The Sony A8F, a $2,300 Android TV.
Image: Sony

Boy that big gorgeous Sony TV you spent a paycheck on is nice, too bad Google has implemented a “pilot” program that now serves ads on it. Sony’s televisions, as well as the Nvidia Shield and other products running the latest version of Android TV, has been hit with an irritating update from Google that serves ads on the home page, and no, there’s no super easy way to get rid of the ads.

The ads appear on the home screen in Android TV as a “Sponsored” channel full of apps and programming Google seems to think the user might enjoy. Unfortunately, the channel is difficult to remove and can lead to obnoxious crashes to Android TV. The ads were first reported at XDA-Developers and Google’s response to XDA-Developers was about as infuriating as one would expect.

Android TV is committed to optimizing and personalizing the entertainment experience at home. As we explore new opportunities to engage the user community, we’re running a pilot program to surface sponsored content on the Android TV home screen.

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Ars Technica notes that Sony, at least, is not exactly crazy about the ads. A page appeared on Sony’s Support site titled “A sponsored channel has suddenly appeared on my TV Home menu”. Sony’s page offers a workaround separate from the one linked above while also including at least one question and answer that could be perceived as snarky.

Q2: What determines which apps will appear in the Sponsored channel?

A2: This channel is managed by Google.

According to the Verge these ads have also appeared on Xiaomi’s Mi Box 3 and Nvidia’s Shield, which only recently saw an update to Android Oreo. Shield users have also been dealing with another Google supplied (and apparently unwelcome) channel called App Spotlights. According to an Nvidia moderator in the Shield forums that channel should at least be removable easily (though some users have had difficulty).

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With Android TV at the heart of the above-mentioned devices, as well as TVs from TCL and Hisense, Google has an incredibly broad reach into the homes of its users. This move, forcing advertising onto users, is a big boneheaded one and practically manufactures good press for rivals like Roku, or Apple, the latter of which has been making inroads into the TV landscape via LG and Samsung sets and just finished an event last week where it talked non-stop about protecting the privacy of users and avoiding unwelcome ads.

We’ve reached out to Sony, Nvidia, and Google for more details on these ads and precisely which devices and software versions are affected and will update as we learn more.


Update: Nvidia responded to my request for comment via email saying the following.

A “sponsored” row that can’t be disabled has shown up on some Android TV devices. This row is not on SHIELD TV devices.

SHIELD does have a new Google Play channel (Apps Spotlight) at the bottom of the screen, but this can disabled by scrolling to “Customize channels” and selecting “Promotional channels.”

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So if the sponsored row appears on an Nvidia device you can remove it, and if you cannot that’s due to a bug that Nvidia tells Gizmodo is being looked into.

However this suggests that the sponsored row is potentially optional, which leaves questions as to why Sony devices cannot remove it easily. Sony and Google have both told me they are looking into it.