As cable and broadcast television networks stand in the face of streaming services, they’re having to come up with creative ways to make money. AT&T‘s solution? A newfangled video version of a “pause ad,” which is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like. Thirty seconds after you press pause on your remote, a full video ad with sound! begins playing on your screen. I guess AT&T wanted to dump a piece of coal into its customers’ stockings during the holiday season.
Variety reports that AT&T’s Xandr ad-tech unit has already started selling these new pause ads, and Xander CEO Brian Lesser “said the commercials have already surfaced on DirecTV and other AT&T-operated video systems.” Lesser touts them as being “non-interruptive” and “high value,” as well as being “100% viewable” whatever that means. He claims it’s gotten “great reception” so far, and also says there’s research to suggest that viewers “would rather see immersive advertising than a freeze-frame of a screen saver or something else.”
His comment about the freeze frame is likely a reference to Hulu. That streaming service has implemented its own pause ads, which are just static images for companies like Coca-Cola which appear over paused screens of users who subscribe to its ad-supported service. But this new Xandr creation is a whole separate beast: the company’s pause ads apply to traditional linear viewing of broadcast and cable networks. So if you haven’t cut the cord yet and you use an AT&T video system, it sounds like you’ll get thirty seconds of silence after pressing pause before that silence is interrupted by a full video and sound ad. The report doesn’t make it clear if these pause ads are unskippable, or even whether you’re able to resume your content in the middle of one. God help us all when companies start making these types of ads unmutable.
It’s a tough time for the television industry. The ground is shifting underneath their feet and they’re struggling to stay alive during one of the most tumultuous eras in entertainment history. Naturally, they’re going to have to adapt to the way consumers behave and try to make money however they can. I find myself in the weird position of sympathizing with their struggle and giving a “game recognize game” nod at the creativity on display here, while at the same time absolutely hating everything about this from a consumer perspective and dreading the new types of advertising innovations it may precipitate in the coming years. I don’t have a solution to how things should work where everyone is happy if I did, I’d be a millionaire, but I have the feeling that television advertising is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.