Microsoft Patent Encourages TV Viewers to Pay Attention

Microsoft’s MSN TV division (formerly “WebTV”) is looking at ways to encourage television viewers to actually pay attention to ads, at a time when creative ways to skip commercials are flourishing.

MSN TV hopes to make television programs – particularly commercials – rewarding to viewers, if United States patent #6,766,524, issued earlier this week, is any indication.

The patent gives the technology giant the right to a “system and method for encouraging viewers to watch television programs”. Part incentive program, part game show, the system would be designed to elicit responses from viewers at the end of TV programs or commercials, thereby qualifying them for rewards. Examples of rewards include an entry into a prize drawing or points, such as frequent flier miles.

The abstract from United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) cites an example of how the system could be used:

“… viewers are notified that they can receive frequent-flier miles for answering one or more simple questions at the conclusion of the commercial. To verify that the viewer paid attention to the commercial, the answer to the question may be based on the content of the commercial. A sponsor might ask, for example, that the viewer identify the name of the sponsor or the color of an announcer’s shirt. A correct answer indicates that the viewer watched the commercial, and that the viewer is therefore entitled to some reward.”

The abstract further suggests that viewers may verify that they watched a program by selecting an icon or pressing a button on a remote control.

The proposed system would be enabled by Internet terminals, or set-top boxes [define] that provide Web access via ordinary televisions – not unlike the services currently provided by MSN TV. With the addition of a remote control or wireless keyboard, the converged unit becomes interactive, allowing viewers to send and receive email, browse the Web, and, Microsoft hopes, respond to television programs and commercials.

Interactive TV (iTV) has been bandied about for a while, and the term has become a catch-all, including video on demand (VoD) [define], DVRs, [define], and electronic program guides (EPG) [define].

Microsoft’s proposed system would take television interactivity a step further, actually targeting viewers, initiating a dialogue, and encouraging a particular response.

The patented invention would not only benefit advertisers by encouraging viewers to pay attention to their expensive messages, there is also considerable potential for marketers looking to fill consumer databases. By offering rewards to viewers who answer survey questions, marketers can gain deeper understanding of programming demographics.

Initially filed on May 8, 2000 by inventors John R. Matheny and Daniel J. Zigmond, the patent also grants the ability to determine how many viewers would be rewarded per television receiver; implement reward notice triggers with time stamps; and solicit email responses from viewers.

This patent is just one of thousands that Microsoft or one of their divisions holds. The parent company was also recently granted patent #6,754,472 on June 22, 2004, allowing the method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body.

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