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Streaming devices keep playing ads even when the TV is off

Illustration by Kate Walker

Streaming devices keep playing ads even when the TV is off


The Future. A study from media buyer GroupM and research firm iSpot found that connected streaming devices (Apple TV, Amazon Firestick, various Roku devices, etc.) continue playing shows or movies even after users turn off their TVs. While this is mostly a device issue, advertisers may push streamers to be more transparent about their viewership metrics as the industry shifts to relying more on lower-cost ad tiers to drive growth and revenue.

Blind count
If an ad plays and no one can see it, does it still count as a view? For many streaming devices, the answer is apparently “yes.”

  • According to The Information, a GroupM and iSpot study found that 8-10% of all streaming viewership is happening when TVs are off because of a glitch between connected streaming devices and TVs.
  • That non-viewership number goes up to 17% when accounting for streaming on just the Amazon Firestick and various Roku devices.
  • This happens because of a glitch between connected streaming devices and TVs — streaming devices don’t recognize that the TV has been turned off if the user didn’t pause or stop the show they were watching.

While the study came to its conclusions by only studying Vizio TVs (granted, 20 million of them), the researchers stress that the issue is an industry-wide problem. Connected devices will typically turn off in a certain number of hours of inactivity… but that’s hours of content playing to no audience.

Marketing migraine
While the streamers probably love the padded viewership numbers, advertisers are reasonably angry. Brands are essentially paying for their ads to reach no one — a huge problem when…

  • 41% of Americans with a broadband connection own a streaming dongle.
  • Disney+ and Netflix are each expected to debut ad-supported tiers.
  • The ad business on streaming services and smart TV platforms is expected to grow to $38.8 billion by 2026 (up from $18.9 billion this year).

Both iSpot and the Interactive Advertising Bureau are working on a product to address the issue… but they can’t do it alone. Adam Gerber, GroupM’s executive director of U.S. investment strategy, said, “there is no way we will fix this unless TV manufacturers, device makers, advertisers, and publishers align themselves to fix this problem.”

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