Microsoft Patents TV That Watches Back, Counts Heads, Charges Admission

from the the-kinect-as-box-office/toll-booth dept

Here's a scenario for you: at some point in the the near future, you sit down in front of your Xbox 720/960/1080 and queue up a little video-on-demand from the Live Arcade selection of movies. You select a film from the menu and, before you can press the “Play” button, you are greeted with another menu giving you several price points, depending on how many people will be watching.

It sounds ridiculous, but Microsoft has applied for a patent covering a method that could make this a reality. Geekwire (via Slashdot) has the details on a patent application utilizing the Kinect (or its successor) to count noses for content providers.

The patent application, filed under the heading “Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User,” proposes to use cameras and sensors like those in the Xbox 360 Kinect controller to monitor, count and in some cases identify the people in a room watching television, movies and other content. The filing refers to the technology as a “consumer detector.”

In one scenario, the system would then charge for the television show or movie based on the number of viewers in the room. Or, if the number of viewers exceeds the limits laid out by a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased.

While it's a little early in the process to decide whether this is actually a pursuit Microsoft deems worthy of implementing or just some brainstorming put on paper, there's no denying that media companies and content providers would certainly not mind at all if an enterprising group could create something that would allow them to monetize every eyeball in the house.
 

While Kinect hackers have managed to crank out some very interesting uses of the body-tracking technology, it looks as though the in-house team has something a bit more devious up its collective sleeve. With this in place, PPV events could move to the Xbox to get the most bang for their buck during prize fights and MMA bouts. Movies rented through XBLA (Xbox Live Arcade) could rake in even more money by charging for each additional set of eyeballs, leading to Xbox owners treating their own living rooms like drive-ins and sneaking in additional viewers through piles of coats lying strategically on the floor.

Every use may not be as mercenary as the above scenario, however. The Kinect “Consumer Detector” could also prevent younger (or at least, shorter) eyeballs from being sullied by R-rated movies or, god forbid, porn.

The system could also take into account the age of viewers, limiting playback of mature content to adults, for example. This patent application doesn’t explain how that would work, but a separate Microsoft patent application last year described a system for using sensors to estimate age based on the proportions of their body.

Unfortunately, this will prevent pornstar midgets from viewing porn, but please, let's think of the children, each of whom represents a potential income stream.

The intro paragraph of the application lends itself to use for many different royalty collecting entities. In addition to the mentioned Pay Per View/Video-on-Demand possibilities, there's also performance rights organizations to be considered, because once you start talking licenses, they're never far behind.

A method of distributing content to a user, comprising: providing a selection of content available to the user; for each content, presenting a licensing option comprising associating a performance of the content with an individual user's consumption of the content at a display device; receiving a selection of one of the content and a license display option for said content; presenting the content to the display device if a number of user performances allowed for the content is equal to or less than the license option for which the selection is received; and monitoring the presentation of the content at the device to determine the number of users consuming the content during the performance.

This description, along with the methods listed below it in the filing, seem to indicate that your fully-paid and relatively peaceful viewing of a movie or prize fight could come to an instant halt and ask you to feed the meter any time someone new walks into the room. Or better yet, the new system could push already-strained friendships to the limit. “Oh, hey. I'd invite you in but I'm only got enough money for five people. Sorry, man. Maybe next time.” AWKWARD.

But beyond the fact that this patent, if granted and implemented, will create a whole new level of rent-seeking across a wide swath of the “creative industries,” there's also privacy issues that need to be addressed. Does any company, whether it's Microsoft or any of the upstream content providers, have the right to basically scan your living room for signs of life simply because they're the one licensing the content? For that matter, is it any of their business how many people you have watching a movie or listening to music in your private residence? It certainly never has been before, but with the advent of digital distribution (and its accompanying “licenses”), the attempts to wring every last dollar out of every bit of content will continue.

Will “buying for five but watching for ten” become the new “piracy?” Pursuing this angle isn't going to make Microsoft any friends, at least not in terms of customers. Consumers' first reaction would probably be to toss the “Consumer Detector,” in which case it's not difficult to imagine it becoming a mandatory piece of equipment for certain applications. After that, for consumers concerned about this, their only option would be to toss the Xbox. I don't think Microsoft has enough confidence in the future of its console line to take that chance.

Or maybe it's got nothing to do with the console. Maybe it's some groundwork for the new “Cloud TV” service Microsoft inadvertently announced via a job posting.

 Microsoft is known for revealing additional product details in job postings, but a new round of listings has unveiled a brand new TV service. Described as a “Cloud-based TV platform,” Microsoft is looking to hire engineers to build client applications for the service. LiveSide spotted several job postings related to Cloud TV recently that tempt job candidates to “get in on the ground floor of an ambitious new project.”

Combining this with the above patent opens up the possibility that Microsoft could be crafting the content delivery system that watches you back, delivering headcounts to media companies and cutting off customers who violate the license terms by exceeding the limits declared by the copyright holder. At this point, the whole setup is full of easily exploitable holes. The odds of this coming to market are extremely low, if for no other reason than the potential backlash against any company involved. But it's not impossible, either. There are many rent-seekers in the content market and many of them have never shied away from a new source of income just because it might be unpopular. (At least, not at first. Many have walked back ideas due to public outcry, but they rarely seem to discard bad ideas before trying to implement them first.) Microsoft doesn't seem to share the same enthusiasm for angering the public to make incremental gains, but its design team has crafted a handy backdoor for a whole new level of IP enforcement—one that will only widen the gap between what consumers feel are acceptable limitations and what the content industries believe they should be.

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Companies: microsoft

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Comments on “Microsoft Patents TV That Watches Back, Counts Heads, Charges Admission”

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103 Comments
fogbugzd (profile) says:

I would like to write more, but I am busy writing up my patent for a cardboard costume that makes viewers look like a potted plant to devices to Kinect devices.

Wait, on advice of my attorney I am dropping the word “cardboard” to make it more generic. Oh, wait. Another change incoming. He wants it more even more general so that it is a costume or other device that confuses any camera looking at it for any purpose. Also, he says to make absolutely sure that I am patenting a general idea with no specifics on how it would be implemented.

That last point bothers me a little bit because I had thought that patents were supposed to patent methods and not general concepts. However, he quickly pointed out that I am wrong. He used this patent as an example of why I am wrong because the Microsoft patent is for the general idea and is pretty short on specifics.

Todd E says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem with this trick is that a light bright enough to render the viewers behind the screen opaque will generally also prevent them from being able to view a TV screen with any reliability.

Having worked with this sort of device myself in stage performances, while it allows for “see through” walls, it’s not in any useful detail.

ldne says:

Re: Re:

Actually, according to the patent office a patent is one of these three:

“1) Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof;

2) Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture; and

3) Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.”

AND must comply with this:

“In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined in the patent law, which provides that an invention cannot be patented if: ?(a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent,? or ?(b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States . . .?

If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, or if it was known or used by others in this country before the date that the applicant made his/her invention, a patent cannot be obtained. If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere, or has been in public use or on sale in this country more than one year before the date on which an application for patent is filed in this country, a patent cannot be obtained. In this connection it is immaterial when the invention was made, or whether the printed publication or public use was by the inventor himself/herself or by someone else. If the inventor describes the invention in a printed publication or uses the invention publicly, or places it on sale, he/she must apply for a patent before one year has gone by, otherwise any right to a patent will be lost. The inventor must file on the date of public use or disclosure, however, in order to preserve patent rights in many foreign countries.

Even if the subject matter sought to be patented is not exactly shown by the prior art, and involves one or more differences over the most nearly similar thing already known, a patent may still be refused if the differences would be obvious. The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention. For example, the substitution of one color for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable.”

Hmm, what the heck happened to THAT? I guess they don’t make patent examiners actually read these? According to this, half of the recent patent litigation I’ve read about was concluded incorrectly because the patents issued don’t fit the criteria, they shouldn’t have been issued in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So, it's begun in earnest.

Well, I for one am looking forward to the day when all “television watching” is done on a phone or computer. ๐Ÿ˜›

I’m sure the people who want to “charge admission” will love that. Most of these new devices already have a camera which faces outwards from the screen and already recognise faces.

izzitme101 (profile) says:

Heres a scenario for you: At some point in the future, when the x-box **** and all other tv’s ect start looking back at you and charging admission, maybe people will get pissed off enough that no one iwll bother, then we might find people outside socialising instead of watching some wannabe famous person on i used to be a celebrity, please give me a job!

out_of_the_blue says:

"watches you back" = spies

Have I mentioned the surveillance state in the last hour? Probably, because intrudes on me about that often. Commercial interests + gov’t aren’t going to stop at any reasonable level: you are the “product” at best, a victim at worst.

Only way to stop the constant increase is object to and prevent spying any way you can. One big way is to get Noscript for Firefox and remove Google from its paid-for exclusion; 2nd way is with a hosts files. Then don’t buy products such as Xbox…

But there we run again into the sheer fact that masses of dolts will happily go along with being spied on…

And Monitoring Mike will say there’s “no evidence of real harm”, that it’s all just for your benefit to deliver the best possible services!

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: "watches you back" = spies

I applaud you OOTB. Perhaps no other person in history could say in one post that grifting is wrong, and then admit in another post that he uses noscript, and changes his hosts file so that he doesn’t have to see ads, in one post says government granted monopolies are just peachy, and then wonders why we allow corporations to have any power in another post.

Who am I kidding? You don’t need multiple posts to show off your hypocrisy.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is another reason why console gaming is at an evolutionary dead end. They could be coming up with something new, exciting, and heavily demanded. Instead, they’d rather resell the same game as a sequel, treat their customers like criminals and ATMs, and torture everyone with the occasional Han Solo dance number.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A spoken like a good right-wing corporation shill. The enemy IS the corporations, especially as they have bought the government. Both, out of control, are bad. Both have their uses when properly regulated.

Honestly, I’ve never seen so many people fantasising for the “Old Wild West that Wasn’t” as American right-wingers, Confederates and Libertarians.

rorybaust (profile) says:

George Orwell

I suppose its inevitable that in this ownership culture that they we find ourself in, to expect the heirs to the Estate of the late George Orwell will sue and to be fair I would suggest that his idea is as well formed and articulate as Microsoft’s fiction so as to stand as prior art.

I understand there are courts in the USA where these concepts are not as incredulous as I may think and that they are actually given credence.

To think ones imagination can now just be patented as a working concept just to thwart and actual inventor down the track. Not even George saw that one coming.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: George Orwell

The whole idea of a TV that watches you is right from 1984.I will be making sure that while I live I buy Devices that are not Connected to some Internet.I want my TV and other things NOT CONNECTED AT ALL.

My Dumb Fliptop Phone makes calls.
My Really Fast Desktop goes Online and is also on a VPN and it runs a bunch of Privacy Stuff including a Firewall that only allows me to go online thru my VPN I pay for.
And the Service I use for VPN is not in USA nor does it keep any Logs.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

This is actually a good thing. Now, when my daughters keep coming back from their bedroom after we’ve sent them to bed for the 20th time that night, I won’t have to hit pause; the movie will pause for me. This will translate to a massive savings in remote control batteries and an increase in productivity.

Also, teenagers watching their dirty movies in the family room won’t have to scramble to find the remote with one hand while pulling up their pants with the other when mom walks in. Now they can use both hands to pull up their pants, thus avoiding unnecessary visits to the ER for zipper related injuries.

That One Guy (profile) says:

If this was ever rolled out, it wouldn’t be a case of shooting yourself in the foot, this would be like strapping a block of C4 to your leg, and offering the detonator to all of your competitors.

As soon as the ‘you get charged depending on how many people are in the room, and by the way for the tech to work, it requires a camera to be watching the inside of your living room/bedroom‘ thing was rolled out, the first competitor who made it a point of adding that they didn’t have that feature would see a deluge of people abandoning ship to their products.

Wouldn’t even take much effort for the sales pitch either, something as simple as ‘Brand X: For when you want to watch a movie, without someone watching you.’ would work just fine.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Given how the Kinect wants to be bigger than Nintendo and Windows 8 wants to be bigger than Apple, it seems that Microsoft’s modern business strategy is just to make everything bigger than their competitors do. They want to be large and in charge, and that’s the full extent to which they’ve thought things through. They basically have no idea what they are doing whatsoever.

btrussell (profile) says:

Think of the vertically challenged!

“Unfortunately, this will prevent pornstar midgets from viewing porn, but please, let’s think of the children, each of whom represents a potential income stream.”

How about non-pornstar midgets? Will the less endowed look more proportionate and be able to watch porn?

Can I by-pass the license fee if I dress her up as a, umm, hand warmer? Ventriloquists side-kick?

The Real Michael says:

Good luck to MS in marketing this 1984 spying device. It would take an extremely dumb person to pay a corporation for the “privilege” of setting up a camera/mic in their living quarters, let alone one which could potentially jack up costs. This reminds me of Progressive ‘Snapshot’ where they try to lure auto insurance customers into letting the company track their every move (all the while draining their vehicle’s battery).

I’ll stick with the TVs, monitors and consoles which don’t have cameras and tracking devices built into them, thank you very much.

yall_in_my_house_now says:

So many things wrong with this idea; from privacy to price gouging and I think most well informed customers agree that artificially limiting tech abilities is just plain insulting in the first place.

It just reminds me of that terrible ‘feature’ of Windows 7 Starter that only allowed 3 apps to run consecutively – only this time they are happy to screw you over to better attract content providers come the next gen of lounge room tech.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Or, if the number of viewers exceeds the limits laid out by a particular content license, the system would halt playback unless additional viewing rights were purchased.”

So the important question what limits are there on the DVD you are trying to play??? “I’m sorry this DVD is only licensed for four viewers please buy an additional license”

I’m not sure this should even be patent worthy as I went to a Cory Doctorow talk years ago where he was saying big content wanted to start doing exactly this…

kenjones (profile) says:

Patent it yourself

My advice is if you think you have something worth patenting have a go at patenting it yourself, at the very least you will learn and save yourself many thousands. These days you can do the whole patenting process online, internationally. Even applying for a US Provisional patent is not the cheapest way to go, apply for a UK patent and you get a year to pay any fees and your UK Filing Date is good for your Non-Provisional US Patent. Therefore if nobody is interested in a year, just abandon your patent and it has cost you nothing. If someone is interested the royalty advance can pay the fees. A great cheap Amazon ebook which explains all this is DIY Patent Online – you can read some of it free. They also have a website but aren’t trying to sell their services, just telling you how to patent without an attorney who must love them!

kenjones (profile) says:

Patent it yourself

My advice is if you think you have something worth patenting have a go at patenting it yourself, at the very least you will learn and save yourself many thousands. These days you can do the whole patenting process online, internationally. Even applying for a US Provisional patent is not the cheapest way to go, apply for a UK patent and you get a year to pay any fees and your UK Filing Date is good for your Non-Provisional US Patent. Therefore if nobody is interested in a year, just abandon your patent and it has cost you nothing. If someone is interested the royalty advance can pay the fees. A great cheap Amazon ebook which explains all this is DIY Patent Online – you can read some of it free. They also have a website but aren’t trying to sell their services, just telling you how to patent without an attorney who must love them!

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