New Microsoft Patent App Provides "Enforceable" Ads That Can't Be Skipped

Last year Microsoft filed a patent application, published yesterday, that explains a method by which embedded advertising can’t be skipped. From the application 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.”

Other applications of the patent include using it to create DRM content or to insert ads dynamically at playback of already downloaded 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.

“If you hate Microsoft you’ll really hate this: Patent app calls for “enforcing” ad playback within downloaded multimedia files” [ZDNet]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Buran says:

    Hack in 3… 2… 1…

  2. Parting says:

    Ha! No news there. If you visit Russian websites, most of them use ”unstoppable” ads for the last 2 years. They are extremely annoying. Only they don’t use DMR.

    Only there also a secondary effect to this : people avoid shopping websites with this kind of ads. They survive and thrive only on free stuff websites.

  3. Trai_Dep says:

    Awfully nice of Microsoft to irrefutably settle the, “Is Mac really less evil than Windows?” question.

  4. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    Further proof that Microsoft hates you.

  5. Trai_Dep says:

    From the article:

    “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.

  6. Trai_Dep says:

    If the technology checks rich media files and inserts a variety of targetted ads on them (which it does), then could it not simply track who has what media content? Track, catalog and report?

    And nuke it (make it unplayable) unilaterally, from afar? Sort of like a take-down notice (which we’ve seen abused a GREAT deal), only for files on any hard disc, anywhere in the world? Activated unilaterally from Redmond?

  7. Trai_Dep says:

    Hey, Chris, I realize it’s Friday and all, but can you add that Digg thing on this article?

    It’d be interesting to get some informed opinion on this, and if it’s as awful as it seems, some more eyeballs on it.

  8. Buran says:

    @chouchou: Define “unstoppable”? I haven’t met an ad AdBlock couldn’t kill.

  9. pepe the king prawn says:

    @trai_dep: relax! sheesh, it’s christmas!!

  10. goodkitty says:

    Lets be serious here for a moment… this is really a great way to get more free content out to the masses. Who doesn’t want real streaming TV and radio services gratis, once advertisers feel as confident with that platform as they do with traditional broadcast?

    But that’s not the problem… it’s that we all know that it’s only a matter of time before M$ decides to put their unskippable ads for Office and IE in front of certain applications, like ‘Firefox.exe’, and during updates, and so on…

    I’m still waiting with some paranoia for unskippable ads included with purchased content, especially with the new HD video formats.

  11. ExVee says:

    I give it a week after this actually begins being deployed before Someone Smarter Than Me cooks up the program to defeat it. Besides, if they go too far with the ads, it’s back to court for MS I’m sure. Like putting pervasive ads in front of competitive applications? Microsoft has already gone to court for attempting monopoly, and that’d just be a different form.

    What I worry over is what somebody else said: Basically having an effective kill switch for the media. But then, as long as it’s not configured to require internet access, I bet a good firewall could block any such instructions. And I won’t bother with anything that forces me to be online in order to operate an application that has no business with web access outside data mining.

  12. ironchef says:

    unskippable ads are like root canal.


  13. redx says:

    To stick it to them, I’d end task all my apps after turning off the screen and sound.

  14. ironchef says:

    BTW, here’s the drawing that came with the patent


  15. rich815 says:

    I cannot decide who I hate more: Microsoft or Comcast.

  16. randombob says:

    Ah, the sweet refreshment of Apple….

    They’re steadily getting worse, but every time I start to feel like they are about to become the next MS…

    MS does this and ups the ante ;-)

  17. TangDrinker says:

    The IDS filed with this patent application (check USPAIR at the PTO site) lists the patents and literature they are using to support this application. See patent 6,698,020 assigned to WebTV – it’s a similar technology from 2004 – and is an actual granted patent.

    I’m sure there will be someone to come up with something to hack MS, but just want to point out that a form of this technology has been patented already.

  18. hubris says:

    This is only going to strengthen illegal downloading. I hate, hate, *hate* DVDs that don’t let me skip to the movie and force me to watch previews, warnings, etc., etc. If that branches out into my operating system? Forget it. I’ll go Linux and use my Mac laptop even more.

    See, making people watch ads worked with TV back in the day because there was no alternative. And then things like VCRs and CDs and DVRs, which allowed you to skip to where you wanted to be, came along and that schema started to break down. And now, rather than finding another solution, some other way to deliver ad content to users, they’re trying to go back to the old ways and MAKE you watch their crap. That ain’t gonna work.

  19. StevieD says:

    If “they” only knew what I did during the advertising, “they” wouldn’t bother with the advertising.

  20. badgeman46 says:

    It would be one thing if ads were unintrusive, easy to turn off, etc. Just like in good ol’ tv, however I am increasingly finding the ratio of content to commercial time on internet video is approaching 2 to 1. There is no way I am sitting through a half hour of ads in an hour of video.

  21. Charles Duffy says:

    I invented this already, for someone else (a small startup in Austin).

    I’m about tempted to call up the CEO (he’s a lawyer) and suggest that he look into it.

  22. Charles Duffy says:

    @Buran: That’s about right, too. They can force you to download the content, and they can force you to run the content through a codec (so you can’t skip ahead just by randomly seeking within the stream) — but they can’t stop you from not displaying all of what’s run through the codec to your display device, and preventing you from running things through the codec at faster-than-real-time is hard (unless it’s a live stream).

    Also, once it’s decoded for the screen, it can (in theory) be captured. Sure, you do full-path HDCP, use TPM-enabled DRM, etc. and make all of these bypass techniques harder — but “harder” doesn’t mean “impossible”, and someone will eventually figure it out and start posting adless copies of videos distributed this way to The Pirate Bay or some equivalent.

    Of course, if the ads aren’t too obnoxious, most users will probably watch them anyhow instead of bothering to go through all the trouble and risk of pirating the DRM-free version of the content, so just making the process of bypassing the advertisements trickier is generally sufficient.

  23. m0unds says:

    @trai_dep: If informed opinions are what you seek, Digg is not the place to find them.

  24. Myotheralt says:

    So, what would stop people from using something like a screen recorder to cut out the ads? They would have to watch the ads, but then they would post^H^H^H^Hhave their own copy without the ads.

  25. XTC46 says:

    I think this is fine. the content you watch has to be paid for somehow. And considering some actors are paid 1Million+ per episode of the shows they do, the money has to come from somewhere. You want free content, go make it yourself. See how long you make something for free.

  26. ponzo says:

    @ BURAN and others:

    Note the part about DRM being integrated into this technology. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes the circumvention of DRM illegal. Thus, it will be illegal to crack this ad-forcing technology.

    The CEO of Turner Broadcasting said a few months ago that, if you weren’t watching the commercials, you were “stealing” TV. This technology might actually criminalize it.

  27. jhofker says:

    Look folks, I know the standard MO is to get extremely uppity about something like this, but dream with me for a second: what if Microsoft invented and patented this not to use it, but to prevent anyone else from doing it.

    That said, I think it’s a lot more likely this will be used, but more (free) content is better than less content.

  28. Trai_Dep says:

    Microsoft creating a technology (or embracing & extending (cough)) for the betterment of mankind? Really? Has the release of Vista taught you nothing?! Heh.

    Here’s the issues that I find troubling. If they can track who plays what files when, which the application suggests, doesn’t that also give tracking/reporting functions? Wouldn’t it allow them to “kill” content remotely with little recourse? It’d be like spurious website takedown notices on steroids. Wouldn’t it allow authorities (be it the RIAA, NSA, White House…) to access this data?

    It seems like a technology rife with problems, even if it works. The potential for abuse seems irresistible. It seems really evil. Even for Microsoft.

    If someone at Apple came up with an idea like this, they’d be laughed out of a job. If Jobs didn’t fire them first.

  29. strathmeyer says:

    @Buran: “I haven’t met an ad AdBlock couldn’t kill.”

    Nothing works quite as well as not using their products.

  30. FLConsumer says:

    Boooo, Hissssss. C’mon Microsoft, I just need one more reason to switch to a Mac/Linux/anything but Microsoft for my clients. The draconian and highly flawed Activation and Genuine (dis)Advantage have caused me tons of grief with LEGITIMATELY purchased copies of Windows XP Professional from LEGITIMATE resellers. In some cases, it was just easier to load a pirated copy, despite having already paid for a product I couldn’t use. Go ahead, pull the trigger. The gun’s only pointed at yourself.

  31. betatron says:

    Recognizing that the app isn’t PC-specifc per se, this will nonetheless make a great Mac-PC ad.

    Of course, this is only a first step. The patent only describes a method that forces ad content PLAYBACK. We still need to get our content from the screen into the brain.

    Wait for the patent that stirs in a requirement that the person watching has to answer a question or solve a captcha or otherwise interact with the displayed content to demonstrate a human-in-the-loop.

    We could take a popup quiz: “what was the preceding ad about? “
    a) Ponies
    b) Unicorns
    c) Kittens
    d) Puppies

    and a wrong answer loads another commercial.

    Or MAYBE – how about a biometric monitoring system that measures your physiological response to the content of an ad? If you’re not really watching…
    the lower-tier packages might have a small zapper built in to help bolster flagging attention

    Remember when Cantwell and Siegel were the biggest problem the internet had to deal with? sigh…


  32. no harm no foul. gives me more time to throw it on mute and rub one out before a relaxing movie. It’s getting harder and harder to find time to do that now a’days

  33. daisukeumon says:

    This does sound interesting, but I do not understand it. Can the staff do a follow up post on it, explaining exactly what it is?

  34. ogman says:

    So, I should just continue doing what I’m doing and ignoring Microsoft’s content offerings? Cool!

  35. LionelEHutz says:

    This is all the fault of the little people. If they would stop whining and just watch the commercials already then there wouldn’t be a problem and corporate America wouldn’t need to make you do it. They know what’s good for you, so trust them, mmmkay.

  36. just_paranoid says:

    @betatron: i wouldn’t be surprised. lol.

  37. just_paranoid says:

    i only like commercials that make me laugh. i hate it when a commercial tries to inform me, because i know its biased and probably untrue anyhow.

    if you need a med your doctor can tell you about them. your valtrax commercial only works on those who have herpes, so why should i have to watch it? plus wouldn’t that make meds cheaper not spending billions in advertising? those commercials are so vauge too: not getting a good nights sleep? (who is?) do you sometimes feel hungry? are you not happy every waking minute of your life? your probably not normal and need to take this pill to be happy. side effects are nausea and death.

  38. yikz says:

    @trai_dep: You want an “informed opinion” and you want Digg users involved? How is that possible?

  39. Trai_Dep says:

    Geez, such Digg hate!

    Actually, done more to raise the profile. I know BoingBoing reads Consumerist, and vice-versa, so I’m looking forward to their take on this. BoingBoing/Consumerist is one of the best examples of a virtuous circle that I know of on the net. :D

    Just_paranoid: off-topic much?

    And yeah, obviously there will be hacks. Obviously you can cover the picture, video, IM session… window with another window while Ron Paul ads spool. What I’m concerned about is that, just to be able to “optimally” target who sees which ad, Microsoft has to have a fairly complete picture of who has what file, gotten from where, and how many times they’ve viewed it, from which machines, and who they got it from.

    Which government or industry agency wouldn’t salivate over getting their hands on that data set? How much would they pay, or what double-secret-probation letters wouldn’t they send to access it?

    How many websites have been served with takedown notices that later turned out to be illegitimate? Imagine this, only on a per-file basis.

    How many ISPs sent out letters to subscribers from the RIAA that later turned out to be wrong? Imagine this, only on a per-file basis.

    It’s a MUCH richer data set than AT&T’s phone records, and look how completely those were abused…

  40. bkpatt says:

    Now seriously…

    Microsoft files a patent to ENFORCE ad playback in downloadable media. This is the same company that has been screaming about piracy for decades and STILL hasn’t managed to get a one-up on the bad guys. It isn’t days within release of a new product that the news headlines aren’t talking about how it has been hacked/cracked/activated by the bad guys. DAYS. Presumably these are people who can’t even get their hands on the things until the general public, and it takes them days.

    I’m betting the legal cost and time of the patent application FAR exceed their value, when 2 days after launch of this new way of downloadable media ad ENFORCEMENT is completely obliterated by the bad guys. Microsoft 2, Bad Guys 734,812,492.

    It’s not time for more enforcement people, it’s time for a new way of thinking.

  41. Trai_Dep says:

    Yeah, but wouldn’t it be great if this Microsoft patent became the Sony Rootkit of ’08? Creating such a backlash that they backed down before implementation?

    It’s BAD technology, for all of the above reasons. Let’s strangle this infant in the crib.

  42. mammalpants says:

    it looks like im in for a contentless future!

    sorry advertising world. id rather not get content at all than have to deal with you.

  43. alstein says:

    Why are the pirates the bad guys again? I thought they were the good guys in comparison to Microsoft.

    I think the problem is, as a society, we are now valuing our time more, so things like enforced ads rankle us more, as they should.

    This is definitely something that needs to be aggressively countered.

  44. coffee177 says:

    You want free content, go make it yourself. See how long you make something for free.

    Linux Rocks!

  45. axiomatic says:

    Yeah, I wont use or buy any product that I am “forced” to suffer through their advertisement. I mean come on… what happened to good commercials that you “want” to watch due to their high quality? Like the Superbowl ad’s.

    Come on advertising executives. Don’t punish us for your poor creativity.

  46. Architectureplusone says:

    I would GLADLY pay for the ability to be able to download content, rather than having to put up with enforced, dynamically changing ads that are REQUIRED to play things that are on my own hard drive.

    I think that they should shift the resources used in developing this technology and come up with content that’s good and innovative enough to actually bring in revenue.

  47. DeeJayQueue says:

    Know what makes this new development (and any other technology that forces people to watch ads) particularly odius?

    The fact that they can’t make the connection between people watching an ad and people buying more crap.
    Sure, they can correlate a better ad stream with a sales uptick, but that’s all they can do, and in the real world Correlation is not Causation. They can’t prove that running an ad caused the increased sales. The two events are at best coincidental, and at worst completely unrelated. Ad to that the recent trend in making commercials pretty much devoid of product information, just little vignettes made to keep the product in your mind as “cool” or “better” than the other product that has just as catchy an ad.

    This is the achilles heel of the advertising world. They can never prove that running a sale or creating advertisement increases business. True, it usually works out that way, but it doesn’t have to.

    How about for every ad that you see in a place you don’t like seeing them, you don’t buy that product. This will be tough to do, especially if you don’t like ads anywhere, but be reasonable. If advertisers start launching campaigns that we can’t ignore by choice, then stop buying the things they advertise. Prove the campaign ineffective and the ads will stop.

  48. clevershark says:

    Eventually DRM mechanisms will require that computer users have a webcam attached to the computer doing the playback. It would use an algorithm to determine that a)there’s a user in front of the monitor, and b)the user is actually watching the monitor and not doing something else. Other algorithms could be used to ensure that the application showing the ad is not obscured, say by the window of some other program.

    Hey, it’s doable.

  49. clevershark says:

    Well, either that or we’ll watch very large TV sets where the majority of screen space is taken up by ads with a bit of content shown in the middle… like the setups in “Idiocracy”.

  50. Trai_Dep says:

    Or, buy Mac or Linux. Throw any Microsoft products in the bin, where they deserve. How many times must they sodomize their customers before people shrug and say, “No more”?

  51. kbarrett says:


    Someone will create an open source codec for the LINUX crowd that plays the videos without disabling skipping the ads.

    Someone else will recompile the open source codec to run in Windows after a few months.

    Everyone who invested in this form of advertizement will see their investment go up in smoke.

    And we will all point and larf, larf, larf at them.

  52. Xkeeper says:

    Haha, this. I bet you anything there’s going to be a ton of hate about this because it’s Microsoft.

    Of course. “Oh God, MS is evil! How could they do this?!?!”

    Never mind the fact that MS probably had nothing to do with it other than developing it. I mean, nobody ridicules Macromedia/Adobe for those annoying Flash ads, but “It’s Microsoft! Quick! Hate!”, so it’ll happen here…

    Unsuprisingly, this is exactly what is going on in here. You are all idiots.

  53. Xkeeper says:

    That post was supposed to have name tags in it, but the lack of a preview feature means they got stripped out. That was a conversation between my roommate and I on this subject last night.

    By the way, Apple invented a music player that you can’t put certain forms of music on without installing their propitary player, but nobody cares about that. Oh, and don’t forget Adobe’s PDF advertising, big deal, nobody cares.

    I really miss the earlier days of Consumerist where commenters had to a) have a brain and b) get invited.

  54. Trai_Dep says:

    xkeeper –

    Sigh. Yup. All poor lil’ MS did was fund it. Research it. Develop it. Test it. Patent it. Soon-to-release-it. Leverage their monopoly to force consumers to use it. Sue the pants off of anyone bypassing it. Blanket the net with takedown notices of any sites that point to ways to avoid it. Profit off of it.

    Yup. Poor lil’ Microsoft. How did they get the blame for it?

    I agree with your lament over commentators that type without using any brain cells, but probably not in the sense that you meant it.

  55. Voyou_Charmant says:

    So, since they are forcing this on us, we will be able to get the content for free, right? I mean, why should we pay for something that is being paid for by advertisers?

    I wont be happy until they can beam the commercials directly to my brain every morning when i wake up it’s a small price to pay for a free market economy and justice for all, amen.

  56. crumb says:

    It’s nice that Microsoft is taking an initiative to submit patent requests on advertising ideas. It makes it much easier for me to know which company does not deserve my money, ever.

  57. mmcnary says:

    I suggest a series of letters writen to the CEO’s of any company that advertises in this manner explaining that they will never see another dollar from your wallet.

    I can see a web site listing the shows and the advertisers buying time on those shows, along with a way to automate sending emails to the advertisers…