A startup called Telly is giving away free TVs to US homes in a new and unique strategy to help marketers target viewers with ads despite the decline of traditional television and growing efforts to protect consumer privacy.

Recipients of the TVs were based on a request survey from people who didn’t mind that it comes with an attached lower screen to display targeted advertising, news, weather, sports scores and other information whenever the set is on, and even when it’s off if they so choose.  Recipients had to answer questions about themselves and their income, agree to share viewing and other data for advertising purposes, and promise not to modify the TV or use ad-blocking software. 

About 250,000 people across all 50 states signed up to get Telly sets in the first week that they were offered in May, Telly said. Their survey responses indicated that most earned $50,000 a year or more, topped the national average for educational attainment and were primarily millennials or members of Gen Z, according to Telly.

Car brand Kia is the first marketer working directly with Telly to show advertising on the second screen. Telly is also offering programmatic advertising through ad-tech companies and media agencies, with plans to introduce its own self-serve platform for advertisers as well, though Telly said it will approve all ads before they go live.

However Telly’s expansion from a limited test in March to wider deployment means the startup will begin to confront several big questions, including how many people want an inescapable second screen, how effective those second-screen ads can be when viewers are trying to watch programs on the larger screen above it, and whether the promised targeting will violate consumers’ sense of privacy.

Advertisers will also be interested to see how many people ultimately receive Telly sets and the demographics of that group. Whether Telly takes off for certain kinds of marketers could depend in part on whether it can assemble sufficiently large and sought-after groups of consumers to target.

This could be great news for brands looking to test what messages work in different places, particularly if Telly’s audience is representative of a national audience. Advertisers could then apply those insights to inform their ad buys across other media channels. 

The request surveys themselves are great for advertisers. To receive their TVs, consumers answer questions on subjects including their mobile phone network provider, home and vehicle ownership, household income, and their children or pets, advertisers can use that information to tailor which homes see which ads and when.

Telly has a licensing deal with measurement company Nielsen to measure viewership and ad effectiveness for advertisers and TV programmers.

Telly hopes consumers will view the second screen as less of a living room billboard and more of a utility, with capabilities including integrating with Zoom so users can watch shows with others, connecting to Ring doorbell cameras, and displaying trivia, news, sports scores and song lyrics for karaoke. 

Though some consumers could be turned off by Telly’s data collection in exchange for the TV, ad-tech experts said some TV makers are already collecting data on consumers who might just not be aware of it. In 2017, for instance, TV brand Vizio settled a lawsuit that accused it of using TVs to track what owners watched and selling that information to marketing firms without customers’ knowledge or consent. 

Categorized in: