Roku’s New Idea to Show You Ads When You Pause Your Video Game Is Horrifying


As a company that wants to make money, Roku wants you to watch as many ads as possible. That’s not currently possible when you exit Roku’s streaming player and do something like play a game on the Nintendo Switch or watch a show on your Apple TV. But if the company gets its way, this may cease to be a problem one day, at least for people who use Roku TVs.

Roku describes its idea in a patent application, which largely flew under the radar when it was filed in November, and was recently spotted by the streaming newsletter Lowpass. In the application, Roku describes a system that’s able to detect when users pause third-party hardware and software and show them ads during that time.

According to the company, its new system works via an HDMI connection. This suggests that it’s designed to target users who play video games or watch content from other streaming services on their Roku TVs. Lowpass described Roku’s conundrum perfectly:

“Roku’s ability to monetize moments when the TV is on but not actively being used goes away when consumers switch to an external device, be it a game console or an attached streaming adapter from a competing manufacturer,” Janko Roettgers, the newsletter’s author, wrote. “Effectively, HDMI inputs have been a bit of a black box for Roku.”

In addition, Roku wouldn’t just show you any old ads. The company states that its innovation can recognize the content that users have paused and deliver customized related ads. Roku’s system would do this by using audio or video-recognition technologies to analyze what the user is watching or analyze the content’s metadata, among other methods.

The company’s patent application has not been approved yet. When reached by Gizmodo on Friday, Roku declined to comment on the patent application. It should also be noted that companies file patents all the time and many of their ideas never see the light of day.

While I don’t have a Roku device, the idea of having ads infiltrate my screen when I pause whatever I’m watching on another service to go grab a soda or go to the bathroom is horrifying. It’s one thing to show someone ads when they’re using your service, but completely hijacking the experience on other hardware and software would be infuriating.

In the case of gaming, there’s also the danger of Roku mistaking a long moment of pondering for a pause and sticking an ad right when you’re getting ready to face the final boss. The company is aware of this potential failure and points out that its system will monitor the frames of the content being watched to ensure there was a phase. It also plans on using other methods, such as analyzing the audio feed on the TV for extended moments of silence, to confirm there has been a pause.

None of these are failproof, though, and I for one would not like to be in the room when a gamer inevitably gets an ad during an important run and all hell breaks loose.


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