Viewers Object to Channel Lock

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Beth Snyder Bulik


A recent Royal Philips Electronics patent application that would prevent viewers from switching channels during commercials whipped TV watchers and media pundits into a frenzy last Wednesday, forcing the marketer to issue a statement to allay consumers’ concerns.

Philips said its software would also allow viewers to watch TV with no advertising inserted.

The patent, filed March 30 but not yet approved, would force viewers to watch ads by locking the channel during commercials. It would, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office filing, “prevent a viewer … from switching channels when an advertisement is displayed,” or if the show is prerecorded, prevent viewers from “fast forwarding … in order to skip past advertisements.” The advertising-control software is applicable to any type of TV signal, analog or digital, will work with either analog and digital TV signals or Internet connection, and for a program recorded on a VCR, DVR or playback device in a cable box, according to the Philips patent filing.

Media outlets from New York to California cried foul over the news, although the outcry may have been premature. Philips swiftly released a statement Wednesday, pointing out that the technology, which most likely would be a feature on a TV or a set-top box, would offer the opposite result as well, allowing viewers to watch TV with no advertising inserted. The company added that it has no intention of forcing viewers to watch ads against their will and no plans to implement the technology in Philips products.

Consumers Rant

“We developed a system where the viewer can choose, at the beginning of a movie, to either watch the movie without ads, or watch the movie with ads. It is up to the viewer to take this decision, and up to the broadcaster to offer the various services,” the company said in the statement.

Still, the idea that such technology exists and is being pursued by a major consumer electronics manufacturer is unsettling to some. Rants ranged from “This is complete crap!” from a MySpace blogger identified as Dana to “Marketers will bail out on this before it goes anywhere,” said Steve Hall at AdRants. Technorati tallied more than 500 mentions of Philips yesterday vs. less than 250 on April 17. A quick glance at the results shows most were talking about the ad-watching patent.