Unexpected ad hijacks Samsung smart TVs. Bug or upcoming feature?

An unwanted ad keeps interrupting videos on Samsung smart TVs.

Ahn Young-joon
File - Models pose with a Samsung Electronics Co.' SUHD 4K smart TV during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea.

Samsung is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. As if the Orwellian (and since “clarified”) language in Samsung’s SmartTV privacy policy was not enough to leave a bad taste in the mouths of customers, it is now being reported that Samsung smart televisions – in what looks like a technical glitch – are placing Pepsi ads in the middle of videos for no clear reason.

On Monday, a Reddit user took to the forum after a year-old Samsung TV began “stopping half way through a show or a movie” and playing a muted Pepsi ad. None of the person's other devices, such as smart phones or tablets, exhibited the same issue with personal content.

Plex, a streaming service, also felt some blow back when one user upgraded their Media Server and began seeing the same Pepsi ad “every 10-15 minutes,” which subsequently caused their TV to restart when attempting to exit the commercial. Subscribers use Plex’s app to stream video to various devices on the same network.

But the Pepsi ad did not stop there.

Soon, Australians reported experiencing the same Pepsi problem and took to forums on Foxtel, the nation’s largest pay-TV provider, to find the source of the annoyance. The advertisement was displayed while using Foxtel’s streaming app, which is built into Samsung’s SmartHub interface.

Foxtel was quick to respond on the forum, with one employee saying, “this absolutely should not be happening and has been escalated immediately.”

CNET quoted a Foxtel spokesperson as saying "this was an unintentional action by Samsung that we're working closely with them to resolve ASAP."

Not willing to take the blame either, Samsung Electronics Australia released the following statement to CNET:

“This was a result of an error that occurred as part of a recent software update that was not intended for the Australian market. We can confirm that the issue has now been rectified and that there are currently no plans to introduce this type of advertising in Australia in the near future. Samsung Electronics Australia would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this has caused to our customers.”

Plex also pointed to Samsung as the perpetrator of the ad. As the company responded to the confusion on its forum, one employee wrote, “I am trying to figure out what is happening, but I suspect it is Samsung that has turned on some feature. Forcing ads on everyone.”

This technical confusion raises the question: Is this an upcoming feature that sneaked out before it was ready or simply a bug? Samsung obviously has the power to turn on this technology at its discretion. Could this be the future of advertising in television?

This was not the first time the Samsung smart TV has received negative press over unwanted advertising, either. After two months with his smart TV in 2014, tech blogger David Chartier reported the painstaking steps he went through to disable the pop-up ads he was experiencing with the TV. In a statement to Business Insider, Samsung clarified that it had been in a partnership with Yahoo since 2011 “to explore and develop more interactive smart TV features that will allow consumers the choice to experience a new generation of home entertainment.”

As The Verge put it, maybe its time to bring back the dumb TV.

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