Future Roku TVs may inject tailored ads into anything and everything when you pause

Muted the audio? That's an advert. Paused a video? That's an advert

Updated Will Roku TVs of the future throw up targeted ads on the screen whenever you pause a video? We hope not but...

A Roku-assigned patent application, filed in the US as 20230388589A1 and titled "HDMI customized ad insertion," outlines a fairly convoluted system that ultimately shows adverts on your telly or some other display whenever some kind of pause in playback is detected.

The proposed patent, published at the end of last year and spotted now, describes a display device that can show advertising after identifying a pause in the video content from an HDMI-connected media device.

Crucially, it says the display and media hardware can be the same device, ie: a smart TV like that from Roku. There are two ways of looking at this design: A way for standalone televisions, monitors, and projectors to show their own ads during a pause, and a way for integrated smart displays to do the same.

This would presumably also mean ads can run in the middle of a gaming session or a video being played via a PC, if the monitor or TV in use were to adopt this tech.

Roku even helpfully attached a flow chart to the patent application that outlines all the cases where an ad would be played. These include not only the detection of a pause button press but also instances where the TV infers a pause from various criteria.

These criteria include checking whether new frames are being created, if there's any audio, and even if a pause symbol is on the screen. In those instances, the TV or display will then begin serving an ad that goes right on top of whatever is on the screen.

The patent does not specify whether these ads will be in the form of still images, audio, or video, though Roku does detail that they will be served based on whatever content is playing on the screen. The patent details lots of ways it will analyze content to determine what ad to show, such as video metadata, watermarks, and the audio. Checking the source device and even the software application running are options too, perhaps coming in handy when the device in question is a gaming console or some other purpose-made device with a specific name.

The draft patent never mentions artificial intelligence when discussing content recognition, so its detection may be pretty rudimentary. However, since the TV likely has to communicate with some outside server to get the ad, any AI-powered part of the process may be done in the cloud away from this design seeking patent protection.

While this kind of ad injection isn't something that currently happens with smart TVs, it's technically already possible. Back in 2015, Samsung accidentally set its Australian TVs to play muted Pepsi commercials over and over on top of movies played through Plex Media Server. Although the ads were clearly a bug, it does indicate that Samsung was working on something similar to what is outlined in the Roku patent.

Of course, this is all at the patent application stage, it may never happen, and plenty of patents never make it to actual products. We've asked Roku to comment on whether the feature could become reality. ®

Updated to add at 2130 UTC

Spokespeople for Roku have been in touch to assure us it has no plans right now to commercialize a design it went to all the effort of patenting.

"This is not an issued patent and there are no plans to put the HDMI ad insertion feature into our products at this time," the spinners told us.

"Like the patents of many other technology companies, Roku patent applications often describe technologies explored by teams at Roku and many of these technologies do not become part of the products we sell."

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