My Roku Experience - And What It's Taught Me About Pre-Roll Ads

I finally broke down and bought a Roku box.  It was easy enough to set up, although not so easy that I’d recommend my dad go out and get one for himself (that would only serve to annoy both him and me).   I signed up for Netflix and Hulu Plus and a few other channels, and proceeded to settle down to see what all the fuss was about.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I think the most appropriate word to describe my experience is “underwhelmed.”  Don’t get me wrong, I like it well enough, but if it broke tomorrow I wouldn’t be disappointed or in any rush to replace it, which is in stark contrast to my initial reaction to Sirius Radio. I haven’t listened to terrestrial radio since first turning on Sirius, and I can’t imagine ever buying a car again without it pre-installed. 

I think maybe I was expecting the universe of premium online video at my fingertips  but there’s no HGTV, no Food Network, I have no idea how current the news is, and as my wife has pointed out, she can’t find her Real Housewives, although that could be seen as a benefit. On the other hand, if I consider premium content to be Japanese anime, I now have an endless supply at my disposal.  I did start watching “House of Cards,” because I like Kevin Spacey, but gave up after a few minutes.  I couldn’t focus. I just kept thinking “How will they possibly make back the $100 million they spent on this?” and “Ugh, it feels like it’s going to be a lot of work to have to catch up on all these episodes, so never mind.”



I also expected the content to just “be there.” Instead, finding content is more like a clumsy fumble.  Clearly, this is not a device that you want to use while eating dinner. By the time you figure out what you want to watch, your food will be cold. 

So, in the quest for a more comfortable venue for watching online video, I’ve ended up with less content and a more annoying way to search for it than via a laptop or tablet.  It’s not terrible, just not what I was hoping for. 

But what really surprised me was my aversion to the ads.  I thought I wouldn’t mind them so much, since I was watching it on my TV, in the comfort of my home, and they were preceding a long stretch of content -- it’s not like a 30-second pre-roll standing in the way of a 40-second “cute kitten” video.  I don’t mind the ads so much when I’m watching cable and I get a lot more of them in a row.  So what’s the deal?  Why are these ads more annoying?  I came to two conclusions

  • The countdown clock is a menace.  I get the concept behind it, and every online video network uses it, but maybe letting me know how much longer until the ad is over isn’t the best idea.  It makes me anxious and it makes that 30 seconds feel like a day and a half.
  • I had to work to put the schedule together.  What network, what show, what season, what episode…. I did the searching, and I decided what to watch, when.  So, naturally, I want it now, not 30 seconds from now.  With standard TV, on the other hand, there’s little work on my end; the networks set the schedule, and I just make the popcorn, find the channel I want, and relax. 

In the ongoing quest to make online video more closely resemble TV, these two hurdles must be overcome before any real progress can be made. Or, perhaps better yet, we need to abandon this desire to be like TV and accept online video for what is: a viable, effective and valuable medium on its own. 

9 comments about "My Roku Experience - And What It's Taught Me About Pre-Roll Ads".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, February 27, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.

    At least on cable you can record the show and skip over the commercials.

  2. Dan Smith from Funco, Inc., February 27, 2013 at 2:21 p.m.

    I'll bet that there are some studies that would explain or support your first observation - does the inclusion of a countdown clock impact the perception of time. I'm thinking that the studies would suggest otherwise (but I'm only assuming that folks looked at some studies before including the clock). I'm wondering if including tenths would make a difference (thinking of the one minute countdown in basketball or hockey - that minute seems to fly by).

  3. Todd Koerner from e-merge Media, February 27, 2013 at 2:26 p.m.

    I completely agree with Douglas' statement. I have become an expert at either recording shows to skip the commercials, or - for more of a challenge - to watch the show delayed by 20 minutes or so and see if I can get to its natural conclusion without having to watch one commercial (by fast-forwarding through it).

    I also think that YouTube's strategy of skipping a commercial after five seconds - once I can determine whether it is of interest - is an appealing alternative.

  4. Mark severini from AdTheorent, February 27, 2013 at 2:37 p.m.

    i have apple tv in one room; xbox in another but still feel as though I have a Rube Goldberg approach to my TV viewing.
    I am certain in the near future that some company will be able to put it all together so that i can watch what I want, when I want including news and live sports. However, I am not ready yet to stop my cable subscription : (

  5. Frank Strazzulla from Target Media Sales, February 27, 2013 at 2:47 p.m.

    I own both a Roku and an Apple TV and consider them to be complimentary devices, and when looking for a movie rental will go through Vudu/Amazon/Apple/Hulu and Netflix to find what I want (and the price I want to pay)...I also use the news channels to find foreign content (especially during disasters to see the local viewpoint) and use the JustinTV private channel for user-generated content (even if the picture quality is amateurish at best)

    MLS soccer package is outstanding for $69 for the season you receive access to every game either live or on 2 hour tape delay, plus full season archives and condensed version/ glorious HD...hope they do the same with the Premier League someday!

  6. Cece Forrester from tbd, February 27, 2013 at 5:26 p.m.

    A perfect example of why what I like to refer to as "media ergonomics" should not be ignored. Comfort and convenience have other than physical dimensions, and how much work something takes can be a deal-breaker when the initial fascination wears off. We still have a long way to go.

  7. Walter Sabo from SABO media, February 27, 2013 at 6:08 p.m.

    Radio works great.

  8. Matt Prohaska from Prohaska Consulting, February 27, 2013 at 8:10 p.m.

    Great perspective. re: the countdown every digital video ad network/player uses. I can appreciate the desire to keep folks from clicking away but don't most respectable publishers balance the ad time with the content time a little better now? Completely different experience I know, but imagine if CBS had a countdown during every Super Bowl commercial, or during 2.5 Men. How about the creative is just compelling enough and habits are formed just enough to where we don't have to insult the marketer by telling its audience - don't worry...your suffering is almost over...

  9. Cece Forrester from tbd, February 28, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.

    Walter Sabo from SABO media
    commented on: February 27, 2013
    Radio works great.

    Well, it's starting to work better, now that it's on satellite and the Internet and podcasts, and it's easier to change stations on regular radios. But it's not perfect yet. Can't always get your fave station or program wherever you are without a lot of fussing. Can't selectively avoid commercials.

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