Peel’s new ads let you change the channel on your TV

A few years ago, streaming device makers like Roku started to include buttons for services like Netflix (S NFLX) right on their remote control in exchange for a little cash from those streaming providers. The TV remote control app Peel now wants to take that same idea to the next level, and offers TV networks a new ad format that actually allows viewers to tune into the advertised show, or schedule a DVR recording on the spot.

worldwars watch tilePeel is debuting its new ad format this coming Memorial Day weekend, with the History Channel advertising a mini-series called the World Wars through the app. Peel CEO Thiru Arunachalam told me that the ads will be presented as part of Peel’s personalized show recommendations, which already drive 60 to 70 percent of all tune-in activity on the app.

Peel has been working on its vision of a smart remote control since 2009. Initially, it actually tried to sell a dedicated IR blaster, but in recent years, Peel has successfully teamed up with mobile device makers to include IR control directly in a variety of handsets and tablets. One example for this is Samsung, which added the ability to control TVs and cable boxes to its Galaxy S4 and S5 smart phones, and bundled the Peel app under the WatchOn brand.

Peel now has 70 million users who activated the app, according to Arunachalam, and it drives more than three billion mobile remote commands every month. A third of Peel’s users are in the U.S., and Arunachalam said that the company tried a variety of other monetization strategies in the past, including trailers for shows that came with pre-roll ads. “I think we failed” with that approach, he said, because viewers didn’t actually want to watch trailers on their phone, but instead just tune into a show to watch it on their TV.

In other words: People unsurprisingly first and foremost want to use a remote control for remote control, which is why Peel is now concentrating on monetizing tune-ins. The company has been testing this approach with a few shows over the last few months, and Arunachalam said that engagement has been “off the charts.”

He suggested that for shows with smaller audiences, Peel may actually be able to move the needle and add significant additional audiences. Shows like American Idol probably wouldn’t feel the difference, he suggested, but a smaller cable property like the Conan show could get a significant bump. “We are getting to a place where the volume starts to make a difference,” he said.