Curtains for Google? Apple patents inserting adverts into media at playback

Over the last decade Google has been top of the heap through two technologies: its page-ranking search technology and the ability to place relevant advertising right next to the content on pages all over the web. The patent awarded yesterday might hand a similar technology to Apple: the ability to insert relevant advertising into all other forms of media at the point of playback.

If Apple or someone else comes up with a better search algorithm to select the adverts that appear during podcasts, movies and radio shows, Google might face some serious competition.

In fact many people might welcome the intrusion of advertising into digital media – if it means that they get that media for free.

We have to pay for our media one way or another: movie tickets, DVDs, official downloads, TV licenses and Pay TV are obvious payment points. Advertising, PR and sponsorship are less obvious.

One day we’ll be able to live by our preferences – we’ll be able to pay for our media directly and avoid messages from corporations, governments and individuals. On the other hand, we might want to have other people pay for our media:


An imaginary ‘media payment preferences’ control.

It seems as if Apple have been granted a patent that will bring this customisation a little closer. It is in the nature of patents that they are framed to cover as many possible future inventions as possible. They sometimes need to hide their true nature:

1. A method for presenting media by a media playback device, the method comprising: receiving a playback request to play a media group, the media group including a plurality of media items; determining whether auxiliary media is also to be played back; playing back media items from the media group; and playing the auxiliary media if the determining data determined that the auxiliary media is also to be played back.

It may be that patent 612029 granted to Apple today patents the ability to incorporate advertising into media content on playback. This means that every time you listen to a piece of music, a podcast, watch TV show or movie, a different advertisement appears:

In one implementation, presentation of a media group can involve not only presentation of media items of the media group but also presentation of auxiliary media. Another aspect pertains to how and when auxiliary media data is to be presented (e.g., played) by an electronic device. Another aspect pertains to updating or refreshing auxiliary media data. Still another aspect pertains to restricting presentation of primary media by an electronic device unless auxiliary data is also presented.

(my emphasis)

The patent gives examples of ‘a media group’ as any of the content that can be played on an iPod. It implies that a variable amount of content is automatically stored on a device and a method for choosing which media is played as ‘auxiliary media’ before, during or after playing a media group:

the method further comprises:storing a plurality of auxiliary media items on the media playback device; and determining one or more of the auxiliary media items that are to be played by the playing of the auxiliary media.

Here is where advertising is mentioned:

20. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the media items are selected from the group consisting of: songs, audiobooks, podcasts, and videos.

21. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the auxiliary media is advertising content.

In one example, the auxiliary media data can pertain to advertising. Advertising information can pertain to specific products, services, shows or events. When advertising is able to be refreshed or updated, improved advertising results can be achieved.

A functional flow diagram showing \'Present Playback Denied\' message\'
A functional flow diagram from the patent showing a ‘Present Playback Denied’ message if the secondary media (advertising) playback is disabled.

In one embodiment, since presentation of auxiliary data can be ensured, the cost to the user for an electronic device can be lowered. For example, the ability for advertisements or news to generate revenue can be used to offset the cost for the electronic device. For example, the presentation of auxiliary data can be used to subsidize the cost for the electronic device.

Different aspects, embodiments or implementations of the invention may yield one or more of the following advantages. One advantage is that a media playback device can present not only media items but also auxiliary media. The auxiliary data can be automatically provided and integrated (e.g., interspersed) with playback of media items. The auxiliary media can be media such as advertisements or news. For example, advertisements can be audio or video (i.e., multimedia) commercials or promotional segments, and news can pertain to national news headlines, sports highlights, international news, local news, etc. Another advantage is that auxiliary data can be automatically delivered to a media playback device so as to remain current and effective. Still another advantage is that the manner by which auxiliary media is interjected in playback of media can be controllable, such as by: user selections, user preferences, user actions, media item content providers, auxiliary media content providers, online media store, or media playback device manufacturers. Yet still another advantage is that a media playback device can require playback of auxiliary media in order to playback media items.

In a patent of over 10,000 words, the letters ‘advert’ are only used 14 times, but I think this is a major part of this patent.

This means that advertising-supported media will have the option to incorporate different advertising each time that it is played on a device (iPod, iPhone, TV, etc.). The advertising will be streamed automatically if a wireless connection is available. Previous advertising will be stored on the device so that it can be played if there is no connection to the internet.

Keeping the ads fresh
A functional flow diagram from the patent showing how secondary media data can be updated automatically.

The example I usually give is when we use media content to support our day-to-day conversations. If I mention a piece of music, it is very handy to have my iPod with me – I can use it to play back the specific track I’m talking about. I’d like to do that with TV shows and movies.

Imagine if someone I’m chatting with refers to a specific scene in an episode of Friends. It would be great to support that part of the conversation by viewing that scene. Using a 1TB iPod, I could hold almost any piece of music I could think of. However it will take a while before every movie or TV show I can think of will be storable on a single device.

Soon all media will available to us wirelessly. We’ll be able to pick any nearby surface and stream any media to it. How will we pay for this? It depends on the media. If you are a fan, you could buy the right to watch or listen to the media for the rest of your life (the equivalent of buying a DVD). On the other hand, if you want to see that media a single time, you probably won’t mind a short advertising message playing for a few seconds before or during the film or TV show (the equivalent of commercial TV).

Maybe advertising will be a lot less irritating when we have the option to pay for it not to be shown to us. I wonder if this sort of thing should be patented. It seems a little obvious…

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3 comments
  1. ash said:

    Oh, Google isn’t going to be happy about this patent.

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