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Philips device could force TV viewers to watch ads

So long, TiVo? Invention would prevent channel switching during commercials or fast-forwarding past ads on a DVR.

An invention from Royal Philips Electronics prevents TV viewers from switching the channel during commercials or fast-forwarding past commercials when watching DVR content.

Viewers would be released from the freeze only after paying a fee to the broadcaster. The freeze would be implemented on a program-by-program basis, giving viewers a choice at the start of each one.

According to a recently published patent, the apparatus could work inside a set-top box. It would use the standard Multimedia Home Platform to receive a first control signal and then respond by taking control of the TV. The MHP would also be capable of sending the payment information that would lift the freeze, as it does when authorizing pay-per-view content.

If implemented, the invention would have a significant impact on television culture.

Many TV viewers are accustomed to the habit of watching two programs at once by flipping back and forth between channels during commercials. Philips' own remote controls currently cater to this habit with a button that automatically flips back to the last-watched channel.

The proposed apparatus would also aggravate children who use DVRs to zip through commercials to maximize their weekly TV-watching limits, set by parents. Some DVR technology even lets viewers watch one channel while recording another.

So, why then, would a television manufacturer risk angering its consumer base? Philips says: Don't shoot the inventor.

With this technology, it was the company's intention to develop a new paradigm for the watching of on-demand television, not to force people to watch commercials, said Caroline Kamerbeek, communications director for Philips International.

But according to Philips' U.S. Patent No. 20060070095, the apparatus would do just that. The device:

"1) prevents a viewer of a direct (nonrecorded) broadcast from switching channels when an advertisement is displayed and (2) prevents a viewer of a recorded program from fast-forwarding the recorded program in order to skip past advertisements that were recorded with the program. A viewer may either watch the advertisements or pay a fee in order to be able to change channels or fast-forward when the advertisements are being displayed."

Within the patent itself, there is a paragraph recognizing that the feature may anger television viewers. The writer of the patent warns that viewers may become confused by the freeze and blame the set-top box manufacturer employing the device instead of the authorizing broadcaster.

"We just provide the technology. It's up to the broadcaster to decide on how they use the technology," Kamerbeek said. "The invention gives viewers a choice to watch an entire movie with or without ads. You need both options in order to make that happen."

The patent was disclosed by New Scientist.