The DVR That Watches You Back: Verizon Applies For 'Ambient Action' Detecting Device Patent
from the comes-with-pair-of-glue-on-googly-eyes-to-make-product-seem-fun-and-less-creepy dept
Here's another patent application to keep an eye on, following on the heels of Microsoft's patent app for a TV that counts noses in order to charge each viewer for content, potentially turning your living room into something akin to a porn store viewing booth or bus stop TV — “please insert $2 to continue viewing.” Verizon's patent application also involves a device eyeballing your living room, this time in an effort to target advertising.
Verizon's living room intruder is a DVR that observes “ambient action,” identifies it and scans its ad database for an appropriate ad to serve up during the next commercial break. This sounds about as creepy as an ad exec watching you through your open living room drapes in order to decide which flyers to shove in your mailbox. Rest assured, Verizon's use of the phrase “ambient action” is designed for maximum innocuousness. It's not until you get to the list of possible “ambient actions” that the creep factor really kicks in.
 To illustrate, an exemplary ambient action may include the user eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, performing any other suitable action, and/or engaging in any other physical activity during the presentation of the media content. In certain examples, the ambient action may include an interaction by the user with another user (e.g., another user physically located in the same room as the user). To illustrate, the ambient action may include the user talking to, cuddling with, fighting with, wrestling with, playing a game with, competing with, and/or otherwise interacting with the other user. In further examples, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a separate media content access device (e.g., a media content access device separate from the media content access device presenting the media content). For example, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a mobile device (e.g., a mobile phone device, a tablet computer, a laptop computer, etc.) during the presentation of a media content program by a set-top box (“STB”) device.
It looks as though Verizon has carefully avoided naming any other ambient actions that viewers may not want to have “watched back,” like “having sex with,” “fighting with,” “yelling at,” “masturbating to,” “Farmvilleing at” or “blogging about.” All joking aside, it's a bit disconcerting that Verizon's main concern isn't the potential privacy violations, but rather that its customers just aren't watching TV hard enough.
[T]raditional targeted advertising systems and methods fail to account for one or more ambient actions of a user while the user is experiencing media content using a media content access device. For example, if a user is watching a television program, a traditional targeted advertising system fails to account for what the user is doing (e.g., eating, interacting with another user, sleeping, etc.) while the user is watching the television program. This limits the effectiveness, personalization, and/or adaptability of the targeted advertising.
I suppose that, in this era of “second screens” and “promiscuous 'cuddling' teens,” it's tough to get the sort of “captive audience” that advertisers (and the companies that sold customers to them) used to take for granted. The bold, new paradigm is the “observed audience,” an innocuous phrasing in itself. The “tracked audience.” The “surveilled audience.” These terms are a little more accurate, especially considering how much information Verizon covers under the pillow-soft, marketing-friendly, customer-disarming term “ambient.”
 Detection facility 104 may be additionally or alternatively configured to analyze data received by way of a detection device in order to obtain information associated with a user, an ambient action of the user, a user's surroundings, and/or any other information obtainable by way of the data. For example, detection facility 104 may analyze the received data utilizing one or more motion capture technologies, motion analysis technologies, gesture recognition technologies, facial recognition technologies, voice recognition technologies, acoustic source localization technologies, and/or any other suitable technologies to detect one or more actions (e.g., movements, motions, gestures, mannerisms, etc.) of the user, a location of the user, a proximity of the user to another user, one or more physical attributes (e.g., size, build, skin color, hair length, facial features, and/or any other suitable physical attributes) of the user, one or more voice attributes (e.g., tone, pitch, inflection, language, accent, amplification, and/or any other suitable voice attributes) associated with the user's voice, one or more physical surroundings of the user (e.g., one or more physical objects proximate to and/or held by the user), and/or any other suitable information associated with the user.
There's also wording in the application regarding recognizing the tune a viewer is humming and reacting accordingly (presumably by contacting the nearest PRO and reporting an unlicensed public performance). It also leaves the option open for detecting other animate and inanimate objects, including pets and branded products. And, like Microsoft's application, Verizon's suggests the system will be able to distinguish between adults and children and activate parental controls.
This being Verizon, the advertising watch-and-push isn't limited to the all-seeing DVR. The user's phone or tablet will most likely be receiving additional advertising or content based on what “ambient actions” are detected. I can only imagine the delighted thrill of customers watching their DVR shove ads onto their phones simply because they weren't paying enough attention to the ad on the TV screen.
Once again, this is nothing more than a patent application, which doesn't necessarily mean this product will ever make it to market, USPTO 'OK' or not. But it does give you some idea of Verizon's theories on where targeted advertising is headed.