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I feel like for every business there exists threshold where PMs get convinced that selling ads isn't just a free-tier business model, but rather that any other revenue generation method sits within the Pareto frontier that an ads tier defines.

I once heard an ads account PM put it this way: "If you have enough money to buy a no-ads tier, someone will pay more to put an ad there"

This definitely happened for cable TV and satellite radio— both started life as a paid, ad-free alternative, but the promise of a premium market that moneyed individuals had paid to escape to was just too enticing.

To a lesser extent you see it with magazines too, especially in the fashion space, where brands don't want to be in a "free" magazine, so the magazine has to charge a cover price, but they practically give away subscriptions since the cover price is not where they're making money.

> This definitely happened for cable TV

I keep seeing this, but in the US this isn't really true. Cable TV was originally sold as a way to get all the surrounding broadcast TV stations in to your home with near perfect signal quality without needing an antenna. This meant you would get all the ads those broadcast networks aired. Sure, cable networks did not inject additional ads, but there were still ads. It took a while before premium cable-only channels arrived, some of which touted being ad-free. But even then many of those premium channels had advertising from the beginning.

Ads were on cable TV since the get go.

... and more channels.

In the dawn of time, also known as my childhood, there were 2 channels. Then 3. TV's had dials and it was my job, like so many other youngest children, to turn them. Then cable came and there were a lot of channels. So many channels you needed the newspaper's TV schedule to figure out what to watch. No more flipping between 2 or 3 channels hoping for something better. Planned viewing had arrived. No more sitting by the TV, spinning through channels, and getting clouted for spinning to fast because you'll break it! And finally, freeing children everywhere from the tyranny of the dial, remote control! No longer chained to the TV, children could return to lounging on the comfy family room chesterfields.

Never forget that cable, and the TV remotes it spawned, freed millions of children from spinning TV dials!

I remember when we got a fancy TV with a…wired…remote.

It was amazing.

Of course the wire was about 2 feet too short. So it was still my job to sit on the floor and in the middle of the room to be the “wireless” portion of the remote. But still, was so much better than having to walk up every 5 minutes (my dad loved making me flip channels during commercials, even though often commercials were often synced between abc, nbc, and cbs). But then came PBS

We had a VCR with a wired remote and oddly, the cable that connected it was something like 40' long. You could almost stand outside and start a movie. Thanks JCPenny. :)

> So it was still my job to sit on the floor and in the middle of the room to be the “wireless” portion of the remote

Those were the days

(the archie bunker theme)


My family was an eclectic mix of Sanford and son and Hee Haw. But yeah. Those were the days.

Now that I don’t have cable but DO have an antenna (and Plex) I still like reruns of mash, gomer pile, Andy Griffith to fall asleep to etc. I wish they would throw Sanford and son in the mix!

I think you're too quick to discredit the claim, perhaps its not quite as strong as people make it seem but... This article written in 1981 from the NY times titled "Will Cable TV Be Invaded By Commercials" would somewhat disagree with you. I think makes the situation as clear to understand as possible:


People were assuming because they were paying for Television there would be no (or at least less) ads. The article then states that there was $45 million in cable advertising vs $11 billion in traditional. I think those numbers alone make it pretty clear advertising was not at the top of the (at the time) nascent industry's mind. And, while this is only a guess its probably safe to assume the bulk of that $45 million went to at most a handful of "innovative" (vomits in mouth) cable companies.

The first phrase in that article says "Although cable television was never conceived of as television without commercial interruption" which 100% supports my position. The original "cable TV" was to get all the broadcast channels near by in perfect quality without an antenna, thus having ads. There were ads on "cable TV" from the beginning , many consumers just assumed it wasn't there. It also acknowledges the rest of my point in stating "Indeed, even pay television, once assumed to be secure from commercial interests, is attracting some attention as a potential vehicle for advertising." Note that essentially some channels were paid extras which did not originally have ads, while other channels like CNN, USA, and RCTV did have ads from the get go.

And yeah, advertising revenues weren't nearly as huge for cable networks at the beginning. The first cable networks started operations in the 50s, and you're sharing an article written in '81 pretty much showcasing that there were only a few cable-only TV stations at the time. At the beginning there were zero cable-only TV stations, and that was how it was for about 30 years. All channels you got on cable were just the broadcast stations. Many years later they started adding cable-only stations with some of those stations having advertising and some of them without.

The first real cable-only TV channel was HBO, which was without ads. The second real cable-only TV station was WTBS, which had ads (it was a nearly nation-wide rebroadcast of Ted Turner's broadcast TV station, so only semi-only-cable?) and started on cable in 1976. After that there was Christian Broadcasting Network which was ad-free. In 1979 we got Nickeloden and ESPN (ads), in 1980 we got CNN and USA (ads).


I remember reading that article!

I think there is confusion with the original (very large) satellite dish services. Those were marketed as ad-free.

Ads were part of cable and satellite TV from the start, but they have "invaded" more recently in the menus.

And even for streaming services, the rationale is "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!" - which doesn't make them any less an advertisement!

If anything, it's the most measurable of (non-interactive) video ads, since the viewer's future engagement with the advertised show (correcting for the baseline expected viewership among subscribers not shown that ad) can be attributed to the advertisement itself.

And if retention can then be attributed to engagement, there's a monetary value for that ad space, which goes back to the grandparent post's sentiment: "someone will pay more to put an ad there."

> And even for streaming services, the rationale is "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!" - which doesn't make them any less an advertisement!

I don't think I can agree with this. While I don't like pre-roll mini-trailers (or even full trailers), the fact that I've chosen to pay for the service is a pretty strong hint that I'd like to know what offerings they have. The obvious alternative is to provide me with good discovery tools so that I never miss anything myself. I prefer that, but I don't think that the pre-rolls really violate a "no advertising" model.

It's certainly better than NPR/PBS's interpretation of "no advertising", which I was told in the 90s is essentially just "no quality adjectives".

What you see over time is that as products mature, they add advertising and then saturate it. The reason is filling your product with ads kills retention, so you can’t do this early on.

The interesting part to this is that once the competition is heavily saturated with ads, having no ads gives you a distinctive edge over them.

The thing that interests me the most is how ads can significantly degrade the quality of the product itself. This is really apparent with Amazon, where their ad platform not only pushed up the visibility of very low quality products but also made their seller ecosystem dependent on them. Amazon’s search results are their content, which are now ads. In order to outbid competitors, you need to increase your margins, which you do by selling a shittier product. I suspect we will see a similar thing happen to Apple’s App Store over time.

> I suspect we will see a similar thing happen to Apple’s App Store over time.

Already the terrible curation makes it hard to find any quality content in Apple's App Store. (I'll never understand why it's so hard to get a search for the exact name of an app to return that app first.) I shudder to imagine how bad it could be if they were incentivised to make it bad.

I've always suspected, but never can confirm, that this incentivization is already the case: the reason why app search seems so bad is because revenue trumps any other aspect of relevance, and spammy apps generate more revenue out of unsuspecting users.

I thought the same as I was typing it, but I was going for "never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence". It wasn't that Apple App Store search quality gradually declined, as you would expect from a slide towards evil; as far as I know, it was terrible right out of the gate.

> "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!"

Preroll ads are only there because they haven't found advertisers willing to pay them enough yet. It does mean they have the infrastructure there, waiting and ready, and ad / data engineers getting data from ad viewership and rudimentary conversion numbers, which they can then use to sell ads.

It'll be there soon.

They're also experimenting with a free tier:


> streaming services, the rationale is "we can still call it ad-free, if the only preroll ads we run are for our own shows!"

At least on my services, they are just short trailers, never annoying ads like Progressive's. And if I'm not interested, there's always a Skip button. I'm paying for this service, I want to know what upcoming shows are coming. I don't mind if this helps with their internal metrics.

Now I do object to the actual 5-10 min of ads I subjected to in the movie theater.

> At least on my services, they are just short trailers, never annoying ads like Progressive's. And if I'm not interested, there's always a Skip button. I'm paying for this service, I want to know what upcoming shows are coming. I don't mind if this helps with their internal metrics.

Amazon Prime paid channel subscriptions don't let you skip the previews for that channel. (At least, that is true for Paramount+.)

And it didn't happen with Netflix.

There's a market for subscriptions. Unfortunately you have to provide a really fucking great product. And most of these companies don't.

Not yet, but some other streaming services have added ads to the paid service, and made the ad-free version more expensive (Hulu, HBO, C More)

This is exactly why regulation is needed - not to ban ads, but to curtail the noxious effects of them (privacy invasion, lack of liability for malicious ads) to tip the balance back the other way.

And if they accidentally trip and ban ads, all the better.

There are some for whom the paid tier is "get rid of ads". YouTube, Spotify.

In YT videos will still have "sponsored content" regardless. If they can't make YT display their ads, they will buy off the content creators. Ad industry is just so infectious.


It's also known that the extensions are also bought and start displaying ads, or worse, double charge the ad industry to let them escape their block (like once upon a time ABP did).

That has happened before, but very rarely, and I highly doubt will ever happen to SponsorBlock.

> That has happened before, but very rarely, and I highly doubt will ever happen to SponsorBlock.

Why do you doubt it? I've read that extension creators are constantly bombarded with offers to package just a little malware in their extension; surely the same is true of ads. If you're just a hobbyist developer—and that's where the best extensions come from—surely it's too much to expect that you'll resist that pressure forever.

SponsorBlock is completely tied to my real identity, why would I want to destroy my reputation for relatively little gain.

It's about neither your extension nor your incentives, and you can be the nicest person on earth (and I have no reason to believe otherwise, great work!), but we are all mortals in the end, and with the automatically updating extensions, it's too hard to say what will happen in the long term (who takes over eventually?). Also a parallel risk which has less to do with the ad industry is the extension getting hijacked.

So there is always a significant risk even the author declines all the offers for cashing out.

But again, your awesome extension in which you poured so many hours is not the problem, it's just affected by the problem.

It's definitely nothing against you; indeed, I thank you and everyone like you who makes these tools that make my browsing experience so much better.

I assume that everyone who makes useful extensions like this does so out of good will. But I also assume that it is possible for a good person to tire of maintaining a piece of software, and want to pass on control, and to allow themselves to see the upside of an appealing and lucrative offer and believe that the worst won't come. And I can't blame a person who does this—they certainly don't owe me anything.

Into this discussion I will drop the following points:

1. The creator of the VLC media player was apparently offered "tens of millions" of euros to insert ads. Thus, if your software is sufficiently widely used, that is the kind of temptation you may eventually face.

2. He said no. So there do exist people who will resist such temptation.

Citation: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15372048 and the link chain therefrom

VLC is GPLv2, saying yes would have been a short term annoyance for the community in exchange of him cashing in.

SponsorBlock is open source. https://github.com/ajayyy/SponsorBlock

It's a great solution, but it has a big limitation: you can't use it with the official YouTube apps for phones and TV's. You end up having to resort to 'hacked'/third-party clients like Vanced, with all the risks to your Google account that entails.

Doesn't work on a phone or Chromecast, unfortunately.

Even the Spotify paid tier has ads in podcasts. There's no escape.

Aren’t those native ads though? Or is Spotify making money off them too?

native ads - kind of sums up the ludicrousness of the adtech industry… “they are not real ads because they are NATIVE!”

It's a mix. As a premium spotify customer, I still see spotify-injected (skippable) ads.

Never encountered these, what were you listening to?

Same here. Spotify claims it's the podcast producers' doing when ads are inserted this way. It still miffs me. One of the conditions of being a paid content provider for Spotify should be that you provide an ad-free experience for premium subscribers.

Really? Not me.

I've seen opportunities to subscribe to podcasts for $$, which irritated me, but that's it.

This can't be right.

They are, and I think that Spotify should work to ban them. If I'm listening to a podcast on Spotify, then presumably the podcast creator is already getting my money (indirectly, via Spotify) and therefore I should get an ad-free version.

This gets to a question of what’s an ad. Take EDM DJs. Could they advertise an upcoming festival they’re playing at, even though the main purpose of the podcast is playing music?

> Could they *advertise* an upcoming festival

Yeah, that's an ad. It's even in the sentence.

Spotify allows it, I've contacted their support team about it. They claim that as long as the creator is the one inserting the ads that they allow it.

YouTube as well, if you're counting creators taking money to promote things.

(Disclosure: I work for Google, speaking only for myself)

It also has constant ads for podcasts in the app, as well as modal popups for things it wants to promote, like new albums and concerts. They are definitely violating the spirit of "no ads"

That's not Spotify's fault. The ads are added by podcast host as a part of the show itself. You will have ads regardless of where you listen to your podcasts.

I suspect that Spotify's ad strategy is to make them as obnoxious as possible, just to get you to buy the subscription. For me, the ads they played made it seem like their data science were either completely inept, or extremely evil.

Hulu has ads in the "no ads" service too.

That's obnoxious

+ product placement in shows and films,

+ selling information gleaned from consumption habits (e.g. song choice on Spotify, etc.)

Don't necessarily have to target on the platform itself.

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