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Roku Wants To Place Ads On Your TV When You Pause Your Game

by California Digital News

A new patent recently filed by TV and streaming device manufacturer Roku hints toward a possible future where televisions could display ads when you pause a movie or game.

For Roku, the time in which the TV is on but users aren’t doing anything is valuable. The company has started leasing out ad space in its popular Roku City screensaver—which appears when your TV is idle—to companies like McDonald’s and movies like Barbie. As tech newsletter Lowpass points out, Roku finds this idle time and its screensaver so valuable that it forbids app developers from overriding the screensaver with their own. But, if you plug in an Xbox or DVD player into the HDMI port on a Roku TV, you bypass the company’s screensaver and other ads. And so, Roku has been figuring out a way to not let that happen.

As reported by Lowpass on April 4, Roku recently filed a patent for a technology that would let it inject ads into third-party content—like an Xbox game or Netflix movie—using an HDMI connection. The patent describes a situation where you are playing a video game and hit pause to go check your phone or grab some food. At this point, Roku would identify that you have paused the content and display a relevant ad until you unpaused the game.

How Roku’s HDMI ad tech works, according to the patent

Roku’s tech isn’t designed to randomly inject ads as you are playing a game or watching a movie, it knows that would be going too far and anger people. Instead, the patent suggests several ways that Roku could spot when your TV is paused, like comparing frames, to make sure the user has actually paused the content. Roku might also use the HDMI’s audio feed to search for extended moments of silence. The company also proposes using HDMI CEC—a protocol designed to help devices communicate better—to figure out when you pause and unpause content.

Similarly, Roku’s patent explains that it will use various methods to detect what people are playing or watching and try to display relevant ads. So if it sees you have an Xbox plugged in, it might try to serve you ads that it thinks an Xbox owner would be interested in.

If this all sounds horrible and dystopian—a future where we can’t even pause our offline, old DVD movies without seeing an ad for something—keep in mind that Roku hasn’t moved forward on these plans yet. Your Roku TV isn’t going to start placing ads for Disney+ on your Call of Duty pause screen tonight.

But when you consider that Roku lost over $40 million in 2023 on hardware sales and made $1.6 billion on ads and services that same year, it seems like this HDMI ad injection patent might end up being a thing one day. If someone buys a cheap Roku TV and never uses the apps, just uses it to play Xbox or PS5, then Roku effectively loses money from that sale. This patent would let it squeeze even more dollars out of everyone.

And because companies are addicted to “number go up”, well, I tend to bet on Roku and others eventually doing whatever it takes to make said numbers grow bigger and bigger, damned be the consequences. These companies will keep shoving more and more ads onto your screen, making it harder to enjoy the actual content you want to see, regardless of how it might ruin your experience.


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