Telly, a California-based startup led by Pluto TV creator Ilya Pozin, wants to give you TV for free. If you go to his company’s website, fill out a questionnaire and give him some personal information, you can get one of the 500,000 TVs he’ll ship later this year, absolutely free. Telly describes the free 55-inch 4K HDR display as “the greatest thing to happen to TV since colour”. How can a start-up company afford to give away hundreds of thousands of TVs for free? If this all sounds vague to you, congratulations, you’re smarter than the 100,000 people who have already signed up for this dystopian nightmare of ad-driven television.
Pozin says Telly’s free TV would retail for more than $1,000 if sold in stores, but that’s hard to believe. TVs are cheaper than ever and the one distributed by Telly is not particularly high end. It’s not OLED, and it doesn’t even have smart features — a basic feature in even the cheapest TVs sold today — so the company is shipping a chromecast with the screen. It does have a built-in soundbar, but a basic Samsung 55″ 4K and soundbar package from Best Buy wouldn’t cost more than $600. Sure, Telly’s TV is worth $1,000. So how does a company get $1,000 of value from its non-customers? Ad revenue and user data of course.
Below the soundbar is a second, smaller screen that can show you things like sports scores, weather information, stock prices and, I’m guessing, clips of Subway Surfer while you watch movies and TV on the main screen. Of course, it will also show you ads. The right edge of the screen is a dedicated, always-on ad space where Telly can deliver targeted ads to you based on the extensive demographic survey you completed when you signed up for TV. In addition, the main screen is also used to display advertisements when the TV is not in use. If you want TV for free, you’ll have to live with a permanent billboard in the middle of your living room.
But that’s just the beginning, because everyone knows that when a product is free, the product is you. Telly plans to collect extensive user data from the device, including all of your viewing habits, such as what shows you watch, when you watch them and for how long. In the middle of the soundbar is a camera that can be used for Zoom calls and exercise programs, and it also has a sensor that can monitor how many people are watching. Pozin says the Telly’s features comply with privacy regulations and the camera comes with a built-in cover, but that doesn’t make me feel much better about having a data-gathering advertising machine at home.
The Privacy Agreement, which allows Telly to process user data for any purpose it sees fit, is non-negotiable. If you opt out of the terms, you’ll have to send the TV back or pay an absurd asking price for it. It’s a ridiculous proposition, but that didn’t stop 100,000 people signing up for the offer in the first 36 hours. Telly hopes to eventually ship millions of TVs, and it doesn’t look like it will have much trouble doing so.
We all know why that’s bad, right? You can see how the built-in ad-play screen is just the next evolution of unskippable YouTube ads, eventually leading us to that episode of Black Mirror where the walls are made up of screens that turn red and set off an alarm if you try to look away from the commercials. At this point, we’re one step away from “Drink your confirmation can of Mountain Dew to continue.” You couldn’t pay me to accept this level of invasive marketing into my life, but people are willing to do it for crappy TV?
The ads aren’t really the dystopian part at all, but rather the seizure of user data. We should be fiercely protective of our privacy, but instead we willingly hand it over to anyone who asks. I don’t know how else to say this, but you shouldn’t be putting a camera in your home so that a corporation can track your TV viewing habits and sell that information to anyone and everyone. I promise you the TV is not worth it. You already have a second screen in your pocket that can show you sports scores and stock prices while you watch TV, giving you at least some control over what happens to your data. Not much, but much more than this hyper-capitalist nightmare of a TV.
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