Two More Ways Microsoft's in Control (or Wants to Be)

A patent for “control-based content pricing” that Microsoft received a few months ago is suddenly stirring a lot of interest as digital advertisers discover its potential to charge viewers dynamically for skipping commercials or for replaying program segments, such as big plays during a sports telecast.

Patent Number 8,065,696 would let a content provider (network operator, programmer or other) charge viewers an extra fee when they push a button on their remote control, which signals a “client device” (pronounced “set-top box”) to trigger a “valuation application” from a remote content server. In turn, that server pulls the appropriate on-demand media content (or skips over it) from the content storage host.

The patent’s illustration includes a schematic that starts with a familiar STB remote control, although conceivably the interaction could be delivered through any online interface device. Microsoft’s technologists filed the application just over eight years ago, but the flurry of interest has escalated since the issued patent drew greater visibility two weeks ago. It prompted an official statement from the Redmond behemoth:

“Microsoft regularly applies for and receives patents as part of its business practice,” said a company spokesperson. “Not all patents applied for or received will be incorporated into a Microsoft product.”

This one, however, seems destined to find a market (and conceivably some infringement protests). It fulfills the long-envisioned vow to give viewers the option to pay more to see a show without commercials or to request on-demand viewing of specific show segments. According to the Microsoft concept, pricing may be assessed as a debit or credit function; for example, viewers could get a credit to watch a commercial before receiving the video content - whether via a TV set or online video connection.

Separately, another Microsoft patent published this month offers an alternative peek into the company’s control and viewing agenda. This one involves a 3D “heads-up” viewing feature delivered via goggles or a helmet. Ostensibly, it’s for use with Xbox 360 videogames, but it’s easy to imagine that the goggles (actually more like enhanced sunglasses) could be used with mobile devices and other gizmos that increasingly interface with “wherever you’re looking” so that you can see a virtual image. The current specs envision a 16:9 aspect ratio image visualization as if it a 21-inch diagonal image about an arm’s length from your face.

Significantly, both Microsoft patents are part of Silicon Valley’s agenda in the living room and beyond. Google and Apple, among others, are also working on interactive goggles/glasses to enhance personal visualization, and especially the advertising/revenue opportunities of personalization. And their own advertising ideas go toward greater customization.
Hence, although it was surely coincidental, on March 20, within days of the Microsoft control-pricing patent brouhaha, the Patent Office issued to Google a patent for “advertising based on environmental conditions” - likely a mobile implementation, but potentially one with in-home characteristics.

Patent 8,138,930 matches “the environmental condition …based on a signal output from a sensor” to deliver an advertisement that matches the weather conditions.

That’s a lot of interactive advertising and control capability popping up within the same month as the cutbacks at Canoe Ventures. Now let’s see what actually comes to market — and how soon.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.