Pay-per-view could get more literal

Want to hit rewind and replay that great sporting moment again? Gonna cost ya. Trying to fast forward through commercials? Pay up buddy.

That’s the world we could be living in if a recently-published Microsoft patented technology becomes adopted by cable firms.

Entitled “Control-based content pricing”, the heart of the concept is that a “content server receives a view control input from the client device that indicates how the media content is to be rendered and the valuation application adjusts the cost according to the view control input and how the media content is to be rendered.”

Translated into plain English, that means your remote control turns into a cash register. The key is that the “rendering” of the content means you don’t just pay for the right to watch it, but also for the way in which you watch it. The wording of the patent is broad enough that it could cover internet content, cable on demand services, or possibly even a DVR.

The patent contains a few specific examples, such as being able to charge extra for replaying content, which could simply mean paying for each time you watch a show, but could also mean paying an additional fee to replay a clip.

The suggested use that will attract the most interest among cable firms is the possibility of tracking whether or not the viewer has watched a commercial (or at least left it playing while leaving the room or turning their attention elsewhere) and then either cutting the cost if they view, or putting it up if they don’t view. Call be cynical, but my money would be on the latter.

It’s important to note — and Microsoft has stressed — that the patent being granted merely shows Microsoft is claiming credit for the idea and doesn’t mean there’s any specific talks to use it in reality. Still, it’s hard to see how cable companies won’t be pleased by the thought that such a thing is at least technically viable, even though it would be a tough sell to customers.

The news will likely be particularly unwelcomed for viewers of the recent British drama series Black Mirror, which included an episode titled 15 Million Merits that involved citizens being forced to watch advertisements (with an unbearable audible attack if they closed their eyes) unless they paid a financial penalty.

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