I got my first Roku streaming box almost ten years ago. I have written before of my stubborn resistance to a cable TV subscription and my struggle with rabbit ears and video shops. When I first heard of streaming boxes, I had my doubts, but the Roku HD was the best $60 I ever spent. I was a little ahead of the curve so my description of the Roku as a magic, internet-enabled, box packed to the gills with content was usually met with a sad dismissive grin reserved for precocious children explaining why sharks are so much cooler than bears. Guy’s too friggin’ cheap to get cable! Weirdo!
Now everybody streams and have fled or are in the process of fleeing cable seeing it as a totally unnecessary expense. People won’t shut the hell up about Netflix. The rest of the world has caught up with streaming, but tragically, so have advertisers.
Not all of the channels on streaming platforms are subscription based. A number of them are supported by advertisements like PlutoTV or Crackle which makes sense. Companies are sitting on mountains of intellectual property so they may as well cart them out of storage and make a little rent.
The problem is that the placement of the advertisements seems to be decided by machine; are being injected into programming more and more, and the streaming platforms are now too happy to take money from pharmaceutical companies and, worse yet, political campaigns. In 2011, I wrote:
One of the great things about the Roku was that I was able to completely avoid last season’s election cycle ads. I completely missed out on all of those terribly expensive but ham-fisted 30 and 60 second spots where a candidate is filmed chatting with a crowd of carefully selected, perfectly cast, ordinary Americans. as well as the negative campaign ads that claimed that the opposition regularly dines on the tender flesh of infants. No, I was happily basking in the wonderful world of internet enabled, commercial free television and completely side stepping the urgent messages from the Blue and Red duopoly.
Those days are over. Enough people are streaming that it makes sense for ad agencies to buy blocks of time from streaming platforms. They were all too glad to take Mike Bloomberg’s money. It was impossible to escape his ads. They were everywhere. I think I was receiving his message through the fillings in my teeth. I don’t know how I’m going to survive the 2020 election cycle. It’s going to get shrill. I think I may have to give the Roku a rest.