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Press Pause, Get an Ad?

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Back when Keith Olbermann hosted his political talk show Countdown, he’d end each show with a segment where he’d dramatically proclaim somebody the Worst…Person….in the World!

He couldn’t do that today; there’d be too many people competing for the title each night. But a recent Variety report that both Hulu and AT&T plan to run commercials when viewers pause content makes me think that maybe it’s time for Streaming Media to revive the concept.

Viewers are used to advertising. Even if they don’t like it, they know that it pays the bills for the shows they watch, or at least it reduces the amount they have to pay themselves for services like Hulu and AT&T’s DIRECTV NOW. But it’s one thing to have a show go to commercial break; it’s quite another to pause the show yourself and be bombarded with an ad. As our Troy Dreier wrote, viewers pause shows for all manner of reasons—to take a phone call, to talk to a family member, to use the bathroom, none of which are activities that are enhanced by a visit from Flo the Progressive Insurance lady.

Again, services like Hulu and DIRECTV NOW have to pay for all the content they’re delivering, but their proposed plans suggest that not only are OTT services not bringing in enough subscription revenues to stay solvent while sticking to broadcast-like ad loads, but that they lack a basic level of respect for their customers. I suppose that’s no surprise, given the general attitude towards customers evident among so many tech companies today, and perhaps that’s the crux of the issue: Historically, TV stations and networks have understood that they have a responsibility to their viewers and the communities in which they live, not just to their shareholders.

Of course, traditional TV has moved away from this sense of community responsibility, too (look at how Sinclair Broadcast Group dictates what its local news stations must run), and is indicative of changes beyond the scope of our industry. But ads when viewers pause shows? That’s the Worst…Idea…in the World!

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