Ad-Skipping Controls: Philips Has It Right

Philips, the Dutch electronics firm, has pioneered a lot more digital technology that we take for granted than you may think. It recently filed a patent application relating to control over ad skipping. Predictably, it’s the source of considerable discussion.

I think Philips has it right. TV programmers ought to be able to force viewers to watch commercials. And as the patent makes clear, consumers ought to be able to pay for the option to watch without commercial interruption.

Have I cracked? Not at all. We have an expression in Texas: “Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant.” It fits this case. All Philips is really saying is, “Give consumers the same choice on TV as they’ve had online for 10 years: free online service with ads or for-pay without ads. They’ll tell you what they want to watch and what they don’t. Likewise, they’ll tell you what they are willing to pay for and what they aren’t.”

Without true consumer choice, all marketers can expect are more of the same reassurances and generalizations about the current model’s effectiveness, none of which actually makes things work better. To be fair, consumers do have a choice: If they really object to ads, they can turn off the TV. Or, they can watch each and every ad while occasionally grabbing another beer from the fridge, which even Jaime Kellner acknowledges is OK. Understand the chance of either of these extremes happening en masse is the about the same as ice fishing surpassing the limbo in popularity among Jamaicans.

Philips is offering a viable choice and, in doing so, a way forward.

All the noise goes away with true choice and content control. I can either get free TV and watch the shows I want with ads, or I can pay for commercial-free content. This second choice is a critical part of Philips’ patent. Can you image the backlash if you could no longer skip forward or even change channels without the option to pay for commercial-free content? My advice in that case is to invest in both TV manufacturers and shoe stores: there will be a need for replacements of both as size 12 boots and TV sets meet in violent collisions in living rooms across the country.

While we’re at it, let’s make all content available à la carte, as it is online. Instead of “America’s Top 750” or “The Viacom Bundle,” how about just a menu with two prices for each show: with and without commercials.? Sure, a lot a TV “talent” would go back to waiting to be discovered, but so what? My content bill probably wouldn’t change all that much. I pay a couple hundred bucks or so each month for the multi-hundred channel selection of video and audio available in our home. I’ve got to believe we could get “The Daily Show,” SPEED, Link TV, OLN, Free Speech TV, Nickelodeon, and PBS, plus a couple of movies and a few satellite radio channels, without commercials for the same money. Using Slingbox along with TiVo, I could then watch that content from the comfort of my Heavenly Bed while traveling. How nice would that be? Pretty nice. Relaxing, even.

What would it mean for marketers? First, they’d know how many people want to be interrupted with ads, and they’d have those people’s permission to do so. They’d also know how many people would rather be left alone to do their own research and could, therefore, more easily justify spending in alternate channels. Online, through e-marketing efforts, they could service many of these consumers. They could use TiVo’s Showcase or FilmLoop’s photocasting platform, or they could offer on-demand content through Maven. Look at the new Land Rover “Go Beyond” series, released online as a further example of what savvy e-marketers are doing. Far from losing TV, marketers with a non-interruptive online presence would gain powerful, measurable marketing channels.

My hat’s off to Philips. Bring this to market, make sure every household has it, and let choice reign. The purveyors of content people choose to see deserve to get paid for what they provide, either by advertisers or directly by consumers. Advertisers deserve reassurance that people actually watch their commercials if those people agreed to do so in exchange for free TV. Consumers, one way or the other, are increasingly taking control over what they watch and under what terms. The process Philips has introduced is simply the next step in what’s been brewing for quite a while.

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