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Is America ready for the free, ad-supported TV set? Ilya Pozin, the co-founder of Pluto TV (the free, ad-supported streaming service now owned by Paramount), sure thinks so.
On Monday, Pozin officially unveiled Telly, a company that plans to ultimately give away millions of premium TV sets, for free (its online reservation system opened Monday morning for an initial batch of 500,000 sets).
“For too long, consumers have not been an equal part of the advertising value exchange,” Pozin says. “Companies are making billions of dollars from ads served on televisions, yet consumers have historically had to pay for both the TV and the content they watch. All of that changes today. When I co-founded Pluto TV, we created an entirely new model that offered amazing TV content to viewers for free. Now, with Telly, we are providing the actual television for free as well.”
In a faux living room setup at Telly’s New York office last week, Pozin gave a guided tour of the device, with a 55-inch 4K HDR screen up top, an integrated five driver sound bar right below it, and a second smart screen directly below that. LED strips illuminate the rear of the TV, projecting light on the wall behind it (the LEDs can also be turned off).
Microphones at the top of the display allow for voice-activated commands, while an HD camera (with a built-in shutter for privacy) allows for video calling and workout classes, and a motion sensor will support interactive games.
As Pozin described the device, the 55-inch display operated as a standard TV, while the second screen displayed the weather, sports scores and stock prices, as a sponsored news ticker scrolled across the bottom. On the right was a square box where ads cycled through.
“Let’s say a football game is on, we will show you sports scores. Or you can put picture-in-picture on and you can watch another game,” Pozin says. “You can imagine doing a FanDuel bet right here on that device, your fantasy sports pulls up, it’s kind of like the dashboard to your car. It’s got your speedometer, your odometer, your nav, your radio, it enhances your viewing experience. It also works standalone by the way, you can turn off the top screen, leave this on and it becomes your main smart-home hub.”
The Telly TV set is not a cheap discount-store TV. Pozin says that if it were to be sold at a similar markup to other TV sets, it would retail for more than $1,000, and that the goal was to build a “future-proof” TV that would not be outdated in three or four years.
“Don’t be fooled by the price point. It’s not a budget TV by any means whatsoever,” Pozin says, adding that the intent is to offer software updates every couple weeks to add features like karaoke, or games, or workout classes. “It’s by far the smartest TV on the market. There’s nothing even that comes close to it.”
A free TV set, supported by advertising and data, has been a long time coming, with many marketers predicting it as “inevitable” years ago. Already smart TV devices like Roku, Amazon Fire and Google Chromecast have brought their prices down close to zero, seeking to monetize through ads and data over time. And the price of TV sets has been on a steady decline as well, as device makers sell viewer data and deliver ads to their own operating systems.
Telly will let users use whatever OS they want, whether it be Roku, Fire TV or even an old-fashioned cable box or antenna. Whatever consumers watch, the lower screen will always remain ad-enabled. It will ship with an Android TV dongle (which normally would cost about $30 itself).
And of course, there’s the data. Critical to making the TV set free is, as Pozin says, the “value exchange.”
“You’re giving us your demographics, your psychographics at the individual and household level before you even get your device, so we know who you are, we know where you live, we know your income, we know what car you’re driving, we know when your lease is up,” Pozin says. “We know what your favorite brands are. We know your favorite sports teams are so when you first bring your TV home, you scan a QR code with your phone, all the data is already there.”
“It’s provisioned to that device that gives us full targeting and addressability,” he adds. “Similar to other TV makers, we have viewing data, but we also have audience data now at the individual household. When you merge those two things together, the targeting is literally one to one. So if Toyota wants to run an ad to people that currently own a Honda whose lease expires within the next 12 months, we pick and choose those individual TVs and only those TVs and that’s where the ad shows up.”
And Pozin says that that marketers are already on board, with plans to unveil more details at the Cannes Lion festival next month.
“All of them are super excited, and we’re in partnerships with with all the big agencies,” Pozin says.
“Television is the most powerful medium in the world, and MNTN’s clients know it,” said Mark Douglas, CEO and counder of the connected TV ad firm MNTN, in a statement. “In today’s fragmented media landscape, we are always eager to identify breakthrough opportunities to reach new audiences, and now with Telly and MNTN, brands will be able to seriously level up their performance marketing strategy — right there on the biggest screen in the house.
Details on the amount of financing raised for Telly are not public, though the latest round was co-led by LightShed Ventures partner Rich Greenfield, also known for being a high-profile Wall Street media analyst.
“While everyone talks about Smart TVs, the reality is that TVs have not changed dramatically over the past couple of decades and the dream of truly interactive TV has never materialized,” says Greenfield. “Telly is a huge leap forward, leveraging the explosion of the connected TV ad market and the desire from consumers for greater control and interactivity that does not disrupt the TV viewing experience.”
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