Who watches the watchers? Samsung does so it can fling ads at owners of its smart TVs

Samsung brags to advertisers that “first screen ads”, seen by all users of its Smart TVs when they turn on, are 100 per cent viewable, audience targeted, and seen 400 times per TV per month. Some users are not happy.

“Dear Samsung, why are you showing Ads on my Smart TV without my consent? I didn’t agree to this in the privacy settings but I keep on getting this, why?” said a user on Samsung’s TV forum, adding last week that “there is no mention of advertising on any of their brand new boxes”.

As noted by TV site flatpanelshd, a visit to Samsung’s site pitching to advertisers is eye-opening. It is not just that the ads appear, but also that the company continually profiles its customers, using a technology called Automatic Content Recognition (ACR), which works by detecting what kind of content a viewer is watching.

Samsung’s Tom Focetta, VP Ad Sales and Operations in the US, said in an interview: “Our platform is built on the largest source of TV data from more than 50 million smart TVs. And we have amassed over 60 per cent of the US ACR footprint.” Focetta added that ACR data is “not sold, rented or distributed” but used exclusively by Samsung to target advertising.

The first screen ad unit was introduced five years ago, Focetta explained, and the company has since “added video, different types of target audience engagement, different ways to execute in terms of tactics like audience takeovers, roadblocks”. A “roadblock” is defined as “100 per cent ownership of first screen ad impressions across all Samsung TVs”. According to a Samsung support, quoted by flatpanelshd: “In general, the banner cannot be deactivated in the Smart Hub.”

Advertising does not stop there since Samsung also offers TV Plus, “a free ad-supported TV service”. Viewers are familiar with this deal, though, since ad-supported broadcasting is long established. What perturbs them is that when spending a large sum of money on TV hardware, they were unknowingly agreeing to advertising baked into its operating menu, every time they switch on.

The advent of internet-connected TVs means that viewers now divide their time between traditional TV delivered by cable or over the air, and streaming content, with an increasing share going to streaming. Viewers who have cancelled subscription TV services in favour of streaming are known as cord-cutters.

Even viewers who have chosen to watch only ad-free content do not escape. “30 per cent of streamers spend all of their streaming time in non-ad supported apps. This, however, does not mean ‘The Lost 30’ are unreachable,” said Samsung in a paper.

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Source: Who watches the watchers? Samsung does so it can fling ads at owners of its smart TVs • The Register