If you are not paying for the service, you are not a customer – you are the product.

I have become surprisingly intolerant of ads.

We cut the cable with Comcast about 5 years ago and all of our TV since then has streamed over the interwebs or arrived on shiny disks in red envelopes. Most of what I want to watch comes from Netflix which has no ads at all. Mrs Clown mostly watches Hulu but recently we have made an effort to watch more stuff together which means (duh!) me watching more Hulu.

I’ve found that I can’t tolerate ads any more. As soon as Hulu starts up an ad for carpet cleaners or healthy yoghurt or whatever, I feel a rage building inside of me and it entirely ruins the viewing pleasure. I can’t bear to watch stuff on Hulu because of it. We even signed up for Hulu Plus a couple of years ago to try to get rid of the ads but, as far as I could tell, the only benefit to paying $10 a month was that your wallet was a bit lighter. It didn’t seem to make any difference to the quantity of ads. No more Hulu for me.

About the only ads that I hear regularly these days are on public radio. It bothers me all the more that they try to pretend that they are not ads (‘This program was brought to you by sleepy time mattresses because, for a good nights sleep, choose sleepy time”) but they are not fooling anyone. Mercifully, the ads are over quickly. Commercial radio is just a non-starter for me. I stab at the controls in rage every time Greg Kihn tries to pretend that he is best friends with the local Volkswagon dealer.

I’m told that Facebook and Gmail have a lot of ads but I rarely even notice them…until this week when it seems that my Facebook feed has been infected by Bonobo and Verizon viruses. Every time I open FB, there is another ad pretending to be a status update. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have checked “Don’t ever show me another fake news item by Verizon again”. There’s an argument that I should be grateful for ads because they let me get services for free but it’s a crap argument because I’d rather pay to avoid the ads and they are not even giving that me that option.

This morning’s KQED Forum was about Facebook and their evil privacy policy changes. Most of the callers were pitchforking about how their secret cat pictures are being shared with Evil Corporations who use them to target them with cat food ads. I _wish_ the evil corporations were that smart. I wouldn’t mind so much if the occasional ad was relevant to me. But they are not. The last ad that I remember watching and saying “Oooh! I should get me one of those!” was Tony Blackburn in pitching “They’re Off!” – a horse-racing game that worked by your record player’s stylus falling into one of eight tracks by random so you could bet on whether Kiss Me Quick would beat Geordie Lad in the 3:30 at Newmarket from the comfort of your couch. It was a fantastic idea in 1976 and it’s still fun in 2012. The ads just got worse and worse since then.

About the time that I left England 20 years ago, there was a trend towards funny and intelligent commercials that were actually entertaining. I could tolerate that – probably – but that trend never caught in the States unfortunately. Most ads over here feature an annoying banker trying to get through all the small print in under eight seconds, a dopey housewife trying to sell me a rag on a stick for reaching those awkward corners or – worst of all – handsome twenty-somethings trying to trick me into drinking piss out of a beer can.

One of the callers-in to that Forum show suggested that Facebook should have an opt-out policy. Assume each Facebook user is worth about $25 per year in ad revenues then give us the option to pay $25 for no more ads. I happily pay Pandora $3 per month for ad-free music and I coughed up the extra $25 for the Kindle version that comes with self-respect. Why not let me opt out of Facebook ads too? Sadly, all of Krazny’s guests focussed on the fee-for-privacy aspect of the suggestion instead of the fee-for-no-ads part that I care more about. Honestly, I don’t even care that Facebook’s corporate customers get to see what I have for lunch. If it increases the quality of ramen noodles on Castro Street, I am all for it. I just don’t want to see any more ads for things I have no interest in buying.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

7 thoughts on “If you are not paying for the service, you are not a customer – you are the product.”

  1. 100% with you. I gave up on cable around the same time as you. I had realized that at some point ads were no longer why there could be content, and instead content was there to keep people around in between ads.

    NPR I gave up on for similar reasons. I thought it was just me so I’m glad I’m not alone.

    I’m liking sirius xm a lot. For $10/mo I get to listen to some really solid metal on Liquid Metal, or ambient on Chill. Well worth it.

    I deleted my FB account years so I can’t really comment. But I was talking to a marketing person at work the other day, about how I haven’t seen web ads in years and I think I made her cry.

  2. I wonder if there are enough of us to support an economy based on paying for what’s valuable? I’d happily pay for HBO if I didn’t also have to get QVC and Turner Classic Movies. I’m delighted to pay for Pandora and Rdio instead of listening to Clear Channel. I’d pay for an ad-free Daily Show too. I stopped paying for NYT because it didn’t seem to help with my ad problem. Who do we need to talk to to make it happen?

  3. At least in the UK there’s a definite break between the programme and the ads so when you tape everything you watch on Sky+ you can then easily FF through the ads and press play again when the programme restarts. It has always seemed to me on US TV that the programme blends in with the ads so you can’t tell which you are watching half the time. And we only get 4 ad breaks an hour..

  4. I agree with you, sans the baby-with-the-bathwater cable cancel.

    I think that few enough people are willing to pay a premium that there’s not a market for a la carte cable pricing… I thought the People over At Cable looked at this and said the pricing per channel would have to be more than their focus groups said was reasonable. But that’s my lossy memory of an article I read years ago.

    Something about if you pay $75 for (3 channels you want + 50 you don’t), they may offer it for $20/channel or something, and the righteous indignation shifted to “one channel?!!? $20!?? hell no!”.

    There are complaints o plenty when airlines cut their fares for everyone then nickle and dime you for checking a second bag or wanting access to an emergency oxygen mask.

    The workaround to commercials is Tivo, like Chrome’s adblocker plug-in.

    Since it’s imperfect, I’d gladly pay for Turner Classic Movies without commercials.

    Amazon has laser-guided ads on their site, from their wealth (lol) of data on previous purchases/searches/wish list entries, so they’re the one place I don’t mind seeing them. I might buy one of those Kindle “with special offers” so I know what I other stuff I need to buy.

    For other places that have content that I want, I try and suck it up, avert my glance and recognize that these people need to make a living.

    It’s hardest for me with teasers in rss feeds “click through [to our ad-laden site] to see the important part of this post”. I’m about to unsubscribe to Lifehacker, which has gone down hill anyway.

    I like underground garage on Sirius XM as long as long as I don’t listen long enough for it to repeat.

    Also happy to pay for the Kindle version of the Oregonian newspaper, Zino versions of magazines (using the ad-free text view), etc.

  5. As far as I can tell, the algorithm for targetted ads, at Amazon and everywhere else, is:

    1) Recommend something he already bought.
    2) Recommend something that everyone in the world already bought.

    If someone could make targetted ads work, I’d be in favour of them.

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