Reddit user /u/p3t3or posted their discovery of the new ads to the /r/cordcutters subreddit this weekend. “Welp, this is the last time I purchase or recommend a Roku,” they said. “After a Sleep Number commercial, I just got a Roku ad sidebar while watching live TV. Really loved the Roku experience up until now, but this is a deal breaker.” The user attached a photo of their Sharp flatscreen (presumably with a detachable Roku device plugged in) playing live football, with an interactive pop-up ad displayed on the left side of the screen.
Perhaps just as interesting as the ad itself is its timing. According to /u/p3t3or, the Sleep Number pop-up appeared on their screen immediately following a commercial Sleep Number. Other Reddit users have wondered whether Roku has an agreement with live TV providers to encourage interaction with an advertiser after their commercial has played, to reduce the likelihood that a customer will forget about or lose interest in a product shortly after seeing it on screen. Of course, without Roku’s commentary (which it hasn’t provided so far) it’s easy to speculate on what might be going on behind the scenes. It’s also unclear at this point whether this affects all of Roku’s devices or just some.
Ads aren’t at all new to the streaming experience. Virtually all streaming devices, from Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick to Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast, have long built ads into their software, where they’re visible as you scroll for something interesting to watch. Android and Samsung TVs do the same. To be subjected to ads at the exact same time you’re trying to enjoy a service you already pay for, however, is something else entirely.
According to a handful of Roku users, this “feature” can be disabled in the device’s privacy settings. But the option to disable banner ads may not necessarily stick around; if it’s in the company’s best financial interest to keep placing the ads, they might remove the toggle entirely. After all, advertising companies (and that’s often what smart TV manufacturers are) make their money by boasting high levels of viewership to their clients, who pay for as many eyes as possible to see their product on the screen. Some users have pointed out that the option to disable certain types of ads has been around for a while, though, so Roku may have the user experience in mind a bit more than they currently deserve credit for.