Verizon details social TV, voice recognition and next-gen guide in patent applications

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is developing next-generation navigation technology for its FiOS TV platform, including social TV applications, companion tablets and voice recognition software, according to recent patent applications.

Verizon FiOS companion device patents

Click here for a slideshow with details from the patent applications.

In a patent application titled "Social Television," Verizon describes how it could supply subscribers with tablet computers that could be used to navigate an interactive program guide, and interact with friends watching TV in other homes.

"Through use of a companion device having access to a user's social graph, an enhanced system may transform media content viewing into a new social experience. The enhanced system may associate accounts of subscribers to a media content system with accounts of users on a social network, and may thus use the social graph and other information associated with users of the social network to socially enhance the viewing of media content," Verizon wrote in the patent application, which was published July 5 by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Images included in the patent application show how FiOS subscribers viewing a grid of TV listings would be able to access chat rooms related to each program displayed on the guide, and invite friends to watch and chat about a particular program.

"The companion device may augment an interactive program guide to provide features such as an ability to show all friends of the user of the social network who are also watching the same media content, show what media content each of the friends of the user of the social network are experiencing, provide chat functionality to allow the user to communicate with his or her friends from the social network, allow users to invite other social friends to watch a particular instance of media content, allow users to invite other social friends to chat privately, and allow users to provide presence information relating to other social friends who may be logged into the system," Verizon wrote in the patent application.

Verizon and other major cable and satellite providers already offer subscribers apps for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad and iPhone and mobile devices running Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android platform that allow subscribers to use the devices as remote controls. But no U.S. pay-TV distributor has marketed a tablet to subscribers for use in navigating digital cable programming.

Last week, Verizon asked some FiOS subscribers to participate in a survey about a companion device. "We would like your feedback about a new device that may be available with FiOS service in the future. FiOS Companion is a state-of-the-art Android tablet designed to optimize your FiOS-TV viewing experience," Verizon wrote in an email invite. This reporter, a FiOS subscriber, received the invite, but did not participate in the survey.

Verizon may also be looking at adding voice recognition technology to its FiOS TV platform. It recently filed a patent application titled "controlling a set-top box via remote speech recognition." And the social TV patent application explains how speech recognition technology could be used to help subscribers chat about TV programs.

"The user's spoken words may be captured using the speech recognition software and written into the chat text windows. Such an implementation may require use of a microphone that can capture the speaker's voice without picking up the background sound from the locally playing program content. In some cases, a microphone included in or associated with the adjunct device may be utilized for capturing the voice of the user," Verizon wrote in the social TV application.

Verizon has also filed patent applications that illustrate new user interfaces for navigating TV content. Its patent application for "media content user interface systems and methods" explains how subscribers could navigate programming through "an immersive virtual environment through which media content is made available in a way that is unique to the user." Images in the patent application detail a method for navigating TV shows similar to the displays used by virtual worlds such as Second Life.

It's not clear how soon Verizon may add new features such as social TV and speech recognition to the FiOS TV platform. "Verizon files and holds many patents, as we continuously explore new ways to deliver the best customer experience," spokeswoman Heather Wilner said in a statement. "As an industry driver, we are always in discovery mode. Since FiOS is an innovation platform and not just a TV service, we are able to offer new and innovative solutions for our customers," she added. 

For more:
- see the social TV patent application

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