Has the past decade of advertising innovation taught us nothing? Do we really need more devices tracking us and parsing us into ever-smaller quadrants of monetizable products? If you ask Vizio, the answer is abso-fucking-lutely. The TV manufacturing giant announced on Tuesday that it’s joined forces with some of the biggest media companies in the world to bring targeted ads to our television sets as the beginning of next year.
Dubbed “Project OAR,” the Vizio-led consortium said in its announcement that it is working to create an open standard for targeted advertising on television that will be available for free to anyone who wants to use it. The linear form of advertising employed by television networks is still a huge business, but spending on desktop and mobile ads surpassed TV in 2017 and its lead is only getting stronger. Networks and device makers have understood that showing ads based on a viewers previous activity and interests is a much more effective approach to marketing. Vizio understands that fact so well that it got the ball rolling on data-collecting TVs back in 2014 without informing its customers—a bold move that resulted in it paying $19.2 million in fines and settlements.
Of course, a smart TV needs content to run those targeted ads against, and Vizio is working with a list of media partners that include: Disney’s Media Networks (ABC, ESPN and Freeform), Comcast’s ad outfit FreeWheel, NBCUniversal, Discovery, CBS, AT&T’s ad agency Xandr, Turner, Hearst Television, and AMC Networks. According to the announcement, the consortium hopes to show off a working product by this spring and be ready to launch by “early 2020.”
In the announcement, Jesse Redniss, EVP of Data Strategy at WarnerMedia writes, “It’s important for us to come together as an industry and create connective experiences that matter to fans, and that includes how we use data to inform and broaden spaces like addressable TV.” Yes, that’s the same line about users preferring targeted ads that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg loves to pull out. And according to independent research, that line is straight up false.
It isn’t clear exactly how this system will work when it’s deployed. However, if you just take everything you already know about Facebook and apply it to your TV then you’re probably getting somewhere close to the model. That’s not to say that Vizio will be an all-powerful monopoly with a reach that approaches the entirety of human life on Earth. This will be an open standard available to anyone, after all. One possible upside to that point is that we could see targeted ad-enabled TV sets sold at a discount. The more likely scenario is that every manufacturer will just make it mandatory and we’re all going to be tracked and sold to within an inch of our lives.
The networks will likely track your viewing habits and sell them off to third parties. They’ll also likely purchase other data from third parties that they can attach to your IP address or another identifier in order to get extra-granular with the data. An ISP like Comcast or AT&T will be able to gather a ton of information about all of your online activity to throw into the mix. The networks can expand their advertising partners beyond huge brands with wide appeal and offer micro-targeting, like you probably see littering Instagram. I can see the “NBC Runs Holocaust Denier Promo on the Masked Singer” headlines now. And don’t think Vizio will leave any money on the table when it comes to running banner ads in menus or auto-roll video every time you hit pause.
Let’s make this shit illegal before it swallows us whole. I honestly don’t even know if that’s possible. Even if it is, our lawmakers probably won’t end up doing anything about this, and these media giants will just become bigger. All I’m saying is that we’re just getting into an election season and candidates are feeling around for popular proposals. Why not demand a ban on targeted-ads on TV and see what happens?