Friday, May 12, 2006

The advert enforcer

Amazingly, some companies just don't seem to get it. Many maintain that "customers come first", but their actions indicated otherwise. Dutch electronics giant Philips is one of them. According to The Register, Philips is attempting to patent a technique that would prevent viewers from skipping through ads embedded within recorded programmes or even channel surfing during broadcast ad breaks or force viewers to cough up cash if they want to avoid the ads.

The secret, according to the article in veteran technology journalist Barry Fox's New Scientist patents column, lies in a system that uses the Multimedia Home Platform - the technology behind interactive television in many countries around the world and built into many digital TV receivers and recorders. The system, created by Philips' labs in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, adds digital flags to commercial break to stop a viewer from changing channels until the advertisements are over. The flags could also be recognised by digital video recorders, which would then disable the fast forward control while the ads are playing.

While acknowledging that its "invention" may be "greatly resented by viewers", Philips' suggested "solution" to the problem includes on one hand displaying a warning screen, so that people who may initially think their equipment has gone wrong know what's going on, and, on the other, offering them the ability to pay a fee to go back to skipping the ads.

Now, how sneaky can a company get?

That said, as a consumer, you still retain ultimate control over your own viewing habits. The secret lies with the power button on the remote.

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