Your Roku is an Ad Factory

By Adam Clark Estes on at

Everybody loves a Roku. Starting at £30, these little widgets turn any TV into a smart TV and offer pretty much any streaming channels you’d ever want in one place. You’ll also see a lot of ads thanks to your Roku device. If you have a TV running on the Roku operating system, you’ll also see some new interactive pop-up ads now.

The new interactive ads are part of the Roku TV OS 9.2, which rolled out last week. The hawks at Cord Cutters News recently spotted the ads showing up during ad breaks on cable and antenna TV programming in the US. An ad for the unfortunately bad Ricky Gervais comedy Ghost Town (sponsored by Geico) popped up during a Halloween-themed Geico ad. Clicking “OK” on the remote would take you to the ad-supported Roku channel to watch the movie. So it’s sort of a triple whammy in terms of marketing mechanisms.

This would be a good time to remind you that Roku is an advertising company. Yes, it does sell set-top boxes and TV software and, more recently, speakers. But Roku’s big money-making business is ads. It’s a really big business, too. According to eMarketer, Roku will bring in $433 million in revenue on ads alone this year, and that number will grow to $632.9 million in 2020. You’ll find ads on many of Roku’s free channels, including the aforementioned Roku Channel. In addition to the traditional 15- and 30-second ad spots, Roku offers brands “full-screen interactive video and overlays that invite consumers to engage with brands in new and immersive ways.” Roku also takes a cut when you subscribe to things like Netflix through one of its devices. It sells audience data to publishers. It has an email marketing program. Heck, companies can even pay to take over the whole home screen.

The good news is that you can turn off the new interactive ads. Go to “Settings” then “Privacy” and then turn off the “Use Information From TV Inputs” option. The bad news is that you can’t turn off all ads on Roku. As the company continues to expand its advertising program, it seems likely that Roku will find more and more ways to put marketing materials in front of the billions of eyeballs watching content on its platform. And given the fact that it’s on track to make north of a half-billion dollars doing so, why would it stop?

Some users don’t like this direction. It doesn’t matter if you buy the £30 Roku Express or the more expensive Roku Ultra or even a £600+ Roku TV. They all have ads. It appears the only way to completely avoid the ads is to install a network-wide ad blocker, which seems a bit ridiculous. You could switch to Fire TV, but Amazon loads that content up with ads just like Roku does. Nvidia is no different with ads on its Shield set-top box. For an ad-free streaming experience, you might have to cough up £180 for an Apple TV and watch all your shows on Apple TV+ for an additional £5 a month. Or just read a book.