The advert enforcer

by Volker Weber

If a new idea from Philips catches on, the company may not be very popular with TV viewers. The company's labs in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, has been cooking up a way to stop people changing channels to avoid adverts or fast forwarding through ads they have recorded along with their target programme.

vowe says: Fcuking the customer is not good for your business. File under "stupid ideas". If your business model does not work any more, invent a better one.

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[via /.]


Soon, it will pin your eyelids back and strap you to the chair. All commercials will be indicated to the device by playing "Ludwig Van" in the background. The first commercial will be..... "Got Milk?"


Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-19

@Andrew: Did you watch too much Clock Orange lately?

I think that is an excellent idea. Imagine the possibilities. You could hack the signal and make sure people couldn't switch away from your government favorite message (would be a big hit here) or you do a double hack: make the TV switch channel to e.g. an adult program and then disable the program switching.

There are probably more useful applications once the blocking signal has been decoded by interested 3rd parties

:-) stw

Stephan H. Wissel, 2006-04-19

@Stephan -- All programs are equal. Some are simply more equal than others.

All they're really talking about here is allowing you to time shift content without the advantage of fast forwarding what's paying for the content. Oddly, I'm not sure I'm against it. When I watch NBC at no specific cost to me, I'm agreeing to an implicit contract that allows them to show me commercial advertisements. The ads pay for the shows, and for 50 years or so we've been happy with that. Time shifting via dvr's doesn't inherently break that -- but fast forwarding or skipping commercials does. I have no right to NBC's content for free. The ads are the price NBC asks. I can agree to that price or not.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-19

Andrew, you are somewhat right, but somewhat wrong at the same time. Yes, the ads pay for the content and so it's an implicit contract in a way. But then: recording to VCR and fast forwarding has always been ok and fine with everybody. Event stopping the VCR during commercials has been automated to a certain extent (even though not really reliable). So maybe the implicit contract had a clause so far, that you're only forced to view the commercial if you want the content in real-time while it's being aired. If you agree to a delay, you may skip the commercial.

And no matter what, just the argument that it has been a certain way since 50 years is in no way a legitimate reason for rejecting a change. As vowe just said somewhere else on this site: If your business model doesn't work anymore, invent a new one. If plain commercials don't work anymore, because customers/viewers aren't willing to watch them anymore, well, then the networks have to come up with a different way of funding themselves. Be it pay-per-view, be it product-placement, be it what-have-you. Multiple ideas are in place already, none of them is mature yet, none of them will be the final answer. But they will compete with what's been available so far and among each other. And the customers/viewers will have a big say in what's going to be successful (hopefully).

Ragnar Schierholz, 2006-04-19

@Ragnar -- your first point sounds like 'weasel words' to me. You've invented a reason why the behavior you (and I) like is ok. That's self justification based on getting away with something. The truth is, they're doing exactly what you say -- inventing a new business model. Its a subtly different one in that it adds a bit of enforcement to their side of the contract. Like any contract, you retain the option not to sign.

IMO, this is actually an important step forward in something I personally can't have soon enough. That is, shows which are freely available from broadcaster's sites immediately following their airtime. iTunes is charging $2.00 for shows from some broadcast outlets w/o commercials. IMO this is about $1.00 too much. This new functionality would allow a $1/show non-commercial version and a free commercial version to easily coexist.

As far as a patent -- I doubt it will hold up. There is prior art and an RFC on this kind of flag going back to 1995 I believe.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-19

@Andrew so you do also believe that nobody at current does switch the channel when ads start to run? Or go to the bathroom? Or do a quick check on email? Or just look away?

We do skip them today already. We fast forward them with switching to other channels. From that point of view, it should be make sure I did not go out of the room either.

There is a simple way to actually make it pay for the channel: Get interesteing advertisement. Nearly nobody I have met so far is not interested in good advertisement, and downloading good commercials is a favorite sport.

It is how I watch advertisement, as I don't watch television at all. I go and download those clips, enjoy them and from time to time, i even watch them again.

Building a TV which does prevent me from doing what I always wanted to do or did? Well. The buyers will speak on that. And if the channels try to start a signal which makes sure only "play with advertisement" TV can receive their program? Then we will find new media on the net.

Nicole Simon, 2006-04-19

I think the important part here is the imposed restriction of the user, not wether it is good for business or not.

Unless all hardware makers in the whole world agree, I don't see this catching on. You would just buy another device that would let you do what you want.

Alex Boschmans, 2006-04-19

@Andrew: What makes a business model? One if not the most important aspect is the source of revenue streams. Therefore, this is not the invention of a new business model, but rather the attempt to protect an old one forcefully. And this force is targeted against the customer. This "business model" doesn't try to win the customer by creating greater value than others but by locking him in. This will only drive the customer away as soon as he gets the chance. Which, as you say, he will always have sooner or later: The option not to sign.

@Nicole: No technology will really be able to prevent you from going to the bathroom or look away during ads, but this one tries to prevent you from moving on with what you are actually wanting to do: watch the show/movie/whatever-content. And your suggested "simple" way is actually not that simple. The networks hardly have an influence on what the buyer of commercial time is actually broadcasting. And in the current market situation they are not in the position to pick their commercial time customers carefully. In German TV where it is strictly regulated how much airtime can be dedicated to commercials at each network, I start to see an increase of program previews being shown. I guess this is, because they are cheaper to produce than real content, but still add to the content account in the commercial-quota.

@Alex: This is the same identical question. Imposing restrictions on the customer by definition is bad business.

Ragnar Schierholz, 2006-04-19

I am strictly against it. The control of information appliances belongs into the hands of the user and nobody else.

Philipp Sury, 2006-04-19

The control of content belongs to its creator, the license under which it is shared is subject to an agreement between the producer and consumer. The consumer can decide not to pay the price.

The only change here, is that the price now includes limitations on the use of the product. It changes the contract, to be sure. The consumer must re-evaluate the effectiveness and usefullness in this new light before agreeing to the transaction.

If I build desks, they are not your desks, they are my desks. If I do not price it in a way you are willing to use, don't buy it.

The issue with DRM is about if by buying my desk you have a right to reduce the value in the marketplace of the rest of the desks I'm building.

In the case of music, the model for DRM is not one of purchase, but one of lease. Lets start by calling it lease and not purchase.

Declarations that somehow you OWN content just because its music or television is just self justification.

The challenge for DRM is how to enforce it in a way that isn't too onerous for the consumer, resulting in a "price" that is unreasonably high and thus won't get purchased.

So far, iTunes T.V. shows are in that category for me. The quality/cost/license equation is not favorable enough for me to spend my $2 on them. That doesn't make them wrong or bad, it just means they won't sell their product to me.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-19

Andrew, just assume for a second, that not all countries have the same laws as the United States. They may even have different cultures.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-19

You're absolutely right, Volker, but I'm speaking morally if not legally. If I create something, I own it. I have the moral right to set the terms of its use along with its price. The only exception I can think of would be in the case of something inherently necessary to the safety of the society -- in that case concepts like 'emminent domain" may have value.

Drug companies fall into this latter example, and on top of that, drug companies cannot succeed without testing and participation by society as a whole. IMO that gives society as a whole a stake in the ownership.

I just can't put pop music or tv shows into the realm of things which have enough importance to society as to be worth degrading ownership rights of the producer.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-19

You are taking a very long shot.

The network pays the producer. The advertiser pays the network. The viewer pays the producer of goods who hires the advertiser. The viewer is already paying. He has no obligation to view the ad.

Since he no longer even wants to see the ad, the business model is broken. Forcing it on the viewer does not cure that.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-19

As long as enough people are willing to sit through the ad -- forced or otherwise -- in order to view the content, the business model is not broken. If people get the content and never see the ad, the value of the ad drops, and the production costs of the show cannot be as easily born. THAT is the broken model.

This of course precludes the obvious issue that the shows cost way too much to produce and generate way too much revenue for the actors and producers in a field where willing talent is simply lined up around the block to take the job for less money.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

As long as enough people are willing to sit through the ad -- forced or otherwise ...

Sounds like the coalition of the willing. Forced willing. If you believe this, we cannot agree.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

Can anybody tell me why the volume goes up during commercial breaks on german TV? That's the best way to make sure everybody jumps for the remote... Just by lowering the volume they could probably get 50% of all viewers to not switch channels.

Frank Koehntopp, 2006-04-20

Volker, your use of the word forced in a way that indicates coersion isn't something I can accept. You're not FORCED to watch at all. They're offering an bit of mindless entertainment in return for you watching the commercials. They're now adding a mechanism to prevent you from breaking the deal as they see it. The choice remains yours. Watch the show with commercials, or don't watch the show.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

Andrew, we are talking about the business model. THAT is broken.

People do not want to watch the commercials anymore. Forcing them does not repair the model.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

Volker, the model is only broken if it fails to make money. If it makes money, it is by defintion a successful business model. If forcing you to watch commercials does not lead you to spurn the service being provided, then the provider can sell the ad space and the model is by definition a success. It makes money, and is thus successful. If the methodology annoys consumers enough that they don't watch the content with its mandatory commercials, than it will fail to make money and is thus broken.

A business model can be a success even if we do not like it, so long as there is no preferred alternatived to that model and the product provided has sufficient demand that consumers will still participate in the transaction.

This particular model has not yet proven to be either broken or not-broken as it seems to be untested in any kind of large scale.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

Andrew, the commercials are not mandatory, unless you force the consumer to watch them.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

Some interesting facts:

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has NEVER had any commercials...ever.

It is funding by a Television License

It is illegal to own a TV, VCR or any other form of analog or digital TV tuner without a license.

The license fee, around ¢10/mth, pays for all the BBC TV & Radio channels.

The BBC regularly has the highest viewing figures in the UK, particularly for comedy, drama and news.

It never makes a profit.

Ben Rose, 2006-04-20

Volker, the commercials are mandatory if the producer selling you the content makes them part of the price. In this case, they are. You pay it or you don't. There's no moral high ground or self justified reason why you can break that deal. They offer the deal, you take it or don't take it. Period.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

Andrew, I have no contract with the network. You may, I don't.

And as I explained before, the ads are not mandatory. You can watch them or you don't. It does not matter. GOTO 20066

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

Another interesting fact:

Movies and other videos like TV shows are available to buy or rent on VHS/DVD.

Blockbuster and other rental outlets get their copies very cheaply from distributors.

The rental copies carry extra commercials at the front of the tape.

Since the invent of DVD (by Philips) the adverts have been put of the rental only DVDs. You cannot skip the adverts/trailers on the DVD. The consumer is locked in.

People used to rent a lot of tapes, now the market is buying DVDs. DVD sales are much higher than tapes. People rent DVDs less than they rented tapes.

Has the forced advertising driven consumers to buy the DVDs instead of renting them?

Ben Rose, 2006-04-20

Volker, of course you have a contract with the producer of content. You're upset because the rules changed. The old contract is going out the window in this case, and they're trying out a new one. You can agree to its terms or not. It sounds like you don't. The result, you can't watch their content.

The old contract was ambiguous. The produces clearly believed you had the obligation to sit through the commercials but didn't and couldn't enforce that. The consumer didn't in the least bit feel obligated to watch them and skipped them whenever possible.

The new contract is much less ambiguous in a way you (and I) find less favorable. The decision to be made remains, however, to go along with it or not view the content. You and I have no right to the content on whatever terms we dictate other than dictating those terms through being willing to pay the purchase price or not.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

@Ben -- the system used by the BBC through taxes means I cannot subscribe to a sat. service and avoid BBC content to avoid their tax. If I have 10 tv's and you have 1 -- even if only 1 of mine ever watches BBC, I must pay ten times the tax you do. How is this a more fair system than one in which I pay for my content by watching commercials or pay per show for content without commercials?

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

Andrew, GOTO 20062.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

@Andrew - Sorry you lost me at the 10 TVs.

To clarify, the TV license covers us for every television in the can have 1 or 1 million, but you must have a single license registered to that street address.

That clear up your concern?

Ben Rose, 2006-04-20

@Volker -- Re 20062 -- its not making your point. Consider:

By what path, speaking morally or legally, do you claim that you at any time took ownership of the content you want to watch?

If you do own it, why can't you then copy it and sell the tape? Why can't you make it internet downloadable? Why can't you make your own version of it?

The answer is that there is no legal or moral time -- your culture or mine -- which provides a valid path to you owning this content. You don't unless its given to you with no rights reserved. Show me where that has happened.

Since you thus do not own the content, anything you do with it is subject to the stipulations of the owner. In this case, the producer of the show or the network, or whatever.

All else is just wrangling to try to justify doing what you want. I'm all for doing what you want -- I'm even in favor of hacking the schema and removing the commercials. What I'm not in favor of is pretending that to do so is either morally or legally justified. Its not. Its just doing what you want.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

Andrew, please explain my obligations under german law. Before you do that, you may want to check this out.

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

At present you have no obligations to watch the commercials. They have no obligation to show you their content. Both statements are true.

Since this is not going to be transmitted television, it will be downloaded content and purchased DVD's, I don't see how that applies at all.

Andrew Pollack, 2006-04-20

Both statements are true.

Andrew, this is getting funnier with every attempt. You clearly did not check or at least did not understand the last link I gave you. Also, you may want to reread the original post:

way to stop people changing channels to avoid adverts

Volker Weber, 2006-04-20

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