Comcast finds way to deliver ads to subscribers who skip commercials on DVR

Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) has developed technology that would allow the nation's largest cable operator to deliver advertising to subscribers who skip commercials contained in TV shows recorded on a DVR, according to a U.S. patent application obtained by FierceCable.

Comcast patent application

Click here for a slideshow of the patent diagrams.

Subscribers who hit fast-forward, pause and other trick-mode buttons on their remotes would receive an alternate ad displayed in the center of their TV screen or by making the alternate ad partially transparent, according to the patent.

Comcast details a strategy for targeting alternative ads to a subscriber who skips commercials based on demographics and the subscriber's viewing habits, including "historical choices made by the recipient whether to skip or watch previous alternate content."

Comcast also says networks would be able to charge advertisers a premium for the right to deliver alternative ads to a subscriber who skips commercials in TV shows contained in a DVR. The MSO notes that it could also sell advertising displayed while a subscriber uses fast forward to other media buyers.  

"The content provider may charge the advertiser an extra fee to play the alternate advertising during fast-forward operation," Comcast states in the 20-page patent application. "In other embodiments, however, the content provider may sell those trick mode advertising avails to other advertisers," the company writes.

Comcast details several methods for delivering alternative ads to subscribers who skip fast forward. One approach would be to use a DVR containing multiple tuners to download alternative ads to a subscriber's set-top before he begins watching a program. "This can be done behind the scenes without the user's knowledge," Comcast chief scientist Dan Holden writes in the patent application. Holden is named as the inventor on the application, which was published Thursday by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Comcast may be able to boost ad revenue by selling advertisers multiple alternative ads, and using the trick modes to incent subscribers to watch other ads or previews for movies or TV shows. "The alternate advertising trick file can be configured to tempt the consumer to take further actions," Comcast writes on the patent application. "Alternately, when the consumer selects double rewind, the consumer may be presented with another advertisement that includes an instruction to select yet another trick mode in order to receive some benefit such as a prize or another preview or the second half of the same preview. The possibilities are endless," the company adds.

Comcast officials wouldn't comment on when the technology may be deployed. "While we regularly file patent applications for a variety of technologies, we cannot comment on their potential use or speculate on whether those technologies would be part of any future products or services," spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said Friday.

Comcast and other cable MSOs have increased revenue from digital cable subscribers by leasing customers DVRs, but the devices have made it much easier for viewers to skip commercials, which hurts programmers. While it's not clear how soon Comcast may attempt to deliver alternative ads to subscribers who skip commercials, that strategy could help both operators and programmers deliver more relevant ads to subscribers and offer the industry a new source for ad revenue.

For more:
- Click here for a slideshow of the patent application diagrams

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