Sony Files Patent To Make TV Ads Into Video Games

The future of commercials is pickle-icious.



That’s the future of you sitting in front of your television, watching commercials, according to a new patent application from Sony. Interactive software streams to your television between pre-cut commercials, asking the viewer to actually engage with a brand for some sort of reward. In the case Sony’s proposal for this McDonald’s ad, saying the name allows you to skip the rest of the commercial.


This particular use case scenario, of course, is horrid. There are few things more frustrating than a voice recognition system, like Siri or Kinect, not understanding your speech. Imagine that frustration mixed in a cauldron with an annoying ad you’re seeing for the upteenth time. Brands would get their interaction, all right, filled with a series of gestures that best go unreported.

But Sony’s patent is technologically broad–it reads as a catch-all for interactive commercials streamed to your TV–and it’s filled with other possibilities. Sony suggests shooting, racing, and fighting games–even trivia rounds that would compete viewers against one another for rewards (rewards that could be emailed or text messaged to you). There’s even an idea for Burger King in there, if McDonald’s doesn’t like the pitch.

In the embodiment of FIG. 8, the instructions are “Throw the pickle to speed up commercial.” The user, which is holding a one-handed controller with motion detection, swings his arm to simulate the act of throwing a pickle. As a result, the flying interactive pickle is placed in the burger, and the commercial message “Make it your way” is displayed briefly before the commercial ends and the user returns to watching the streaming media.

It’s indefinite in how long such interactive elements could last (could someone play for 10 minutes?), or what sorts of technologies the average consumer is expected to have at home (everything from motion sensing, voice recognition, Bluetooth, and networked tablets are mentioned). Sony also acknowledges the need for other commercials to play naturally just as they do now, while contradictorily suggesting that the ad could go long, even continuing into the program itself, sitting on top of image like picture-in-picture. The ad can then follow users to various other devices, like texting or emailing a coupon code.


On one hand, everything Sony describes is horrifying–part of a larger culture in which, not only can we not bring ourselves to disconnect, but every brand in the world is egging on our wide-eyed, hyperactive impulses. And yet on the other, everything Sony describes could be so much more interesting than current commercials. Imagine if Burger King gave you a 30-second, pickle-laden Angry Birds level rather than a montage of flame broiled beef. Or better still, consider what McDonald’s could do allowing viewers the chance to ask the company an earnest, database-answerable question–“how much protein is in a cheeseburger?” or “where do your fries come from?” or “how many Happy Meals do you serve a day?” or even “what are you doing for animal welfare?”

It’s not really a question of gesture inputs or voice commands. Interaction of any sort, done poorly, will box users in to experience a superficial, vapid experience with a brand. (Which, honestly, is pretty much how commercials work today.) But interaction, done well, could tailor to each consumer’s individual interest in a product, and further the (sometimes) real dialog between consumer and corporation we’ve seen developing on Facebook and Twitter.

Real interaction–not just Wiimote waving, but ideas being shared two ways–coupled with all of the algorithmic powers of big data could fuel a whole new world of corporate insight. The living room could become a focus group rather than a meaningless game. And for many consumers, a commercial could become a very worthwhile experience, enticing them to learn something or change the way a store operates, rather than just getting the high score on their block.

We’ve all lived high on the hog with our commercial-skipping DVRs. And with ads making their way into every video online, it seems only a matter of time before those days come to an end. But one thing’s for sure: When that day is over, there will be a lot of disgruntled consumers–consumers who you really won’t want shouting “McDonald’s!” at the top of their lungs in a coordinated, digital mob.

Read the patent here.

[Hat tip: Engadget]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach