Amazon Fire TV goes full Roku and starts testing full-screen ads on screensavers

Ambient art on Fire TV
(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon's Fire TV platform is apparently working on new ways to annoy you. According to Cord Cutter News, viewers are now seeing long adverts that kick in where their screensaver usually would, and they're staying on screen for between 30 seconds and a minute. 

The adverts don't appear to be rolling out to every Fire TV device so far, so while the site says they're appearing on Fire TV products made from 2016 onwards (which would include the likes of Fire TV Stick 4K Max and the Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED), this could be an experiment rather than a roll-out. However, we've already seen Roku increase the ads on its platform both on the home screen and likely when you pause a game, so it'll be a surprise if Amazon doesn't roll them out to everyone.

The new ad format follows on from the introduction of full-screen ads that would play as soon as the TV was turned on, a feature that Amazon has since rolled back slightly by making the ads less intrusive and by enabling you to turn them off in Settings. So it's likely that you'll be able to turn off the new screensaver ads too, although Amazon is no doubt banking on most people leaving it on.

Opinion: ads aren't bad, but they can be added badly

Amazon famously sells things at extremely low price in order to make money in the longer term: from its many years of racking up huge losses – Amazon didn't have a profitable year until 2003 – to today's ad-subsidized Kindles, Echos and Fire TVs, Amazon takes a financial hit in order to play a longer game. And with Fire TV, that longer game includes making as much money as possible from ads. Amazon now reportedly makes more money from ads than it does from subscription fees.

That's why it now asks Prime Video subscribers to pay extra in order to keep the ad-free experience they were used to, it's why it's been adding more ad formats to Fire TV, and it's why ads are now appearing in screensaver mode on at least some TVs. But I think there's a danger here that Amazon gets the balance wrong as it finds ever more creative ways to add advertising to the platform: between the home page ads and the screensaver ads and the in-show ads, Fire TV is becoming a very ad-heavy platform.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with advertising; it's the price we pay in order to get things for free or for less money, whether that's Bosch: Legacy on Freevee or articles like this one. But platform advertising is more controversial, especially if as here it's added after you've already purchased the product. That can fundamentally change how a device works, and not for the better: for example when my Amazon Echo speakers started responding to my request for the weather forecast by offering to tell me about great deals from businesses in my area, I sold my speakers.

The danger is that Amazon's long-term payoffs won't actually arrive if people choose to buy a different option from among the best TVs next time that promises them fewer ads.

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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.