Broadcast TV has always been free… because broadcasters make most of their money by selling ads that run between programs. Streaming platforms like Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+ went all-in on subscriptions, but in recent years they’ve begun offering cheaper ad-supported plans that have proven popular.

Now a startup called Telly is going a step further – the company is offering ad-supported TV hardware. The company’s first product is a 55 inch 4K HDR TV that the company isn’t charging money for. Instead, users will pay with their attention – because below the screen is a second display that will show ads and other information.

News about the company and its unusual plans first broke earlier this month when tech & media industry reporter Janko Roettgers spilled the beans about the new startup from Ilya Pozin, co-founder of the free & ad-supported streaming TV service Pluto.

Now Telly has come out of hiding and announce plans to ship half a million of its free TVs to customers before the end of the year. Folks who are interested can sign up to join a waitlist.

TV makers have actually been putting ads on TV for some time. If you buy a smart TV with Samsung, LG, Roku, Google, or Amazon software on it, you’re probably used to seeing ads in the user interface.

What makes Telly different is that the ads are persistent – they don’t go away when you start watching a TV show or movie, because they’re on a secondary “Smart Screen” that’s always visible below the primary display.

If you’re wondering why you wouldn’t just cover that second screen up, well… that’s kind of a good question. You could probably hide it with furniture or place some paper or cloth over it. But Telly is hoping that by mixing ads with other content you might actually want to see, you’ll be tempted to glance at the Smart Screen from time to time.

For example, it can be used to show weather forecasts, sports scores, stock quotes, or a news ticker.

Between the primary and secondary screens there’s also an integrated sound bar, and the system also has a built-in microphone array for voice controls and an HD camera that can be used for video calls and motion controls for fitness apps, among other things.

There’s also a “Hey Telly” voice assistant, and the company there’s support for games, including some that make use of the Smart Screen.

There is a privacy shutter that can slide over the camera when you’re not using it, so if the idea of a persistent advertising screen and a camera that’s always watching you creeps you out, I suppose it’s nice to know that you can easily disable at least one of them.

But Telly’s Viewing and Activity Data Policy makes it clear that the company’s bread and butter is collecting user data that can be used to show you ads and offer “content recommendations.” Data collected is “anonymized,” but Telly “may collect information about the audio and video content you watch, the channels you view, and the duration of your viewing sessions,” among other things including search queries, apps you open, and purchases or other transactions you make.

Want to opt out of data sharing? You can do that. But Telly says if you do, you’ll either have to return the television or the company will charge $500 to your credit card (which, I guess, gives us an idea of the value of the hardware).

Telly’s 55 inch TV has 3 HDMI inputs, 2 USB inputs, and a tuner for OTA television channels. It also comes with a “4K Streaming Stick.”

The TV display measure 55 inches diagonally, but if you count both screens, the diagonal measurement is 63 inches. The total size of the dual-screen TV system is 48″ x 41″ x 3.5″ when used without the included feet, or 48″ x 41″ x 14″ when you use the feet as a stand. The Telly TV system weighs about 65 pounds.

via Fast Company and The Verge

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  1. The very first thought in my head while reading this was just put electrical tape over the second screen.

    I don’t watch tv anyway, so I couldn’t care less about this product. I haven’t watched tv since Caprica was aired, whenever the heck that was. I do suspect, like so many gimmicks out there, this one will fail.

    By the way, is it just me or does that look like a camera hole in the center between the two screens?

  2. I might consider such an ad-sponsored TV to be OK if there are a couple of design principles adhered to:

    Ads are shown on the second screen during commercials when watching regular broadcast content.
    When the TV is used as a monitor for a gaming console, ads are shown when being on the homescreen and/or in the store but not when a game is being played.
    The ads are “quiet” but shown to and from with the TV on standby but with the second screen on (showing weather and what not).

    Demanding the TV to be used as the “main set” is too much, same goes for the detailed requirements for Internet connection. If they want it to be “always online”, there’s a need for an unlimited Internet plan to be part of the package. I wouldn’t consider using such a TV on any data capped plan since video commercials streamed at 1080p or 4K still take up valuable “paid” bandwidth.

    I would say that this implementation is better than starting to sell TVs “on contract” since smartphones is the best example of the lousiness such a strategy will bring (overpriced trash products). It would be a disaster if TVs become branded, sold on 24-36 months “cable contracts” and a regular 1080p set is suddenly $600 “because people are buying them on contract anyway” the same way as postmodern human beings are indoctrinated with the idea that a $600 smartphone is some kind of “entry level” product even if that price tag gave a high-end device for many years.

    1. “When the TV is used as a monitor for a gaming console, ads are shown when being on the homescreen and/or in the store but not when a game is being played.”

      I think it would be difficult to pull this out with existing technologies, even if they were willing to do it.

      Personally I’m curious about what happens in case of accidental damage (my cat jump against the TV and the likes), considering you’re basically renting this thing, in exchange for their ads.

    2. A lot of people are hoping this experiment fails (for reasons you can just read here, I don’t need to repeat them), but I honestly worry that it might not. And if it fails now, maybe it’s just a matter of timing and they just need to wait for people to get even dumber or more complacent with ads and surveillance, assuming most work doesn’t stop making sense before then.
      And if it succeeds in capturing the unwashed masses, you might see cable companies scrambling with all sorts of weird package deals, some of which will include TV sets. For there, I can imagine all kinds of annoying stuff, like TV over IP instead of old digital cable that at least eliminates the “cable box” but can’t be used with a PC, Netflix getting into the TV hardware business, etc.

      Of course none of that might happen if in a few months apple fanatics begin to make VR/AR headsets fashionable enough to eventually replace TV sets and monitors entirely, or some economic disaster forces everyone to use smartphones for everything.

  3. Have you ever heard “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? They’ve got to do something to keep you watching whatever they’re paid to get you to watch. I suspect the TV will refuse to turn on, even for a game console, without a connection to its servers, so no pi-holing it.
    Okay, so it’s got that camera for video conferencing that you can cover up. But it looks like it’s got two cameras, on on the top and the other in the middle of the sound bar, and I would assume until proven otherwise that the unmentioned one is infrared and doesn’t have a shutter. The TV might use ultrasonic sensors to detect obstructions of the bottom screen. And of course, you can’t cover the microphones, especially if where exactly they are is unknown and randomized a little.
    They suggest using both screens for ads while you’re using neither in the The Verge article, but that’s not exactly hard to get around, and you’d want to get around that to avoid consuming too much electricity, you just…plug the TV into a power strip or a socket that’s in line with a light switch. I guess they could give it a five minute boot time to discourage that.
    And, as they mention, they’re trying to work out how often they can get away with showing ads and how. Things can get worse.
    Other things they might be doing but not telling you about may involve wi-fi sensing. You cannot block this without blocking the screen, and the sheer size of the device means they can make it into a gigantic, and thus very precise antenna, which can detect exactly what every object inside your house is doing right now. If that’s the case, there’s never been more of a Telescreen than the Telly screen.

  4. The TOS for the Telly are pretty clear about what they’re expecting (from https://www.freetelly.com/terms-of-service):

    “The Product requires an Internet and Wi-Fi connections from third-party providers in order to be functional. Your Internet connection or data plan is subject to the fees, restrictions, terms and limitations imposed by your provider. In order to use the Product and Services, You will:

    (a) Use the Product as the primary television in Your household;

    (b) Keep the Product connected to WiFi and internet; and

    (c) Not use any software on Your WiFi network that with advertising blocking capability.

    (d) Not make physical modifications to the Product or attach peripheral devices to the Product not expressly approved by Telly. Any attempt to open the Product’s enclosure will be deemed an unauthorized modification.

    If we discover that You are not abiding by the requirements above or have disconnected the Product from an internet connection or WiFi for more than short periods each month, You will no longer be able to use the Service and You must return any Products in your possession to Telly. Failure to return Products to Telly will result in Telly charging the credit card on file. If you do abide by the Terms of Service, your credit card will not be charged.”

    So any of the “sneaky” use cases for it, like using it as a secondary TV in the guest room that rarely gets used, or putting it behind a PiHole, or keeping it off the internet and using it as a dumb display, or cracking it open and physically disabling the secondary display, will run afoul of this and get you charged. I don’t see a lot of people who are willing to give up their privacy and get constant ads in exchange for a free TV.

    1. Seems like a helluva lot of work in order to avoid ads. If it was me, I’d rather wait and find something like the 55 inch TCL 4 QLED 4 series from Best Buy that was available during last years Black Friday for only $200. You could find half a dozen 55 inch tv’s for $300 around Black Friday, Yes, they’ll all be spying on you indirectly, but at least you won’t have some HAL interface monitoring your every move like this one does.I guess to some, free is free, even if that means taking intrusion to a whole new level.

  5. Well, it’s better than having me pay for the device, pay for the bandwidth, pay for the connecting hardware, pay for the streaming service, and then still have ads forced upon me.
    I’ve often argued that if if the Media Collective wants to force me to endure ads, they should supply the hardware and cost to serve them to me. This format, where the second screen displays the content, is less obtrusive than stopping the content mid-stream, or sticking it into the border of the streaming media,covering up the entertainment feed. Seems like they’re trying to chase ad money without pushing the customer away. I’d call it better than what is currently being pursued – basically, trying to replicate the cable TV model that consumers ultimately turned their backs on.
    Will it catch on? I doubt it. I think a bunch of people will end up with free 55″ TVs, and someone will provide an open-source OS upgrade to allow them to persist, long after the company fails. But hey, y’know, give it a shot if you think it’s worth it.

  6. I can’t believe there’s someone stupid enough to do something like this out there… but sure, their money, not mine.

    1. Are you planning on ordering your free Telly for the scrap metal and parts?

      1. Selling parts, hacking to turn it into a monitor, scalping, modifying it to block cameras, sensors, microphones, blocking the ad part… there are so many creative ways of using it. I bet someone will find a way to keep the TV and not breach the contract somehow…

        But after reading about the ToS that people are commenting, I can only see two ways this will go. Either this company will fail hard due to breaches of contract and not being able to enforce it for everyone, or it’ll become a scam in which the company will simply charge the money in any tiny perceived violation of their ToS.
        Either way the brand will be buried, and this will end up with tons of people angry.

        Like I said, can’t believe someone would be stupid enough to offer something like this. It’s too much of a gamble.

        But even if I could, I’d never enter a contract like that. You are basically signing up a contract that allows Telly to hold your credit card hostage. You either obey the company and let them spy on you plus force feed ads or they charge you 500 bucks. Huge nope.
        It seems that even before getting the TV you are already giving away a whole ton of private information that I wouldn’t give to any company anyways… filling up a survey, letting them collect a whole ton of data about my home network… no way.

        Not even sure if this case won’t end up in some violation of consumer protection law, privacy laws, class action lawsuit and whatnot, if they even go forward with it. Sounds like a legal landmine to me, but that highly depends on how FTC would handle something like this.
        One way or another, I’ll just stay very far away from it, grab a bucket of popcorn, and watch as chaos ensues… xD

        It’s just a very bad sign for US privacy protections that a company is even willing to offer something like this. Then again, it just follows the trend, right? People are just way too unaware about the problems of eroding privacy like this… I dunno what the breaking point will be, but seems it’ll be coming soon.