In this era of easy ad skipping with TiVo-like video recorders, could television viewers one day be forced to watch commercials with a system that prevents channel switching?
Yes, according to Royal Philips Electronics (PHG). A patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says researchers of the Netherlands-based consumer electronics company have created a technology that could let broadcasters freeze a channel during a commercial, so viewers wouldn't be able to avoid it.
The pending patent, published on March 30, says the feature would be implemented on a program-by-program basis. Devices that could carry the technology would be a television or a set-top-box.
Philips acknowledged, however, that the anti-channel changing technology might not sit well with consumers and suggested in its patent filing that consumers be allowed to avoid the feature if they paid broadcasters a fee.
On Wednesday, company officials issued a statement that noted the technology also enables the opposite: allowing viewers to watch television without advertising. The intention was never to force viewers to watch ads against their will, the company said of the technology.
"We developed a system where the viewer can choose, at the beginning of a movie, to either watch the movie without ads, or watch the movie with ads," the company stated. "It is up to the viewer to take this decision, and up to the broadcaster to offer the various services."
The company also said it had no plans to use the technology in any of its products.
Philips wanted to provide the technology and seek the patent only as part of the broader developments within the industry, Philips spokesman Andre Manning said.