All those digital devices we surround ourselves with to watch TV and videos or listen to music may soon be watching and listening to us, gleaning information about what we’re doing to relay back to advertisers. It’s not far-fetched.
Verizon is just the latest digital provider to seek a patent on the kind of technology that can make it happen. Verizon wants to use the digital video recorders sitting in many homes to film and record viewers so it can send targeted ads to their TVs.
Using infrared cameras and microphones on the DVR, Verizon could watch and listen in on anyone within what it calls in the patent application a “detection zone.” If a couple is sitting on a couch in said zone and is arguing — or “cuddling,” as the patent application speculates — then some kind of advertising can be directed to them related to, say, marriage counseling. Or in the latter instance, contraception.
If someone in the detection zone — about the size of a small living room, as sketched in the patent application — is exercising, eating, laughing, singing, or playing a musical instrument, Verizon would know it. Sensors could also determine what type of pets or inanimate objects are in the room.
"If detection facility detects that a user is playing with a dog, advertising facility may select an advertisement associated with dogs (e.g., a dog food commercial, a flea treatment commercial, etc.)," Verizon wrote in the patent application filed in May 2011 but not published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office until Thursday. The application was dug up by FierceCable.
Other digital providers in the same patent arena include Intel, Google, and Comcast. Patents, of course, are the precursors to practical products that can be introduced in consumer markets.
Intel is looking at a cable set-top that would rely on facial-recognition technology to target advertising to viewers, Reuters reported this summer. It would be able to use facial-recognition technology to determine the gender of a viewer, or whether adults or children are viewing content.
Google has filed a patent for an interactive TV that includes "an image capture device (e.g., digital camera, video recorder, etc.) which can be used to measure how many viewers are watching or listening to a broadcast," according to its application.
Comcast is experimenting with different camera technologies built into devices so it can know who’s in a given area so that when they turn on a cable box, it recognizes them and pulls up shows already in their profile or makes recommendations. The system would distinguish between different members of a household by recognizing body forms. According to the patent, the main point of the system is to identify audio within a TV broadcast and compare it to the appropriate reference material for identification. After that, it aggregates "personalized information related to the media broadcast."
This type of monitoring is the “holy grail,” a Comcast executive told Gigacom, because it could help serve up specifically tailored ads.
FierceCable reported Verizon’s targeted advertising system is one of the innovations that the digital provider could potentially develop through a joint innovation lab it has created with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. The innovation lab, which is focused on developing advanced products that take advantage of cable programming and the Verizon Wireless platform and devices, was formed after Comcast and other major providers agreed to sell digital spectrum to Verizon last year.
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