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Telly is looking to give away a half-million free TVs — but there’s a catch

Coming out of stealth mode, startup company Telly today announced its recently rumored plans to give away some 500,000 free 55-inch televisions by the end of the year. And these aren’t any old TV sets. They’re a combination smart TV/soundbar with a built-in secondary screen for things like additional information — and advertising.

It’s basically a TV with a perpetual ticker beneath it.

Telly looks to show scores and other game information — along with ads — while you're watching in real time.
Telly looks to show scores and other game information — along with ads — in real time while you’re watching TV. n/a

Telly was founded by Ilya Pozin, the former head of Pluto TV (which is now owned by Paramount). He also serves as the CEO and is promoting this new dual-screen billboard/television combination as … well, we’ll just let you read the quote from the press release:

“Telly is the biggest innovation in television since color,” Pozin said. “Telly is a revolutionary step forward for both consumers and advertisers.”

OK, then. Never mind the fact that ticker-like information has been around forever — whether it’s from old favorites like the cable news networks, or from streaming services themselves, like what YouTube TV or Apple TV+ are doing with live sports. And display advertising isn’t particularly new, either.

Pozin continued: “For too long, consumers have not been an equal part of the advertising value exchange. Companies are making billions of dollars from ads served on televisions, yet consumers have historically had to pay for both the TV and the content they watch. All of that changes today.”

Telly shows weather, stocks and live scores alongside display advertising.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Presumably, Pozin means consumers are getting theirs in this deal by getting a free television in exchange for all the ads Telly plans on selling against that prime real estate. And that leads us to a whole bunch of questions. We asked a good many to Telly in advance of this embargoed news announcement and mostly were met by unhelpful PR speak. But let’s break down what we know so far:

  • Reservations for the free TVs open today at FreeTelly.com. They’ll start shipping this summer.
  • We don’t know exactly what sort of timetable we’re looking at. Telly says it expects to have all half-million sets out the door by the end of the year, with “the bulk” in last three months.
  • For context, 500,000 TVs is still a drop in the bucket when it comes to that market. The major players all sold between 15 million and 20 million (give or take) in 2022. So we’re talking very low percentages even if Telly gets a half-million TVs into homes.
  • Telly wouldn’t say who the TV’s manufacturer is, only that it’s “the same manufacturers that produce may of the world’s top-of-line TV sets today.” Same goes for the panel — “one of the largest in the world.” There are no other specs except for the expected 4K resolution and HDR capability.
  • The TV itself can be wall-mounted, or stand on its own with feet.
  • Some rough math puts the Smart Screen around 10 inches tall.
  • A 4K streaming stick is included — and that’s all we know about that. And that’s all a bit confusing given that the TV has its own operating system. Why does it need a separate stick?
  • In any event, that stick will take up one of three HDMI inputs. There also are two USB inputs.
  • The rest of the hardware is suspiciously opaque. “Modern hardware.” “Powerful chipset.” “Modem connectivity” with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
  • The audio is described as a “premium five-driver integrated soundbar,” which really doesn’t tell us anything about anything.
  • The TV and Smart Screen has a native operating system — TellyOS — and it’s based on AOSP, the Android Open Source Project. Telly didn’t say whether it has access to Google apps — specifically Google Play — or mention any other sort of app store.
  • There’s a built-in HD camera for video calling, and Zoom is on board, Telly said. Fitness and interactive gaming are reportedly in the works, too. The camera has a physical shutter for privacy, and Telly says it doesn’t store any info from the camera on its servers.
  • The built-in microphone array supports a “Hey, Telly” wake-up command, and there’s a motion sensor to help with that, too.
  • The “Hey Telly” voice commands are being run by a third party. It doesn’t say who those companies are.

And now that things are public, we’re getting more details about how all of this is going to work, via the Telly terms of service, and the privacy policy. (Which were not provided to us in advance.) If you’re selected for one of the free TV’s, you’ll have to agree to keep it connected to Wi-Fi, and to “not use any software on your WiFi network that with [sic] advertising blocking capability.” You’ll also have to agree to “not make physical modifications to the Product or attach peripheral devices to the Product not expressly approved by Telly.” It doesn’t say what any of those devices might be.

If Telly detects that you’re not following those rules (and others — including using the Telly TV as your “primary television in your household” — you can be required to return the unit, or they’ll charge your credit card.

Read that again: You’ll have to give them your credit card information to collect your “free” TV. No word on what the cost of the unit would be.

As close as we get to specs on the new Telly set.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

And then there’s the matter of the ads themselves. Pizza Hut and car manufacturer Kia are seen in the promo images, but Telly was a little unclear about whether Kia was actually on board — “we’ve seen great response from the biggest brand advertisers like Kia from across the consumer landscape …” — or whether any other companies had yet to sign on.

A lot of this screams vaporware at worst, and something you absolutely should think twice about at best before simply accepting an advertising company’s hardware into your home.

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Phil Nickinson
Section Editor, Audio/Video
Phil spent the 2000s making newspapers with the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, the 2010s with Android Central and then the…
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