Imagine being trapped in a commercial hell where the only escape is your voice. Who would cook something like that?
According tweet (opens in a new tab) viewed over 18 million times, it was a brilliant idea from Sony. I almost spat when the tweet showed up in my feed. This is not a full patent, just an illustration from one that shows someone sitting on a couch watching a TV show where one person shoots someone else (weird to have such unnecessary violence in a patent). The McDonald’s ad, represented of course by a giant hamburger, appears on the screen with the message “Say ‘McDonald’s’ to end the ad.” The TV viewer enthusiastically jumps to his feet and shouts “McDonald’s” before returning to the on-screen violence.
This if look like someone ends an ad with their voice. But that’s not the whole story.
Sony owns a patent that would force viewers to shout the brand’s name during commercials to end them. pic.twitter.com/DC3rcKvzlLJanuary 9, 2023
I was intrigued by the complete lack of context around the tweet and the patent drawing. Where did this image come from? After reviewing hundreds of patents over the years, I was convinced that this was in fact a genuine patent drawing (which doesn’t mean someone couldn’t intentionally draw something to imitate it).
I decided to investigate if this was from a real patent. It’s not so simple. According to my friends at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, there are over 11.5 million patents (not counting the patents lost in the fire of 1836).
The US Patent Office has search engine (opens in a new tab)but it doesn’t always make it easy to find what you need. I tried searching for “Sony” and “Ads” but couldn’t find anything resembling this patent or image.
I switched to Google and searched for “brand name Sony End Commercials”. The first result was for a popular tweet. Thanks, Google.
Scrolling down, however, I noticed articles from 2014 2013 (opens in a new tab). They all emphasized the same image and offered the same lack of context. on reddit, picture post (opens in a new tab) was removed by the moderators because it “had no proof/source”. Nobody seemed to know where to find the original patent.
But it turns out there is proof and a source, and I found it on Google Patents. The frequently shared image is just one of 21 images from Patent No. US8246454B2 (opens in a new tab)“A system for turning TV commercials into interactive online video games” by inventor Gary M. Zalewski.
Sony applied for a patent as early as 2009. The application was granted in August 2021.
The patent is not supposed to trap consumers in a commercial hell until they jump up and shout the brand name. Here is part of the summary:
“In one broadcast or streaming method, the ad is accompanied by an interactive segment. A media player connected to a broadcast or streaming source identifies the existence of an interactive segment and presents the user with an enhanced and interactive mini-game ad that can be played with other “viewers” in a common or dispersed demographic.”
Based on the description and images, this patent is for interactive and practical advertisements. You could play games there and even order products. In one illustration, the system shows a TV connected to both a “Media Streaming Computer” and a PlayStation (looked like a PS3). The game console connects to an interactive commercial service, which then communicates with the advertiser or one of nearly a dozen networks, including NBC, CBS, Hulu, and, yes, MySpace.
Each parent illustration, or “Drawing” as it is called in the patents, has a small caption. Here is how the key image is described.
“FIG. 9 depicts a user interacting verbally with an advertisement, according to one embodiment.”
I know there’s nothing else.
However, the more detailed description of the patent explains exactly what is going on in this illustration, and it’s even weirder than I thought.
I won’t post the whole description here because it’s too long and clearly written by someone who has no interest in elegant prose. Instead, I’ll list the steps:
- Someone is watching a movie
- The video’s progress bar shows that an ad break is imminent (something you see on services like Hulu these days).
- The ad begins
- It is interactive and triggers the on-screen message “Tell McDonald’s to end the ad”
- The viewer says “McDonald’s (we will never know why he decided to jump up and raise his hands).”
- The viewer’s words are recorded by a microphone in the TV
- Voice recognition readers answer
- The system skips the rest of the advertisement
- The viewer resumes watching the show
- The viewer may receive a prize or voucher from a commercial sponsor, McDonald’s
The only downside is that it’s not about trapping anyone in an endless loop of ads, but about inducing user engagement with a carrot of possible reward. That is, I joyfully shouted: “Subway!” or “Cialis!” to end the ad sooner.
And that’s the key. It was never an invention to create a Morbius ad bar that could only be left if you spoke up. It was partly an interactive incentive system, perhaps the first in the history of live television broadcasts.
I sent inquiries to Sony and the inventor to find out more about the status of this patent. If I get back to you, I’ll update this story.
It’s always fun to post, share, and laugh at these individual photos, but it’s just as important to remember that they rarely, if ever, tell the whole story. For me, the patent is now much more interesting, if even a little weirder.
I really can’t wait for all of us to shout our best TV of 2023 with a real purpose.