If you hate Microsoft you'll really hate this: Patent app calls for "enforcing" ad playback within downloaded multimedia files

From my read of a Microsoft Patent application just published today, technology is being proposed that will make it impossible for users who download multimedia files to play these files unless advertising messages inserted within these files are viewed.In other words, no circumvention, no skipping a la the TiVo model.

msftenforceplaybackabstr.jpg

From my read of a Microsoft Patent application just published today, technology is being proposed that will make it impossible for users who download multimedia files to play these files unless advertising messages inserted within these files are viewed.

In other words, no circumvention, no skipping a la the TiVo model.

The title of the Patent application in question lays down the gauntlet of what is being proposed here: "Enforcing Advertising Playback For Downloaded Media Content." If you want to look it up, it is 20070294772.

First, let us read the Abstract:

Enforcing rendering advertisements and other predetermined media content in connection with playback of downloaded selected media content. Playback of selected media content is made conditional on acquisition of a playback token that is generated in response to playback of the predetermined content.

The playback token may be implemented as a digital rights management (DRM) license acquired in response to playback of the predetermined content. Another aspect involves a content insertion engine for inserting ads or other predetermined content into the playback of downloaded content.

So why is Microsoft wanting to do this? Two telltale paragraphs from the Patent app's literature focus in on the reasoning:

Although downloading video content can provide certain advantages over streaming video, it presents problems in the enforcement of ad delivery and insertion. In particular, ads that are inserted locally are much more vulnerable to circumvention by the user. Thus, the mechanism used to insert ads must be immune to circumvention by the user.

Embodiments of the invention overcome one or more deficiencies in known online video services and media player systems by enforcing the delivery of advertisements and other predetermined media content in connection with downloaded media content. Advantageously, aspects of the invention utilize tokens to enforce playback of advertisements in an online video service. In this manner, playback of selected media content may be made conditional on acquisition of a playback token that is generated in response to playback of the predetermined ad content. Another aspect of the invention involves a content insertion engine for inserting ads or other predetermined content into the playback of downloaded content.

But that's just for starters. Follow along with me as I show you Figure 2 and accompanying documentation from this Patent app's literature:

msftenforceplaybackfig2.jpg

Referring next to FIG. 2, a block diagram shows an exemplary manner in which media system 100 performs client-based ad insertion.

A content insertion and enforcement process embodying aspects of the invention begins when the user selects a content file 126 for downloading and rendering by a playback engine 128 (e.g., media player application 116).

Advantageously, aspects of the invention provide an enforcement mechanism for ensuring that advertisements and other predetermined content may not be circumvented by the user when such files are downloaded to the user's computer 102.

This enforcement mechanism deters the user from skipping, fast forwarding, fast reversing, or otherwise circumventing the rendering of the predetermined content file 134 by preventing playback of selected content file 126.

In one embodiment, the user selects the content file 126 from a catalog of available program media content 130 (e.g., database 110) available for download via remote media service 118.

This selected content file 126 is encrypted in a manner such that a playback enforcer 132 (e.g., resident on the client) can prevent it from being played until certain conditions are met.

In addition to the selected media content 126, one or more predetermined media content files 134, such as video advertisements, are also downloaded to the user's computer 102 for rendering via playback engine 128.

The ads may be randomly selected or targeted based on, for example, user information, or targeted based on the selected content. As shown in FIG. 2, a content insertion engine 136 retrieves the predetermined content file 134 from a library or catalog of advertisements or other predetermined content 138.

The content insertion engine 136 is responsible for selecting predetermined content file 134 for playback and for scheduling its playback at an appropriate time.

Advantageously, predetermined media content 134 is separate from selected media content 126 in one embodiment so that it may be changed according to an ad rotation schedule or otherwise targeted to a particular user. In one embodiment, computer 102 executes computer-executable instructions implementing content insertion engine 136. It is to be understood that content insertion engine 136 may be based on rules stipulated by server 108.

Once the content downloads are complete, the selected media content file 126 becomes available for decrypting and rendering by the playback engine 128. When the user selects the downloaded content for playback, an event is raised to the content insertion engine 136.

In response to this event, content insertion engine 136 sends predetermined content file 134 to playback engine 128 for playback or otherwise instructs playback engine 128 to begin its playback. According to aspects of the invention, content insertion engine 136 also monitors the playback of predetermined content file 134 (see FIG. 3) and generates a playback token 140 in response to the advertisement or the like having been rendered.

The content insertion engine 136 then sends this token to the playback enforcer 132 and schedules the selected media content file 126 for playback through the playback enforcer 132.

As the component responsible for decrypting selected media content file 126, playback enforcer 132 will not decrypt the content file 126 until it receives it a valid playback token 140, which includes a key for decrypting the selected content 126.

Advantageously, aspects of the invention thus provide the benefits of higher quality video and the like associated with downloading media content while preventing the predetermined media content file 134 from being skipped or otherwise circumvented by the user during playback. Those skilled in the art are familiar with several encryption/decryption schemes that are suitable for implementing aspects of the invention.

In an alternative embodiment of the invention, content insertion engine 136 can interrupt the playback of content file 126 at any time to schedule an interstitial ad or the like. This causes the process to repeat from the selection and scheduling of predetermined content file 134.

In other words, playback engine 128 is responsive to content insertion engine 136 for interrupting the rendering of the encrypted media content file 126 to render additional predetermined media content 134 to the user. The content insertion engine 136 generates another token 140 in response to the rendering of the additional predetermined media content 134 and playback enforcer 132 is responsive to receiving this other token 140 to permit the playback engine 128 to resume rendering the encrypted media content file 126.

It is to be understood that one or more ads or other predetermined media content files 134 may be scheduled for playback at any time relative to playback of selected media content file 126 (e.g., as bumper ads, interstitial ads, or both).

In the context of audio files, for example, predetermined ad entry points may occur at selected song boundaries to enable a listening experience similar to radio.

In yet another alternative embodiment of the invention, playback token 140 may be implemented as a DRM license (see FIG. 5) where playback enforcer 132 embodies aspects of the underlying DRM system.

In this embodiment, the DRM system requires that a license be present in response to the rendering of the predetermined content 134 before allowing playback of the selected content 126.

In other words, the token 140 may be a DRM license where presence of the license allows playback to proceed and ensures that the predetermined content 134 was played and where absence of the license prevents playback.

One suitable DRM mechanism may be implemented using Windows Media DRM, available from Microsoft Corporation.

I think this is heavy handed. Shouldn't it be up to the end user to decide which parts of a multimedia file they have downloaded that they want to watch or see?

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