Panasonic Sullies Smart TVs With Dumb Ads

Dave Zatz —  October 21, 2012

panasonic-ads

While I’m a notorious gadget flipper, it isn’t very often we upgrade our primary television. And it’s been five years since we last purchased a big screen HDTV. As in 2007, we opted for a Panasonic plasma – given our positive prior results and CNET’s high marks across the board. So I was pretty stoked when the backordered 55″ ST50 arrived on Friday, expecting nothing but good things.

Out of the box, without any sort of calibration during its break in, I’m quite pleased with picture quality (although I need to tweak a few things STAT to clean up the soap opera effect). I didn’t purchase the set specifically for apps, yet they seemed like a nice bonus given its decent selection (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Skype, etc) and despite the odd, sluggish UI. Well… that was prior to the ST50 downloading ads. Because now I find the app dashboard, managed by online merchant Digital River, cluttered with Capital One and Shutterfly spam – including a video advertisement that overrides your previously playing picture-in-picture. Obnoxious!

panasonic-capital-one-ads

Equally obnoxious are what appear to be time-based banner ads that periodically pop up when adjusting the volume. I’d originally thought these were being delivered by Amazon Instant but, given Sean Logan’s photo above taken while watching cable, it’s clear this is Panasonic’s doing. Further, according to CNET, banner ads appear in additional formats and at other times. Supposedly these can disabled via an unintuitive Advanced Viera Connect setting… that doesn’t actually say anything about advertisements. Yet, another setting screen buried with the App Marketplace indicates I’m stuck with ads, whether or not I opt out of Panasonic tracking.

viera-connect-bannerAt this point, I’m not sure how I’m going to proceed. The television certainly wasn’t marketed in a manner that indicated these things and I feel Panasonic has abused my trust. At the very least, the Panasonic audio solution I was considering is off the table – its Viera Link that began a selling point is now a liability. And I’d say it’s even odds this set is going back to Best Buy.

41 responses to Panasonic Sullies Smart TVs With Dumb Ads

  1. Any idea if the ads go away if the tv isn’t connected to the Internet? I might end up doing that with mine when I get it (I have a TiVo premiere, roku, appletv, ps3 and oppo bdp-103, all of which can get me streaming content). But even if that fixes it, it’s pretty annoying. You shouldn’t have to avoid using one of the key features of the device…

  2. I just picked up the UT50 for my mom and so far no ads. At the same time, I don’t have the smart tv portion working yet. It refused to connect to the update servers even though local network functionality worked fine. I have to wait for them to mail me a SD card with the updated firmware.

    I was looking at the ST50 for my bedroom but will probably hold off now.

  3. Sean, In theory the banner ads over video content can be turned off according to CNET – but I didn’t find anything descriptive on the set, online, or in the manual. Even if that works, the banners and video in the app area appear beyond our control. Not sure what happens if I kill the Internet connection. But now that I got Skype and Amazon going, I’d rather not kill it. :/ Maybe I’ll swap this for a Samsung LCD. Hm.

  4. I don’t have a problem with ads and most of them can be disable in the menus. They only ad I see for me is when I turned on the TV(can be disabled). I’ve yet to see the volume change ad but I use external speakers so I’d never see it anyway. The Veria marketplace ads are nothing new. For one I heady ever use it and they don’t block the content so no big deal. I say get a sound bar Dave and never see the volume ads again. But I pay $60 for Xbox live and I still have to see ads. I have no problem with it as long as it doesn’t keep we from the content I’m really paying attention to.

  5. ” In theory the banner ads over video content can be turned off according to CNET – but I didn’t find anything descriptive on the set, online, or in the manual.”

    I think it would be fair to say that Dave is more tech savvy (especially around TVs) than oh, 99.99999999999999999999999999999999% of the population.

    Yet another way that smart TV is committing suicide

  6. The weird thing is, I think I’ve read just about the entire VT50 thread on avsforum during my pre-purchase research, and I don’t recall seeing any complaints about this. I assume the ST and VT have the same software, so I’d think the issue would apply to both… Is this a new development?

    As I think about it more, I doubt I’ll run into the issue much anyway, since I don’t plan to use the apps, volume control is through a receiver and tuning is through the TiVo. I was just planning to hook it up to the network for firmware updates and such (and I have an Ethernet jack at the tv mounting location anyway). But if it’ll keep me from seeing ads, I may leave it offline.

  7. That is pretty amazing. I also have a 2007 vintage Panasonic Plasma, and was thinking later this fall would be a good time to get a 1080P Plasma set to replace my 720P set. As others have said, this is the first I’ve heard of the ads. Sort of feels like the Amazon Kindle, but at least with the Kindle, you can buy your way out of ads.

    I also run my audio through my receiver, and use either my TiVo or Apple TV for any content, so basically, my TV is just a Home Theatre monitor to me, but still – it would be nice to know what you are getting into, and perhaps, find out if other vendors either also have ads, or are more expensive, as supposedly the ads should be providing Panasonic some additional revenue.

  8. “Because now I find the app dashboard, managed by online merchant Digital River, cluttered with Capital One and Shutterfly spam – including a video advertisement that overrides your previously playing picture-in-picture. Obnoxious!”

    Smart!

    It’s a feature, not a bug! Who wouldn’t want more smarts in their TV!

    Lots of smart info downloaded into your brain while you dumbly fumble around with volume controls. Look: it’s telling you how to earn double miles you can actually use! Smart! Besides, the smart TV already knows what volume control is best for you, so just don’t adjust the volume, and voila!

    Smart TV’s are for smart people!

    (I’m still waiting for the built-in camera in smart TV’s we’ve been promised to better track who is watching via facial recognition to better target those smart ads…)

  9. “Maybe I’ll swap this for a Samsung LCD. Hm.”

    Make sure you get an edge-lit model. It’s extra smart. Less thickness is a perfectly smart trade-off for a worse picture.

    —–

    “Yet another way that smart TV is committing suicide”

    Smart TV’s are marketed to dumb people. They demo well in the store, they have fatter margins, they prompt folks to quicken their upgrade cycle, and they can sell ads, so I’d say that the smart TV manufacturers know exactly what they’re doing.

    There’s a sucker born every minute. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

  10. Yep, the volume ads would be temporary as I fully intend to upgrade my sound (and no longer am considering Panasonic’s solution). But CNET’s photos also show banner ads that don’t appear tied to volume. As I said on Twitter, since toggling the Viera Connect Banner setting (which doesn’t actually say anything about ads), I haven’t seen any further volume bar ads. But I don’t know that I trust Panasonic to not change the terms on me and the app area remains a mess. At least the ads delivered via my Xbox and TiVo are generally more elegant and subtle – I’ve never seen a video ad overtake my picture (or picture-in-picture as the case may be). Although I do quite dislike TiVo’s pause button ads, which maybe aren’t so different from these volume bar ones.

    “Smart TV’s are marketed to dumb people.”

    Unfortunately, these features are now bundled with the best panels. So you’re getting “smart” capabilities if you want the best pq. I could kill the Internet connection, and perhaps I will, but it seems a shame that this feature I paid for is a spammy Trojan horse. And, Chucky, the cameras are here – I’ve seen some Samsung sets with them. I’m sure there are others. (And this Panasonic works with a Logitech camera I already had for Skype.)

  11. This is a big time deal breaker for me. No way I’d keep a TV that displayed ads to me. Then, to overtake the PIP with an ad?

    I’ll never buy a Panasonic TV.

    Another option would be to kill its Internet connection. I never use the apps included with any “smart” device that I purchase. My Roku is all I need for streaming.

  12. Bought the S50 last year – no ads, very limited apps.

  13. Never seen an ad on my Pany with VieraCast. I wonder if it’s in a recent firmware update or something like that.

  14. Can you imagine the uproar if TiVo did something like this?

  15. I would absolutely return any TV that did this. If they want to advertise to me, they need to say so upfront and provide a significant discount on the hardware.

  16. It amazes me that with all the posts and uproar that you just didn’t call Panasonic support and ask how can I turn off these annoying ads?

    I’m thinking *maybe* this might be easier than packing up the 55″ Panasonic, carrying it to the car, putting it in the car, driving back to Best Buy, carrying it out of the car and into the store (all the while realizing if you drop the TV at any point you just pissed away big $$$), then explaining to them the problem, exchanging for a 55″ Samsung model, carrying it to car, putting in car, driving home, carrying back into house, unpacking and setting up.

    I realize you love Best Buy and getting new sh*t but this is ridiculous. I agree the ads are annoying but its the trend. Verizon FIOS now puts up an ad for its VOD movies when you pull up the Guide!!!! After googling buried deep in menu’s is a way to turn it off. No way my 80 year old mom was ever going to find that setting. I would of called Verizon if I hadn’t of found the setting.

    Since I only buy Panasonic or Samsung TV’s I’m hoping turning off the ads completely on the Panasonic will be a simple setting.

  17. Bryan, the ads in the app area cannot be disabled as far as I can tell and I believe I’ve successfully disabled the volume bar and any power up ones via the Viera Connect Banner setting. I fully agree that schlepping the set back to Best Buy isn’t appealing. However, I don’t know that the ads are permanently disabled. From reading CNET’s article a firmware update in June first pushed them down. And since that was written another update has changed their nature or added to them (given this volume bar approach). So what’s to say I’ll always be able to banish ads? Afterall, here’s what the tracking opt out screen declares, as photographed above: “Please note that if you opt out, you will not see any fewer ads, they will be less relevant to you.” Perhaps you have more faith in first tier phone support, but I seriously doubt they can speak to upcoming firmware updates and future revenue approaches. Further, I’m not sure I care to call them up after every firmware update to figure how, or if, I can turn off the latest ad unit. Ideally, a television is a long term purchase and folks should be aware of what they may get from a relationship with Panasonic. I’m saving you the return trip the Best Buy.

  18. “From reading CNET’s article a firmware update in June first pushed them down. And since that was written another update has changed their nature or added to them (given this volume bar approach). So what’s to say I’ll always be able to banish ads?”

    FWIW, the mere volume / power up ads seem a bit minimal to me. With all that screen real estate to play with, why not run continual ads in the top quarter of the screen while normal TV is playing? That’d be a smart firmware push.

    If Panasonic were more clever, they’d wait until the TV had been connected for 30 days to start tossing out the ads left and right. That’d stop folks like Dave from being able to return their TV’s that just want to helpfully educate them on valuable commercial information to make them smarter.

    Or maybe the strategy is to just ramp up the ads every six months until you can’t stand it and go out and buy a fresh new Panasonic TV to reset the cycle. That’d be smart.

    “Ideally, a television is a long term purchase”

    But with new apps appearing all the time, you’ll want to replace your TV every year. Panasonic is just trying to help you be a better consumer, and you are bizarrely ungrateful for their assistance.

    And hell, you even want to turn off cookies on your TV? Cookies are there to help your education and make you smarter. Not to mention that they are delicious. Hopefully, Panasonic TV’s will figure out a way to gain access to the cookies from your PC, tablet, and phone to make you even smarter.

  19. “Me love cookie.” I’m surprised no one has tried pulling the post 30 day shenanigan. That’s good, real good.

  20. But isn’t Best Buy sixty days? That’s what my return period has been for products I’ve purchased at Best Buy.

  21. “But isn’t Best Buy sixty days? That’s what my return period has been for products I’ve purchased at Best Buy.”

    If it were a really Smart TV, it could phone home it’s serial number, check that against where in the distribution channel it went, and determine the precise return window for the panel.

    That way it’d know exactly when it could start absurdly bombarding the user with ads without fear of returns. We need our Panasonic Smart TV’s to develop those kind of smarts.

    (And it’d really be a missed opportunity to not logarithmically ramp up the ads a year after purchase, regularly interrupting programming full-screen to advertise the newly introduced models of Panasonic Smart TV’s featuring fewer ads.)

  22. I just got the same tv a month or so ago and was shocked about the ads and was half ready to return the set as well. I never even considered it a possibility that there would be ads on my $1000+ tv. I emailed Panasonic about my concern that an update would make this worse and I never heard back!

    Ultimately its nasty that you have to turn of the banner ads option, but once you do you’ll love the tv. Best bang for the buck. It does suck that there are ads on the ‘internet’ part of the set, but I also did not buy the set for this either.

    I want to get tivo if they ever release the tivo mini, and once I do, I’ll probably disconnect the tv from the router to avoid any “upgrades” to the tv’s firmware.

  23. “…I’ll probably disconnect the tv from the router to avoid any “upgrades” to the tv’s firmware.”

    That’s the sad thing about when a company does antics like this that justly cause folks to have no trust in the brand.

    Considering that this was pushed out to existing customers via firmware update, the only sane option with any Panasonic Smart TV seems to be to never connect it to your LAN and keep it as a dumb panel from day one.

    (I’m personally fine with dumb panels, so I’d be fine with keeping it and just never connecting it to my LAN. But if I were Dave, and thus wanted to play with the gadgetry of the TV’s OTT platform, I’d return it for a more trustworthy brand.)

  24. resistence is futile — said the man still using analog cable and OTA to feed his TiVo DVRs.

    No ads on my little phone screen Dave :D

  25. @AaronWT You have Best Buy Reward Silver status which makes it 60 days.

    Also no need to haul the TV to Best Buy, just call and schedule a pickup.

  26. Thanks for the intel, Brennok.

    Still torn today, but the “dumb” Panasonic picture quality seems like a significant step down from what I’m reading. For the bedroom, I wouldn’t care. But this will be our primary television in the family room and since we buy big sets so infrequently, it seems like I should emphasize pq and just disable network connectivity (which obviously irks me). Looks like Best Buy has a “dumb” 60″ Samsung plasma for under $1k, but it’s not clear how the image quality compares. Hm. At the very least, I’ve packed up my Logitech Skype cam and my wife has pulled the TV receipt out for me should I decide to make a move.

  27. I will probably still end up getting the ST50 just because the picture is supposed to be best bang for the buck. I also only expect the ads to get worse on the 2013 sets.

  28. “Still torn today, but the “dumb” Panasonic picture quality seems like a significant step down from what I’m reading. For the bedroom, I wouldn’t care. But this will be our primary television in the family room”

    In the spirit of bright ideas like replacing your laptop with a tablet, how ’bout replacing the big panel with a wall full of little iPad Minis?

    —–

    “I also only expect the ads to get worse on the 2013 sets.”

    It’s one thing to have ads in a TV’s OTT platform, but it’s a completely different thing to have ads layered over top of an outside input.

    Panasonic crossed an important line here, and it’ll be interesting to see if anyone else is stupid/evil enough to follow them.

  29. Already going through the process with Panny.

    Started with Panny Conceirge. Now I’m at the Panny Executive office. Waiting for Supervisor “Warren” to call me back.

    I’m not completely against advertising, BUT it needs to be in appropriate places. Like with-in VieraConnect functionality NOT during volume changes and the first 30 seconds of my Pip window in Market. (which is unnecessarily small BTW).

    You can EASILY see were this is going. Next – anytime the menu’s come up there will be a live ad window in the corner, information bar, etc.

  30. “As long as I can keep them off via that Banner setting, we’re good.”

    Of course, given that the current banner ads were involuntarily pushed out to existing customers via firmware update with no advance notice, the only way you’ll be sure of being able to keep them (or even worse) off is to disconnect the TV from your LAN…

  31. Yeah, I’m probably going to disconnect it from my network. I have other network/streaming devices that can do just about everything it does… and better. It’s a shame since I probably paid a few bucks for these features I’ll never use, but that’s the price of ad prevention insurance.

  32. “I have other network/streaming devices that can do just about everything it does… and better.”

    Here’s the bizarre thing to me:

    I’m not in the market for a TV this season, but when I quickly look at the current product matrix for LED Samsung TV’s, I note that all of the TV’s without apps have a max of 2 HDMI inputs, while all of the TV’s with apps have a minimum of 3 HDMI inputs.

    And it didn’t used to be like that. Dumb panels didn’t necessarily ship with limitied I/O ports, even when Samsung was pushing smart TV’s.

    And it’s obviously backwards, since the TV’s built-in OTT platform is there to theoretically replace an HDMI input. The dumb sets actually need an extra HDMI input.

    If this is replicated across all the brands, I guess this means when I’m next in the market for a ‘dumb’ panel, I’ll have to buy a smart TV and not connect it just to get the I/O ports.

    The whole way the marketplace has started working here is bizarre.

  33. This is where I don’t always agree with the whole “Smart TV” thing.

    Sure it’s kind of neat to have all these extra features, but I would rather it come from a set top box. At least as technology advances and set top boxes get faster and upgraded with more memory, it’s easy to swap out the box and upgrade. How often do we really upgrade our TV’s? Not really that often as they are priced similar to big appliances (like how often would you upgrade your fridge or washer and drier, etc..)?

    If you buy a $1200 display, you don’t want it to be obsolete the next year because the applications processor in next year’s model is better and they added twice the RAM.

  34. “If you buy a $1200 display, you don’t want it to be obsolete the next year because the applications processor in next year’s model is better and they added twice the RAM.”

    Your thinking is all backwards. Just speed up your flat panel replacement cycle to a yearly basis, and all will be well.

    Your focus is far too centered on consumers rather than flat panel manufactures. Priorities, man, priorities.

  35. So I was at Best Buy looking at TVs, soundbars, and streaming devices (again, as I’m wont to do) and the clerk indicated I shouldn’t be shy and they’d price match even Amazon. A week later, I noticed Amazon had dropped the price on this Panasonic TV from $1248 to $1147 (versus the $1299 I had paid) and strolled into Best Buy with my Amazon app and television receipt. They refunded me the difference ($160) and I intend to turn off WiFi. And that hopefully concludes this particular story. Although I still probably should have sprung for the 65″. Ah well, the room layout isn’t ideal and maybe I’ll get a projector for the basement at some point. But onto the next mission – want some good audio without fishing wire. Hm. Wish Sonos was in the home theater business already.

  36. “and I intend to turn off WiFi”

    You intend to, but will you actually do so before they spring the next happy surprise on their valued customers? Most won’t, and maybe even you won’t.

    But I think a really smart TV could deal gracefully with a lack of electricity. Who knew greater lower Manhattan wasn’t within the pale of civilization? I mean, it’s not like we’re living out in the exurbs…

  37. Turned if off last night and brought down the Apple TV. Clutter on the TV stand versus clutter on the screen. Until I hand the aTV on the back of the TV, anyway.

  38. Hey Dave – have you gotten a chance to check out the new ST60 and S60 series that were released in 2013? They’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response, including a 5/5 from cnet. Not to mention the TC-P60ST60 has consistently been a top 5 smart tv seller on Amazon since it came out.

    The other thing worth noting is that Panasonic announced that it’s discontinuing it’s plasma TV production in 2014, so this might be the last chance to get a really high quality picture plasma TV. It still has a banner ad on start up though, but Dave @cnet says it can be turned off. I agree that it’s a really obnoxious move on Panasonic’s part to stuff banner adds in your face after you just dropped a rack or more on a new TV from them.

  39. Yep, I’m monitoring the prices… my thought is to get the ST60 60″ if/when prices drop for the family room, move my existing ST50 50″ to the bedroom, and move the 42″ bedroom plasma to the basement for projects and gaming. I hadn’t planned to do it this year, but given the end of Panasonic plasmas…

  40. Given today’s news about LG smart TV’s, my paranoia about never connecting smart TV’s to the LAN in this thread has played out well, no?

  41. Yep, it’s too bad the better panels come bundled with these “smart” features that track your every move. I assume the Panasonic is capable of similar.