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Streaming madness! Hulu testing ads when you pause; UltraViolet shutting down; Prime sets record

By Brian Silliman

Don't get too comfortable with your new digital life of television and movies — two major players in the world of streaming are about to shake things up. Hulu announced plans to test a new kind of advertising on their streaming service today, and the popular digital download overseer UltraViolet is closing its doors for good. On the upside, Amazon Prime is doing really well. 

Jeremy Helfand, the Vice President and Head of Advertising Platforms for Hulu, released a blog post today that details the platform's plans for "a new ad experience." Claiming that viewers enjoy it when various brand advertise in "authentic and integrated ways," he goes on to announce something called "Pause Ad," a new advertising venture that will be both "delighting to viewers and effective for brands." 

What exactly does this mean? It means that instead of ads popping up in the middle of shows, they will pop up whenever you hit the pause button. Helfand claims that the approach has received a good response from viewers that they've tested it with — the new venture means that programs will play uninterrupted until the user interrupts them intentionally. We don't know what would happen if the user never hits the pause button— ads could pile up and then play for an hour inside the customer's head. That's an extreme Black Mirror-esque example and not at all true, but who knows. 

Helfand went into further detail with Variety, saying that the ads will not come up instantly, just in case someone wants to rewind or fast forward. The ads will “just have a few moments” to get their point across, and they will be somewhat see-through, so the viewer can still see where they've stopped their show in the background. Helfand likens it to a billboard, "where you need to get out an effective message out very succinctly in a short amount of time.” 

They are currently testing the system with ads for Coca-Cola and Charmin, and will debut the new protocols (for select content) in the second quarter of 2019. All of this, undoubtedly, is so advertisers can get their digital billboards in front of bingewatchers. What isn't brought up at all is how this new initiative will impact viewers who pay for the "commercial-free" option of Hulu — if people are paying for an ad-free experience, then they should be able to pause to their heart's content, with nary an animated Charmin bear in sight. Here's hoping that's the case here. 

At least the world of digital movies is safe, right? Not so fast. As we mentioned above, UltraViolet sent out an email today to all of it's users, and it tells them that their service will close down on July 31, 2019. The UltraViolet library is an umbrella site of sorts, where customers can redeem digital movie codes that come with Blu-rays and DVD's. The library requires another service (such as Vudu or Amazon) to actually view the digital product. 

Until July 31 it will be business as usual, and everything will still function. What users with an UltraViolet library should do in the meantime, however, is connect their library to a "retailer service" if they haven't already. If you use the library, you can find this option on the site when you log in. Once your library is connected with a retailer, your digital content should be safe. 

There will be more on this in the months to come — UV says to look for "further communications" from both them and various retailer services, as the way that these digital movies and shows are stored may be in for a shakeup. Movies Anywhere is another digital hub that connects disparate services like iTunes and Vudu together, so here's hoping that system will remain intact. In the meantime, expect the "UV" logo to vanish from new Blu-ray cases.

It's not all ads and closings, though — according to The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon Prime signed up a record number of customers last year. More users snapped up for the service in 2018 than in any other year, and the news came alongside the streamer's "service sales" leaping from $19.1 billion all the way to $27.7 billion — Mrs. Maisel must indeed be pretty marvelous. 

Original programming surely had something to do with all of the interest — original shows like The Man in the High Castle and Homecoming have helped put the service on the map, and the streamer's acquisition of The Expanse and the upcoming mini-series of Good Omens should only sweeten that particular streaming pot. 

So, all in all, enjoy your Amazon Prime...protect your digital library...and be careful with that pause button.