Consumer electronics maker Philips has developed technology that could be used to prevent people from using set-top boxes to skip TV advertising, or to change channels to avoid the annoying pitches.
Developed by the European company's Briarcliff, N.Y., research labs, Philips is seeking a U.S. patent for the technology that would work off of the Multimedia Home Platform found in many interactive TVs worldwide. The patent was reported by NewScientist.com, the Web site of New Scientist magazine.
MHP is a Java-based system that enables software makers to build interactive TV applications that can run on any digital video recorder or set-top box supporting the platform for cable or Internet TV. The Digital Video Broadcasting Project, an industry consortium of broadcasters, manufacturers, network operators, software developers and regulatory agencies in 35 countries, designed the system.
Philips's technology would make it possible for the MHP to know when advertising is being displayed, so the system could disable a device's ability to skip the ad, a spokesman said Thursday. Philips's invention could also be used to prevent people from switching to another channel while advertising is playing.
Company spokesman Andre Manning in New York said Philips has no plans to use the technology in any of its products, but didn't close the door to the possibility in the future.
"There is a theoretical possibility, but there are no plans for this now," Manning said, adding that the technology is not used in any devices today.
If granted a patent, however, Philips could license the technology to other companies. Program producers, for example, could use it to give viewers the option of watching a movie with ads, or paying to watch an ad-free version.
"Media reports that the technology is aimed at blocking people from skipping advertising is just half of the truth," Manning said. "It could go either way. You could use it to skip ads or to have people stick to the advertising."
Technology that would make it difficult for people to avoid ads would help ease concerns among broadcasters and advertisers who worry that the growing use of ad-skipping devices could lower the effectiveness of marketing on TV.
Nearly half of U.S. households are expected to own DVRs in 2010, as cable and satellite companies heavily market them to consumers, according to JupiterResearch. The installed base is expected to increase to 55 million households from 7 million last year.
Nevertheless, in its patent filing, Philips acknowledges that use of the technology could cause problems with consumers.
"For a program broadcaster to be able to force viewers to watch advertisements may be greatly resented by the viewers," the patent said.