$1-2 Billion In Streaming Ads A Year Aren’t Being Watched Because The TV Is Off

from the into-the-void dept

Critics of modern tech often lean towards hyperbole when discussing “surveillance capitalism” and the seemingly omniscient power of advertisers and adtech. In reality, as journalists who cover the space for any amount of time can attest, it’s all frequently much dumber and clumsier than that:

A new study, first reported by The Wall Street Journal (paywalled), found that brands are wasting billions every year buying advertisements that people are never seeing. More specifically, ad company GroupM bought streaming ads beamed to 20 million Viso TV sets via adtech company iSpotTV.

What it found when crunching the data was that seventeen percent of these ads were being shown on streaming hardware or smart TVs after the TV were powered down (usually because TVs are entering energy saving mode which isn’t registered by the streaming hardware). This happens less when talking about a “smart” TV with embedded apps, but it still happened between 8% and 10% of the time.

The study guesstimates that this means about $1.5 to $1.9 billion annually in ad spending is being thrown in the trash. But as Gizmodo notes, given this is a hugely competitive and fast-growing sector we’re probably not fully measuring, there’s a very good chance that’s a stark underestimate:

One recent study, for example, estimated that advertisers spent about $1.3 billion in 2021 to reach viewers across ad-supported services like Hulu and Peacock, roughly 3% of total digital ad spend and growing. The figure is likely to grow as Disney+ and Netflix debut ad-supported versions of their products. Another study from ad industry insiders found that major brands like Hersheys and Coca-Cola were dropping $4 billion alone in the first 4 months of this year; some analysts estimate those figures could spike to nearly $63 billion total by the year’s end.

Keep in mind this is just one small study, which was leaked to the Wall Street Journal instead of being publicly released, funded by a company that may or may not have its own reasons for tilting measurements one way or another, in an industry that very much operates with little to no transparency and numerous, sometimes conflicting, agendas (isn’t this fun?).

That said, this study’s results are before you get to all the other waste, fraud, theft, and artificially inflated metrics that occur in the notoriously non-transparent and intentionally complicated adtech sector. Keep in mind some studies suggest a whopping fifteen percent of adtech money operates in an impenetrable vacuum, meaning they don’t even know where the money is going.

That’s not to downplay the uglier aspects of snoopvertising, just to note that it’s all probably dumber and sloppier than you think. We’re basing a huge portion of our economy on a sector that’s rife with fraud and incompetence, largely unaccountable and unregulated, completely non-transparent, heavily based on hype and growing too quickly to even accurately measure. What could go wrong?

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Companies: groupm

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Comments on “$1-2 Billion In Streaming Ads A Year Aren’t Being Watched Because The TV Is Off”

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Anonymous Coward says:


This point is dead on about making ads worth watching.

How many people you know either look forward to or like to watch the superbowl ads? When the superbowl is over, they talk about the ads as well. That is the standard of a good ad; they like it and they talk about it once they’ve seen it.

Like everyone else, I mute the volume, get up and go get something to drink, anything but punish myself by watching ads that aren’t worth my time. If your viewers are avoiding your product, what does that tell you about it?

I don’t really watch enough tv anymore to make it worth paying for a subscription. One of those reasons why I don’t is the amount of ads that are shoved down your throat in order to watch a program. I’d sooner turn it off, go to the computer, get on the internet with ad blockers, and surf uninterrupted by what has become a nuisance at best or a pestilence at worse.

Everyone wants to scream at you about ad blockers but no one wants to police the industry. When you get malware from seeing a third party ad, you’re on your own because the presenters of the ads then suddenly don’t want to hear from you.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re:

One of those reasons why I don’t is the amount of ads that are shoved down your throat in order to watch a program.

Ofcom fixed that problem here in the UK by putting time limits on ad breaks (three and a half minutes of ads per break and a total of nine minutes per hour), and only subscription providers break those rules. So of course I don’t pay for Sky, Virgin Media, BT TV, or TalkTalk TV. After all, I’m already paying more than my fair share by leaving the telly on Pick whenever I go for a break. If broadcasters made ad breaks shorter, the ad agencies would likely make more money because viewers would be incentivised to watch them for fear of missing anything in the programme.

Teka says:


Some new, or at least new to me as I never watch it, Hulu ads are multiple-bad-choice. It rolls an ad, then demands you pick a follow-up portion of that ad. There is no skip, you can only choose your punishment from a selection of pains, or wait out the very long timer and have the machine pick for you.


Anonymous Coward says:

I think you meant Vizio TV’s.

This by the way is a curse of Smart TV’s. When I bought a Samsung they forced me into all kinds of grief to set that up, largely because I use complicated passwords, a password manager and their password interface sucked. I could have paid an additional $14.99 for their app which would have made the password, at least, easier to enter.

But, no way were they going to let me set up that TV without an account and the questions about ads were, in my opinion, intentionally misleading and confusing.

BierOntap says:

The remarkable thing is that through it all, digital advertising is far more quantifiable to advertisers in terms of returns on investment than traditional print, TV or radio ads. The alternative was and is so bad. That said, most real problems with our tech overlords are not caused by them being too smart and capable, but instead that they are too stupid and incapable.

Hyman Rosen (profile) says:

There’s an old joke about advertising – I know that half of it works, I just don’t know which half.

Ultimately, advertisers should be evaluating for themselves the differential results of varying ad campaigns. Most advertising is ignored by most people who encounter it. The hope is that enough people will be influenced to make it worthwhile. Improving systems and infrastructure is always a good idea, but it’s not going to materially change how many people pay attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

The study guesstimates that this means about $1.5 to $1.9 billion annually in ad spending is being thrown in the trash.

My study says 90% of ad spending is theown in the trash because who gives a fuck about ads? Unless the oublic has literally never heard of you or something particularly novel before, ads are an economic black hole.

Moby (profile) says:

TVs getting worse

Our Samsung 8series was pretty unobtrusive with ads. We could easily ignore them. However, our newer LG is just terrible. Multiple ads at all times and very intrusive. I’ll honestly probably never buy another LG TV again. I pay for streaming to avoid commercials and ads. Why would I want them bombarding me on my TV?

We avoid it by streaming everything thru our Xbox. The apps load faster and just seem to work better. Practically every TV we get once the apps get updated a few times, they become incredibly sluggish.

John85851 (profile) says:

Serves advertisers right

How long have we had TV’s? Let’s say 70 years.
How long have we had radio? Let’s say another 30 years before that.

So in almost 100 years of radio and TV advertising, marketing companies still can’t make ads that are worth watching?? As other people have said, Super Bowl commercials have become very popular, simply because people are interested in the content. So why can’t advertisers make all commercials as as interesting? Again, it’s, not like TV advertising was invented yesterday and commercials are a brand new idea.

It serves them right to lose money when people aren’t watching.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

I reiterate


I prefer opt-put because I think anyone who is against targeted advertising is foolish.
But will accept opt-in if it guarantees I can be tracked of my own choice.

What I still don’t understand is why this type of advertising, generic video adverts, is still even a thing.

Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and a few European countries have all played with in source, Asia making it a dominant form of advertising.
Why spend millions on less and less eyes when you can invest millions into a project in exchange for product placement!
The idea was big in the US in the 80s and 90s and most times worked well without being detrimental. And of the Chinese, Hong Kong, and Korean TV series I watch regularly… it’s not at all disruptive.

We’re not talking Wayne’s World here; rather Independence Day, 24, Terminator. Back to the Future.
Penthouse featured in Silk Stalkings. As did Playboy

Think of Pepsi or Apple dropping 100,mill on a $150mil film for over an hour of prominent placement. Vs the same on some sporting event that’s loosing viewership annually. Some TV show where they fast forward over adverts.
They need to evolve. Or, devolve, here. Buy a movie. Don’t be a kink. Just make every of some item your brand. Every computer is an apple. Every drink is a Pepsi brand. They meet at Applebee’s. And Drive Chryslers.
They carry Smith and Wesson. Bullet time starts further back and slowly scans past the logo stamp etc.
there’s so much to be gained here.

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