demand services could possibly pay for all the content being developed? without relying on money from advertising.”

While that might be true, it’s worth noting that AT&T’s not trialing this technology on its streaming platforms (like DirecTV Now), it’s implementing it on its traditional IPTV and satellite TV services, which usually cost consumers (on average) upwards of $100+ per month. Forcing additional advertising on customers already annoyed by high prices isn’t the path to winning back frustrated customers. Meanwhile, AT&T has no problem raising subscription rates on streaming anyway; the company just got done implementing a streaming price hike before the ink on its last merger was even dry, and is already hinting at another round of hikes.

When you face real competition (something that’s a little alien to AT&T), you don’t get to choose when you compete on price and features. That’s why some wings of the cable and broadcast sector have finally started actually lowering the ad load in a bid to keep people from switching to streaming alternatives to heading to piracy. And while it’s true the sector needs to innovate around advertising, hitting already frustrated users with even more ads (when they’re probably not even in the room) doesn’t seem like the best path forward.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “The TV Sector's Latest Bad Idea: Ads That Play When You Press Pause”

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have the ad-free version of Hulu now, but back before that was a thing, I distinctly remember that if I closed and restarted a show, they’d make me sit through the same damn commercial again.

This was particularly infuriating in the era of constant Flash crashes.

There was at least one occasion where I spent 20 minutes trying to start an episode of Community, sitting through the same commercial, getting a Flash crash, reloading the page, and going through the whole damn process again before saying "fuck it, I tried to do this the legal way" and then torrenting the rest of the season.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So... What are they gonna do when...

What are they gonna do now when you select fast forward

You can bet any DVR provided by your cable company will contain innovative new forms of advertising, soon enough. The whole time you’re holding that button they’re gonna have a picture-in-picture ad. Rewind, pause, program listings, same thing. If you’ve seen the movie "Idiocracy" (same author as Office Space), you’ve seen what the screen will look during the final days of cable TV—to the few people who, for whatever reason, still didn’t cancel.

Anon says:

I cant believe you continue to get this wrong!!

The tv industry is very good at listening to their customers. Their customers want eyeballs, even when viewers hit mute or change the channel. Comcast has even figured out how to get their product to pay for the privelege of being sold.

The only tv channels where you are the customer are services like netflix or hbo now. We will see how long that lasts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You missed my point as I was not asking a technical question.

It appears that more and more the object of mainstream media is to monetize news and information under the assumption that the mainstream media (MSM) has a monopoly on news and it does not matter the form of delivery MSM is demanding rent on news delivery.

The problem for MSM is I do not need or want the propaganda they call news so I simply do not visit or tune in.

Ven says:

I just want some quite

What if I’m pausing the show to quite the TV without missing any of the show? I almost only watch traditional TV with other people, most of the time we pause is so we can make some comment about the show.

I’m guessing their next innovation will be to make the mute button turn **up** the volume if a commercial is playing.

B!^ch broke my radio! says:

Advertising in the US is geneally out of control

I am American, but have lived in Europe for the last 20 years. It is absolutely shocking to me when I visit my parents in the US how much (exceedingly annoying) advertising they have to put up with.

– Like the internet? How about so many advertisements that your web experience is seriously impaired – even with a good ad blocker. I don’t know why, but I had so many more ads in my browser while in the US than in Europe – despite using the same PC in both locations. I allow Techdirt’s advertisements because they are non-intrusive and I want to support the team’s efforts, but for the rest of the US, my god are you poor souls ever inundated with crap!
– driving on the motorway? How about a billboard every 10 yards (illegal in Europe as they are a distraction while driving)
– have a home phone? How about so many marketing calls per day that you don’t even answer the phone unless you know the caller? (illegal in Europe, but we went too far – I have to sign a waiver so that the garage can call me when my car repairs are done)
– Have a mobile phone? How about freakishly insightful targeted ads from every place that you visit that day? (have never seen anything like this in Europe and it only seems to happen on US phones….)
– have a TV? How about an add every 20 seconds? (Most EU countries limit the percentage of a show that can be used for advertising and they limit the number and duration of commercial breaks per half hour)
– Taking public transport, or god help you, flying with a US airline? besides the privileges of being in some of the most depressing vehicles you have ever seen, with shitty service on top, why not cap it off with a hefty dose of in your face advertising at every available opportunity? (ok, the UK is not much better, but the rest of Europe is still a far nicer experience than anything I have seen in the US. Imagine being able to proudly say that you took the train to work…. )

End effect is that when I am in the US, I feel like I am getting sensory override at every corner. You get sensitized to it though. My wife and I often comment about the amount of advertising that you are constantly bombarded with and my parents always say “gee we didn’t even notice”. Advertising is a fine way to support a business, but in my mind is a prime area where government regulation can have a massive (and positive) influence on the average Joe’s life.

Dan (profile) says:

Some will like this...

My mom (rest her soul), would have loved this idea.

She was deathly afraid of screen burn in. She would raise the riot act, even if we paused to pee. (In spite of reassurances from her techno-son.)

Anything to keep motion on the screen was a good thing in her book. And there are other techno-illiterates still out there who are going to think the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Some will like this...

Burn-in still happens with modern screens, though not nearly to the extent it did with old ones. If you’ve always had a taskbar at the bottom of your screen, and you move it, you might see a very faint afterimage for a few hours. Pausing for less than a few hours shouldn’t be a concern at all.

Angel (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is me. Sometimes, my hubby doesn’t know how to wait until the end of the episode to talk about something in it and I’m very familiar with the pause button for this very reason. I don’t need advertisements while trying to hear what he’s saying (which I might already be slightly annoyed by). Things like this is why piracy continues to be a thing, at least the pirates put out commercial free content.

E. says:

Re: Re:

Exactly. Same goes with muting said commercials when being unable to fast forward them. Anyone want to guess that they’ll try to make it so people are unable to mute said commercials? They already make it if you move to another page online, that said commercial will stop playing until you get back on the page to watch it.

btr1701 (profile) says:


From an advertiser’s point of view, I don’t know why I’d even want to pay for this.

When people hit Pause, it’s because they’re usually getting up to do something– use the restroom, pop popcorn, answer the phone, etc.– and almost by definition, won’t be paying any attention to an ad that starts running when the button is pushed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Give them an inch...

If the ad is taking up bandwidth that they are also counting towards my cap, not going to happen. Doesn’t matter if they are mute, static or even funny. My grandfather didn’t join the Navy and fight for this country, to let government-backed monopolies take another few dollars per month from all of the old men and women who have no choice.

I can’t wait for Musk’s satellite system to get up and running so these dinosaurs can finally die off and be a lesson for future generations.

Anonymous Coward says:

ads that run when you press pause and leave the room.

Well, I wouldn’t mind that if they actually did it. However, if they play ads when I pause to have a conversation about what I just saw, answer the phone, see to a medical emergency, etc. I’m going to be pretty pissed if they think I’ve left the room and start playing ads drowning out conversation.

What’s next: apps that play ads when you attempt to close them?

Ads while paused already breaks industry standard rules like "control interfaces with an accepted industry use must not be co-opted for another purpose." The FTC could lay some pretty heavy fines on these guys if they ignore that sort of thing… plus they’ll find that security software starts detecting their players.

Anonymous Coward says:

The glorious future...

*Ad pops up on tv, camera turns on*

“Hello John Smith – Does your blue eyes and blond hair make you depressed? try contacts and hair dye from Nellies”

“Don’t let the fact that you got fired today stop you. Try”

*John Smith leaves room and goes to bathroom*
*Mirror turns into screen while on toilet*

“Are you sad that your penis is so small – Dr Giggles and Sons can help you”

smadav 2019 new version (user link) says:

Smadav 2019 antivirus is one of the best local dipercata can keep our computer from the attacks of various viruses or malware that is quite annoying. But its ability to keep our computer or laptop is also quite powerful. Moreover Smadav 2019 this is known as an antivirus that is very light, even you will not feel install anvitivirus in your computer.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: I've said it before

And idiots keep flinging more money at it even though it’s gotten less and less effective overtime.

Seriously, broadcast TV ratings have collapsed in the last 2 decades, but advertisers are paying significantly more per viewer than they were 2 decades ago (even when adjusted for inflation).

The most ironic part about ads is that people are actually skipping ads less on TV now, but only because they’re too busy on their phones to pay attention to the ads.

Gwiz (profile) says:

I have already noticed something similar on my Verizon Android phone. There is an really annoying app named "Peel Remote" that was a factory install on my phone that I cannot completely remove (as far as I have determined) unless I root my phone. Every couple of days it gets automatically updated from the Play Store and starts showing annoying ads on my "swipe to unlock" screen. I have to manually go into Play Store and remove the updates to make it stop.

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