Hulu, Max and Peacock are introducing a 'pause ads' feature – and I'm not a fan

An example of a pause ad on Hulu
(Image credit: Disney Advertising)

It seems so long ago that one of the key reasons to move to the best streaming services was to escape ads. Now they're part of the streaming landscape and they're becoming an even bigger part of it. Fresh from launching ad-supported tiers, streamers such as Prime Video are reportedly going to start putting ads in premium subscribers' feeds unless they pay extra

And now a new kind of ad is here too: the pause ad. As the name suggests, it's an ad that pops up when you pause the movie or show (they also reportedly don't show up every time you pause). It's a type of ad feature that's similar to what Netflix started testing back in 2018 to recommend related shows or movies.  

You may have seen pause ads on Hulu already too, as they're increasingly becoming part of many streamers' advertising toolkits. As Variety reports, they've been appearing more frequently on Hulu since July but they've been on Peacock since launch and on Max since 2022, so it seems inevitable that Netflix and Amazon will follow suit.

Why are streamers serving up pause ads?

The short answer is money, and the long answer is also money. The appeal to advertisers is that while nobody particularly wants advertising, pause ads are less intrusive than other formats. If you pause a program or movie, the ad appears; unpause it and it goes away again. And if you're pausing for a bathroom break or to stock up on Cheetos then it's hardly interrupting your evening in the way some of the automatically interjected ads on FAST (Free Ad-Supported TV) channels often do. 

But it's a difficult line for streamers to walk, especially when it comes to customers who are paying for the service. Speaking to Variety, Kara Manatt of media and advertising group Magna said that "we found in research that [customers] may actually change their behavior because of this. They may actually cancel their streaming service".

The streamers, for now at least, are taking it easy. Warners won't serve up more than one pause ad "per user per session", Variety says, and other streamers are keen to ensure that the adverts are useful rather than irritating – although of course that's a judgement call that's likely to differ depending on whether you're a streaming service employee or a streaming service subscriber. 

If you'd really rather not see pause ads, there is a solution: violence and nudity. We don't mean by you, but on screen. According to the report, Max for one "won't use pause ads when viewers are watching something for mature audiences" because advertisers don't want to be associated with violence or nudity – so if you stream nothing but Naked Attraction and From Dusk Till Dawn you should be fine.

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.