Pluto co-founder is building an ad-supported TV
Free TVs, anyone?
Welcome to Lowpass, a newsletter about the future of entertainment and the next big hardware platforms, including smart TVs, ambient computing and AR / VR. This week: A stealthy startup wants to give away ad-supported TV sets, and free streaming services are getting a lot more content.
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A first look at Teevee’s audacious plan to give away TVs for free
Pluto TV co-founder Ilya Pozin is giving ad-supported TV viewing another stab: Pozin has been quietly working on a hardware startup that plans to unveil an ad-supported TV set later this year, I’ve learned from multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans.
Teevee Corporation, as Pozin’s new company is called, has been building a new kind of TV set that includes a persistent second screen for advertising as well as informational widgets. The goal of the company is to give the TV away for free, and monetize it through ads on that second screen. Teevee has been operating in stealth, and its plans haven’t been previously reported. Here’s what I’ve been able to gather:
Teevee’s TV will look unlike anything we’ve seen before. The TV set has been described to me as an all-in-one device, combining a decently-sized TV, a soundbar and a second screen in a single chassis.
That second screen will be about the height of a phone, and stretch across the entire width of the device.
In addition to playing ads that can be relevant to what’s being shown on the first screen, the second screen will also be able to display a variety of widgets to show the local weather, news headlines and sports scores from leagues including the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.
Some of the news sources Teevee is looking to integrate into its news ticker include Bloomberg, CNN and ESPN; it’s unclear what the final selection will be.
At least for its launch model, Teevee isn’t actually building its own smart TV. Instead, the device will rely on bundling an existing streaming dongle to add apps for streaming services to the device.
The second screen will likely include some form of ACR to identify what is playing on the first screen, which will allow the company to display context-relevant advertising.
There will likely also be a companion mobile app for setup and additional functionality.
Many of these details could change before the company announces its product; Teevee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pozin founded Teevee in April of 2021, and launched a California-based subsidiary in early 2022. His LinkedIn profile simply states that he works for an unidentified stealth startup and that “something is brewing.”
The startup filed for a “Teevee” trademark in June of 2021, but abandoned the application last year.
Instead, Teevee now wants to launch its product branded as “Telly.” The company filed a fictitious business name statement for “Telly Inc.” in February, and launched another placeholder website under the domain Freetelly.com.
That website currently features the outline of a TV set (pictured above if you’re reading this on the web), and proclaims that “the biggest thing to happen to TV since color” will be coming in 2023
Pozin is the CEO of Teevee / Telly, and he has hired a number of streaming and TV veterans to help him get things off the ground. Notable employees include former G4 president and CEO Neal Tiles, former Vizio VP of Product Management John Hwang and former Vizio VP of Software Engineering Eric Loes, among other staffers recruited from Vizio and Paramount / Pluto.
An ad-supported TV isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Technically, most TVs sold today are already ad-supported in some way or another, as companies like Samsung and Vizio all run their own ad-supported streaming services, and also monetize ad-supported third-party services on their platform.
Cheaper brands in particular rely on ad revenue to make up for razor-thin hardware margins. Vizio, for instance, had an average gross profit of less than $3 per smart TV sold in Q4 of 2022. However, the company generated an average of $28.30 per user of its smart TV platform with ads and other fees during the same quarter.
Pozin knows this world well; Pluto TV was one of the first ad-supported streaming services, and also was the driving force behind Vizio’s linear streaming slate for some time. Pluto ultimately sold to Paramount for $340 million in early 2019.
One big challenge for Teevee could be to convince advertisers that they benefit from running ads on its second screen, as opposed to just spending their money with the Vizios and Samsungs of the world.
Another open question: How will Teevee make sure that these ads are actually getting seen? The worst outcome for the startup would be that a bunch of consumers get free TVs, only to never use them. I’ve been told that the company will address this issue in some way, but wasn’t able to learn further details.
Some new products can be very divisive, and I suspect Teevee / Telly will fall in this category. People will either love the fact that Pozin and his team are trying something new, or discount it as yet another harebrained money-burning scheme. I’m reserving my judgment for now, and can't wait for the startup to officially announce its product later this year.
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The coming free streaming avalanche
This week marked the beginning of the Newfronts / Upfronts season, which TV networks and streaming service operators use to hawk their shows to advertisers. And boy, do they have a lot to hawk:
Samsung TV Plus is launching a dedicated 24/7 free linear streaming channel with wall-to-wall Conan O’Brien content.
Amazon is launching its own Fire TV-specific FAST service with hundreds of free channels.
Amazon is also bringing more than 100 Prime Video originals, including shows like “The Wheel of Time” and “Reacher,” to its ad-supported Freevee streaming service.
Also coming to Freevee: “Mock the Week,” a weekly comedy show produced by former “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.
Roku renewed “The Great American Baking Show” for a second season. Related: Roku apparently had a first season of “The Great American Baking Show,” which I’ll have to check out now.
The Washington Post is launching its own 24/7 free linear streaming channel on Freevee.
Vizio is bringing a TikToker known for organizing hacks to the big screen.
More ad-supported programming is expected to be unveiled at the TV Upfronts, where we’ll get to hear from Tubi, Pluto and others.
Not all of this may be top-tier programming; Vizio in particular made a point of stressing that its shows were based on “a data-informed understanding of what our viewers are interested in,” which sure sounds like the clickbaitization of TV. But trust me: If the writer’s strike goes on for a long time, we’ll all be happily watching those reruns and branded content adaptations.
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Unity is laying off another 600 people. The new cuts come after the company laid off around 500 people over two prior rounds.
How Nissan won the internet with a four-hour ad. I wrote a fun story for Fast Company about an ad specifically designed for the audience of the popular Lofi Girl YouTube channel.
Amazon had big plans for its cancelled Halo wearables. An interesting look at Amazon’s plans to extend its Halo fitness band, which included an AI trainer and a subscription service. Amazon pulled the plug on Halo last week.
Half of all vinyl buyers don’t have a record player. Wait, what?
Meta’s next VR gaming showcase is coming soon. Quest owners will get to hear more about new games coming to the headset on June 1st.
AI Drake was just the beginning. A closer look at the issues surrounding AI-generated music.
A timeline of Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal, courtesy of my old partner-in-crime Nick Statt (hi Nick!).
Music rights startup Duetti comes out of stealth, raises $32 million. I was first to write about Duetti for The Verge in December.
Now this is fun: The new “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, which is coming out today, once again features a Zune. Microsoft is paying tribute to the long-forgotten iPod competitor with a new website that includes, among other things, instructions for how to root and revive old Zune hardware.
There you have it: All it takes for big corporations to support the hacking of their discontinued hardware products is … a gang of time-traveling superheroes, I guess.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Cover art credits: The web version of today’s newsletter features a partial screenshot of the Freetelly.com website.