Smart TVs: Now With Built-in Advertising

I recently completed a review of the TC-P55VT50 from Panasonic, look for it in an upcoming issue. Performance wise, it was damn near incredible: One of the best contrast ratios I’ve ever measured, accurate color, and deep blacks.

However, there was one “feature” that really pissed me off.


Let me be clear: When I say advertising, I’m not talking about ads that show up while you’re watching a show, or in that brief moment before you hit the 30sec skip on your remote. I’m talking about a banner ad that appears the moment you turn on the television. It’s there for a few seconds, then disappears. This isn’t an ad for Panasonic, it’s ad space on your television Panasonic is selling. Shutterfly (shown above), for example, is one advertiser.

Now, I didn’t buy this TV. In a few days, I’ll have to box it back up and ship it back to Panasonic.  But in my mind, once I buy something, it’s mine. Panasonic is leasing space on my television without my consent (or to my benefit). I don’t even let car dealers put their logos on my car, or let them attach branded license plate frames.

Now look...if you want to advertise using my property, I deserve a cut. You want to put a “Galpin Ford” sticker on my window, I want a discount on my car. You want to advertise on my TV? I want a discount on the TV.

Amazon gets this, with ad-subsidized versions of the Kindle. The most basic Kindle is $109, but if you allow Amazon to push ads to it — only when it’s “off,” mind you — you only have to pay $79.

Now, as I mention in the review, it’s certainly possible that the $2,500 price tag for the TC-P55VT50 is being subsidized by these ads. In that case, why not say so? Why not offer a more expensive non-ad version, and see if consumers choose to have ads forced on them to save a penny?

I’ve spoken to some who find my ire excessive. After all, the ads disappear after a few seconds, and if you dig into the menus of the TV, you can disable them. What harm is done, some may ask? Well as much as slippery slope arguments annoy me, I can’t help but invoke one here. Where does it end? Will the 2013 models have bigger ads? Will the 2014 models have non-defeatable ads? Will the 2015 models have pop up ads? Ridiculous, of course, I know. Or is it?

But wait, there’s more. Care to access VIERA Connect, Panasonic’s streaming video interface? There’s another ad waiting for you there, permanently fixed to one of the nine tiles in the GUI.

As the profit margins in flat panel TVs erode further and further, I can understand manufacturers frantically grasping at whatever additional revenue stream they can. But not this. Please not this.

Am I alone?