Vizio Is Now Inserting Pop-Up Ads Over TV Shows

Viewers are starting to see new, intrusive ads as TV makers look for fresh ways to make money using consumer data

An example of a pop up ad from Vizio seen on a TV Photo: Vizio

Pop-up ads, the familiar scourge of the internet, could be coming to your TV. 

Vizio announced last week that it is experimenting with advertisements that pop-up over live television on the company’s smart TVs. Vizio rolled out a quiet test of these new ads last month during the premiere of “Welcome to Flatch,” a new mockumentary sitcom on Fox.

The new ads are part of a beta program, according to Vizio. The interactive “jump ads” will show up toward the end of an episode if you’re watching on cable or using an antenna, letting you know you can switch over to a streaming service and binge more of the same show. 

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Vizio said in a press release that it’s “working with additional content providers and brands on a variety of integrations.” The new jump ads are designed to help consumers discover content, and let networks promote their shows and movies, according to a company spokesperson, and Vizio has “no intention or plans for other use cases at the moment.” Fox didn’t return a request for comment.

The new Vizio ads may be providing a glimpse of things to come on your TV: more ads in more places on the screen—ads that look and function like the ones you see online.

Consumers can expect to see more of this sort of advertising experiment in the future, says Alice K. Sylvester, a partner at Sequent Partners, an advertising consulting firm specializing in television. The consumer experience will always take a back seat to commercialization, Sylvester says, and “as long as research continues to show consumers are willing to accept ads to offset programming costs and increased costs, the practice will remain.”

Viewers have taken to social media to complain about Vizio’s new pop-up ads. “Nothing like paying hundreds to thousands of dollars for an electronic device so that other people can make millions shoving ads down your viewholes,” one user wrote on Reddit. Another posted, “‘Don’t ever get a Vizio TV ever in the future,’ got it, thanks.”

But Vizio isn’t breaking new ground. Roku has drawn complaints from viewers for similar pop-ups on sets that use its smart TV platform. In another Reddit post, a photo captures a Roku TV showing a mattress ad over the corner of an Eagles-Buccaneers NFL wild-card game (though it wasn’t as bad as the infamous “Heidi” Game, when, in 1968, NBC cut away from a New York Jets-Oakland Raiders game to show a TV movie, causing some viewers to miss a dramatic Raiders comeback). Roku didn’t return CR’s request for comment, but the company has been running small experiments with pop-up ads for a couple of years.

New kinds of TV ads are making a slow march across users’ screens in other places as well. Last June, customers complained when ads started showing up in the interface of Nvidia Shield TVs, a streaming media player originally marketed as an ad-free device. 

Consumers who own Vizio TVs can avoid the pop-up ads with a little effort, by turning off a tracking technology that’s built into most of today’s TVs. Automatic content recognition, or ACR, enables a TV manufacturer to keep tabs on everything you watch, whether it comes in through cable, an antenna, a streaming app, or even your own Blu-ray collection. Using ACR, Vizio TVs will detect when you’re watching participating shows, and then display the jump ads. 

Vizio says turning off ACR will interrupt that process and prevent the jump ads from showing up. It’s also an easy boost to your privacy. Consumer Reports provides instructions for disabling ACR on all the major smart TV platforms. The language varies from one platform to the next—for Vizio TVs you need to change a setting called Viewing Data. (We’ve found that viewers can’t easily thread their way through the maze of settings on their own.)

The pop-up ads are just one more wrinkle in a quickly changing experience for TV viewers. Television manufacturers, cable companies, streaming services, data brokers, and ad agencies are rushing to feed more kinds of ads to consumers on more screens. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re already seeing targeted ads on TV during commercial breaks based on who you are, where you go, and what you do.

You might have thought you were the customer when you bought your expensive smart TV. But it turns out that, just like on the web, you’re really the product.

Update: This article has been updated with a comment from Vizio and additional information about automatic content recognition. It was originally published April 5, 2022.


Headshot of CR editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.