Comcast reveals social TV strategy that rewards subscribers in patent application

Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is developing technology that would allow it to notify subscribers when their friends begin watching a particular TV show or movie, and reward customers with discounts on their cable bills when a program they recommend is viewed by another subscriber, according to a U.S. patent application obtained by FierceCable.

Comcast social TV patent

Image source: Comcast

The nation's largest cable provider may also use its interactive program guides to display the most popular "trending" shows in each city that it operates, similar to the way Twitter identifies trending stories. Subscribers would be able to set DVR recordings or create video-on-demand playlists based on content recommended by friends or shows discovered through trending panels, according to the patent application entitled "content recommendation system."

Comcast and other cable and satellite providers have been studying ways to incorporate social TV recommendations into their program guides. The strategy could help subscribers to more easily navigate hundreds of TV channels and VOD content choices, and impact ratings for cable and broadcast networks.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated at The Cable Show convention last June in Chicago how the company could integrate content recommended by Facebook users into its next generation Xfinity TV program guide. The MSO is using its Augusta, Ga., system to test its new digital cable platform, including social TV recommendation technology.

Comcast wouldn't say when it plans to begin incorporating social TV recommendations into its program guide. "It's still too early to discuss any specifics regarding how we might use this particular technology," spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said Friday. "While we regularly file patents, the actual implementation can vary across products," she added.

While it's not clear how Comcast plans to use social TV technology, or when it will begin rolling it out, the patent reveals several unique features that could be added to its program guide, including:

  • Viewers could receive notifications when their friends change channels. "Recommendations and posts from friends can serve to influence a user's content habits ... messages may also be posted whenever a friend indicates that they are accessing content," Comcast writes in the patent application.
  • Comcast subscribers may be able to transmit program recommendations to subscribers of other content providers. Comcast cited Netflix and Hulu as two examples in the patent.
  • Subscribers that recommend shows, or achieve milestones such as watching five episodes of Seinfeld could receive rewards ranging from coupons or discounts to graphical badges similar to those used by social TV check-in services Miso or GetGlue.
  • Subscribers could receive awards for "quirky or unexpected behavior," according to the patent. "For example, an ‘Easter Egg' award can be defined to grant a badge if a user watches five kitten videos in the same evening," it states in the patent.

Cable technology providers are also ramping up their focus on social TV recommendations. Set-top vendor Motorola Mobility (NYSE: MMI) demonstrated at its SCTE Cable-Tec Expo exhibit in November how a cable subscriber that recommended TV shows through social networks could earn coins that could be redeemed for merchandise from an operator.

The inventors listed on the patent application currently work for Comcast's Silicon Valley Innovation Center, and include the founders of TunerFish, a social TV startup that Comcast picked up through its 2008 acquisition of Plaxo. Inventors listed on the patent are John McRea, Nida Zada, Ryan King, Jason Li, Christopher Connolly, Peter Lester and Christopher Kennedy.

Commentary: Can cable take the lead on social TV?

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