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Television Media

The State of Automated Commercial Skipping 381

iskqy writes "Even though attention to commerical skipping has gone down since the motion picture studios sued replaytv for it, I've noticed that it appears to be alive and well in some PVR products on the market. ReplayTV PVRs have it (though different from what they got sued for) in what they call Show|Nav (what a terrible feature name!) and SnapStream's Beyond TV has it in a feature they call SmartSkip. In both cases, the user has to press a button to automagically skip a commercial (vs. the original ReplayTV feature which skipped them without any user intervention) but it's basically the same thing. ReplayTV plays down commercial skipping ("jump forward and back between scenes in a show") but SnapStream is more open about the feature ("Skip commercials and other parts of TV shows"). "
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The State of Automated Commercial Skipping

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  • by cerenyx ( 250774 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:40AM (#7835195) Journal
    I wish I could 'automagically' skip parts of my life I got bored with/didn't want to endure.
    • I wish I could 'automagically' skip parts of my life I got bored with/didn't want to endure.

      This is why I stay up all night and sleep through work ...

      • Indeed, daytime naps are a good way to fast-forward through life's commercials, like family gatherings, boring classes, boring meetings (though that takes some creativity if the lights are on). For instance, having nothing to do this rainy weekend, I napped through the parts where there was nothing good on TV, i didn't want to play Prince of Persia, and my girlfriend was out of the house (yes, I have an attractive human female girlfriend). Call it laziness, call it depression, but I call it effective ener
    • Hell, I want a backup and restore feature, myself. And the ability to edit saves. Yea, my life would be much better...
  • by jtilak ( 596402 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:41AM (#7835200) Journal
    This has probably been said already (maybe not) but isnt suing replaytv for giving consumers the ability to skip commercials like suing mozilla for blocking popups?
    • by TCaptain ( 115352 ) <slashdot.20.tcap ... minus pa> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:51AM (#7835289)
      Don't give the lawyers any ideas :)
    • Shhhh! You'll wake the lawyers!
    • by buelba ( 701300 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:11PM (#7835461)
      That's actually an interesting analogy. Here are some very vague initial thoughts (yes, IAAL):

      A commercial broadcast is a copyrighted work. So you can't infringe on that copyright by creating a derivative work. Deleting the commercials creates an unauthorized derivative work, just like deleting certain scenes of a movie creates an unauthorized derivative work. This is why devices that automatically remove the commercials for you infringe.

      But wait, you say, I am not deleting the commercials, I am just skipping them! Actually I am not even doing that -- I am just skipping ahead 30 seconds when I feel like it. If that always happens to come during commercials, that's not my fault. This is where it gets really interesting -- the networks say that the 30-second-skip is an infringing device under the DMCA because there is no substantial non-infringing use for a thirty-second skip ahead. That is, the only purpose that most TV users would use for a 30-second skip is to skip commercials, thus creating an unauthorized derivative work. On the other hand, you could say that 30-second skip is no different from fast-forward, and we know fast-forward has a substantial non-infringing use -- going past stuff that you've already seen or don't want to bother with.

      If I wanted to distinguish pop-up blockers from replay, I would say that pop-up blockers are different because (1) the commercials are not integrated with the rest of the site (they change by user) and therefore they are not a coherent copyrighted work like a TV broadcast, and (2) pop-up blockers have a substantial non-infringing use because they prevent people from falling into pop-up traps, which are obviously very bad.

      But I'm not sure that argument would win.
      • his is where it gets really interesting -- the networks say that the 30-second-skip is an infringing device under the DMCA because there is no substantial non-infringing use for a thirty-second skip ahead

        The aspect of the DMCA you're talking about applies to encrypted copyrighted works. When signals get to these devices, they either were not encrypted, or have already been decrypted (with the exception of DirecTivo)

      • by Schezar ( 249629 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:29PM (#7835637) Homepage Journal
        "If I wanted to distinguish pop-up blockers from replay, I would say that pop-up blockers are different because (1) the commercials are not integrated with the rest of the site (they change by user) and therefore they are not a coherent copyrighted work like a TV broadcast...

        Cable stations often replace sections of advertisments with their own local ones. Some shows are repeated on different networks with different ads.

        The show is a copyrighted work. The commercials are each individual copyrighted works. I'd keep typing, but you see where I'm going with this...
      • Just to claify, a ReplayTV does not "delete" commericals, it just skips over them. This can to toogled by the user and I believe that they are shipped with the box unchecked. Once the user checks the box to activate commerical advance, it can easily be turned off for any given show by pressinga button on the remote. As you can see "delete" is not the correct term so the original show is not altered in any way, just the viewing of said program. I would equate it to pressing mute of adjusting the color co
      • networks say that the 30-second-skip is an infringing device under the DMCA because there is no substantial non-infringing use for a thirty-second skip ahead

        It wasn't the 30 second skip that got RePlay in trouble, which is why the new RePlays (55xx) still have it, as do many VCR's. The older RePlays (50xx) had a feature called commercial skip, that by hitting a checkbox before playing the show would automatically skip commercials. It uses periods of fade to black to determine what it skips

        I have

      • by bezuwork's friend ( 589226 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @02:04PM (#7836733)
        I'm not familiar with any actual suits which may have been going on with commercial skipping or popup blocking, but this concept bothers me.

        First, I defer to any lawyers here and hope to hear any rebuttals they may have to the following. Just having completed a copyright course (and thus having a little dangerous knowledge), I offer the following:

        Copyright subsists at fixation (17 USC 102), so, as another poster noted, the shows and commercials are obviously separately copyrighted. If the shows are then fixed with commercials interposed, then a copyright would also presumably exist for the compliation of the shows and commercials. This is likely not how it is done as it would seem that the commercials would be served from a separate source in real time. If this is true, the channel stream viewed by the user would not necessarily have a copyright as a compliation. On the other hand, I would expect, if determination of the order and identity of the shows and interposed commercials is done by a file, the file would be copyrightable and thus protectable. [This follows from a case we studied on the Duke Nukem game in which so-called "MAP" files which had no graphics but which controlled the display of library graphics were basically held copyrightable.]

        I think this doesn't matter, however. It is a well-known copyright tenet that derivative works are not created by unfixed alterations of performances/displays. For example, if you hold up pink cellophane in front of a television to make everything appear pink, you have not created a derivative work (the pinkified work was not fixed in any physical medium), although photographing the result would. This example was from Judge Kosinski (spelling?) of the 9th Circuit in the Duke Nukem case referenced previously. This is also why people with sunglasses aren't sued for creating derivative works of everything they see. So, blacking out commercials or skipping them would seem to clearly not create a derivative work.

        The most likely way for broadcasters to prevent commercial skipping would seem to be under some form of moral rights. Moral rights protects against mutilation or unauthorized modification of works of art. However, first, the broadcasters would have to prove a television broadcast was a work of art, which seems unlikely (I mean, the shows in combination with commercials interposed). Second, in the US, at the federal level at least, protection of visual works does not extend to movies or television (see the definition of visual art under 17 USC 101). So this fails as well.

    • Well, (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bnavarro ( 172692 )
      It appears that the reason ReplayTV got sued is because the boxes were automatically skipping commercials, without the user's intervention in any way. It could be argued that perhaps a user wants to see the commercials, but were prevented from doing so because the PVRs were doing so without prompting from the user.

      Popups, on the other hand, and at least for now, require that a person enable popup blocking, so they are voluntarily requesting to skip "web commercials", and it can't be argued that a user mig
  • MythTV (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tanlain ( 726943 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:42AM (#7835206)
    MythTV has had this feature for awhile and it can be set to automatically skip commercials so you dont have to press a button to skip them.
    • Re:MythTV (Score:3, Interesting)

      I don't find the auto-skip feature to be very useful in MythTV. It gets it right about 80% of the time, but some shows that I watch with lots of black frames (like 24) tend to get confused with commercial boundaries. 80% isn't good enough yet, but it's an awfully cool feature that I'm sure will improve as the product evolves.
  • state of commercials (Score:5, Interesting)

    by a1g0rithm ( 688772 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:42AM (#7835208)
    aside from the lawsuits, maybe the push for this techology will force the media to step up their game when it comes to the quality of commercials.. it seems that more and more people are watching things like the superbowl - just to see the commercials that promoters spent time and money to develop.. either the quality of the commercials will increase, or they will go the way of the internet banner ad..
    • either the quality of the commercials will increase, or they will go the way of the internet banner ad..

      You mean, they will be ubiquitous and annoying? Welcome to the future, my friend!

    • I for one welcome the divide between advertising and entertainment. Do you *really* want every show to become like The Truman Show, where "actors" give short spiels about their favourite product to wipe the floors?
    • Right, like they'll do more "product placement" and more "popup commercials" like they have on Spike TV, FX and E, where right in the middle of a show- there will be a loud noise as some animation appears on the bottom third of the screen.

      - Serge
  • I don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by acidrain69 ( 632468 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:42AM (#7835209) Journal
    As a TIVO/ReplayTV virgin, how does the commercial skipping operate? Does it skip a certain amount of time ahead? Does it somehow use motion compensation to detect frame changes and stop fast forwarding when the scene has changed a significant amount? Are commercials just a set amount of time and I've never noticed it all these years? Is it more like a VCR system where you have to fast forward and then curse when you went too far, and then it uses scene changes to go back? Any ideas?
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:2, Interesting)

      by a1g0rithm ( 688772 )
      well, one of the major flags for a commercial skip is the instant increase in sound decibels for the commercial slot..
      • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

        by tang ( 179356 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:50AM (#7835283)
        Actually, according to everything I've read, there is no actual increase of sound decibels in commericals. Here is an example I cut and pasted from somewhere..
        "Technically, the maximum volume is the same for commercials and normal programming. If you watch the audio levels on a VU meter you will see that they peak at around the same level.

        The difference is that advertisers make use of various tricks to make the commercials seem louder. Whereas a TV program will have a range of audio levels, commercials do tend to be full-on noisy. Tricks such as compression are also used to maintain constantly "louder" levels and try to attract attention.

        So it's mainly a perceptual thing. Although the commercials don't reach a high volume, the way they are made gives the impression that they are louder."

        • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Threni ( 635302 )
          Also, many commercials have speech which has been edited to increase the speed but maintain the original pitch, so it doesn't sound like a chipmunk on helium and so that you can fit more in. It still sounds pretty funny to me (try and repeat what they just said) but apparantly not many people notice it.
        • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Informative)

          by DJStealth ( 103231 )
          Keep in mind that maximum volume and average volume are two different things though.

          Potentially commercials can have a higher average volume.
          • True, but you'd have to watch a considerable amount of the commercial just to have enough data to make an accurate average, to determine that it is a commercial.

            If these devices are smart enough to scan ahead and split the previously-recorded broadcast into segments based on average volume, then it might work. But if they're just trying to detect the "edge" where the volume goes from low to high, it won't.

            They're probably doing the former though ...
      • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

        by javatips ( 66293 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:51AM (#7835291) Homepage
        That and the sound is compressed to reduce its dynamic range. This allow for a higher average volume. (the same technique is used on radio broadcast to have an higher signal to noise ratio)

        So by checking the variation in dynamic range of the sound the software is able to guess that some part of the recording is a commercial.

        I believe this is the main method used to detect commercials.

    • Commercials (at least in the US) are usually 30 seconds. TiVo doesn't have commercial skip, but it does have n second skip (where you can define n if you're tricky).

      TiVo also has fast-forward, and when you stop fast-fowarding, it jumps backwards a few seconds because it knows you hit the button one second too late.

      But I have no idea how the automatic commercial skip of ReplayTV works. I'm pretty sure it is more sophisticated than just skipping ahead 30 seconds. So mod me "+1 informative" and "-1 doesn't

      • So mod me "+1 informative" and "-1 doesn't know what he's talking about".

        It's a trick! There is no "doesn't know what he's talking about" moderation! Karma whore! Karma whore! :)

      • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

        by jcoy42 ( 412359 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:13PM (#7835478) Homepage Journal
        TiVo doesn't have commercial skip

        Sure it does (from the TiVo Community forums):

        While playing a recorded show, press Select, Play, Select, 3, 0, Select. You should hear some kind of beeping confirmation tones at the end. The ->| button will then function as a 30-sec skip instead of it's normal function.

        Another feature I didn't know about is you can sort the now playing list:

        Sorting the Now Playing List (3.0)
        In Now Playing, Enter:
        (S)low (0)Zero (R)ecord (T)humbsUp

        Press enter to switch sorting options.

        short cut keys are
        1 for normal
        2 for experation date
        3 for alphabetical

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

      by tang ( 179356 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:47AM (#7835253)
      I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I can tell you how it doesn't work:) This is from a 5080 series replayTV, with the auto-commercial skip.
      It doesn't use time. The commercials can be any length. It seems to be about 90% effective (with the latest software update, it used to be worse). So while Im watching a show, it almost always skips ahead at the correct time (when the commercial starts) but 10% of the time it will either start about 10 seconds before the commericals end, or 5-10 seconds into the show (in which case, I curse, then use the goback button (whatever its called) that automatically goes back seven (I think) seconds.
      Its a neat feature, and it seems like it sometimes works better on some shows than others. For instance, I always had a problem with it working with X-files more than say, Family guy.
      • It doesn't use time. The commercials can be any length. It seems to be about 90% effective (with the latest software update, it used to be worse).

        My old VCR used the completely black screens that preceed the commercial and the resumption of the show.

      • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Arthur Dent ( 76567 )
        I have a replay too and it does work very well for most of the shows I watch. I believe that in addition to the sound level, the replay also checks the black level, so that when a show has a fade to black, it thinks the next scene will be a commercial. This causes problems with shows like Buffy and X Files, but work great for the other shows.
    • But I think between commercial and normal program there is a single frame of color (a blue frame IIRC) and some other visual info which we do not see but a chip can detect. Now this was some year ago so this might not be either the case today , or even the caser in US.
    • In most cases, there will be a few frames of complete black right before a commercial. I know some of the VCR's that automatically fast-forward through commercials do this, and I'd guess ReplayTV at least uses it as one of its criterian for determining commercials.
      • Some VCRs and Audio Cassette players use similar techniques to determine where the end/beginning of new recordings are.. But there was always the problem. Sometimes within a recording there is silence (or a black screen) without actually going to a commercial (or a new track)
    • As a TIVO/ReplayTV virgin, how does the commercial skipping operate? Does it skip a certain amount of time ahead?

      Basically, it involves the folding of time and space; each 30 second skip acutally moves you forward in time 30 seconds. The time is then reclaimed at 2 am while you are sleeping, so you are basically unaware that you are 30 seconds ahead of everyone else (except that, if you talk on the phone to someone outside of your home, you can answer questions before they've been asked).

      Unfortunately, y
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:2, Informative)

      by brianerst ( 549609 )
      While the "Commercial Advance" feature is somewhat shrouded in corporate mystery, the basic concept is well-understood.

      While a DVR is recording (a VCR with the feature typically has to scan the program after taping to mark the commercials), it looks for a pattern of "fade-to-blacks". Just before each commercial, and just before the program resumes, there is typically a 1/10-3/10ths of a second black fade that "frames" each commercial (you'll notice it readily once you know to look for it). The DVR will lo

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:43AM (#7835215)
    Sorry, but the networks have no inherent RIGHT to make money. It's wonderful if they can, but if they feel they are loosing money due to commerical skipping then maybe their business model isn't viable anymore and they need to think about change. Nothing makes me more enraged than corporations that seek protection from congress rather than adapting to new market conditions.
    • If you are viewing their network programming they do. They provide you with programming for the low price of watching commercials. You have to pay extra for HBO and other non-commercial channels. For the life of me I can't figure out where people believe they should get TV for free. What makes you think they don't have a right to make money but you have the right to watch free TV?

      Trust me when I say that I hate commercials as much as the next person. The does not mean that networks are in the wrong fo
      • by Henry V .009 ( 518000 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:06PM (#7835417) Journal
        When you read a newspaper do you make sure to read ALL of the ads?


        I'll bet that you even have a pop-up blocker installed on your computer, you evil bastard.
        • When you read a newspaper do you make sure to read ALL of the ads?

          In fact, when I do read the newspaper, I read many of the advertisements, because many of the ads are promoting sales & discounts on stuff I want to buy.

          Your counter-argument is flawed. You aren't compelled to watch TV commercials; you can record a TV show on a VCR and fast-forward through a commercial. The same goes for newspapers. Don't like an ad, turn the page. The ad-revenue model is based upon the assumption that an ad will
      • They have the right to show commercials. They do NOT have the right to expect us to watch them, or to stop us from using technical means to get around them. But I don't think the OP ever mentioned them not having a right to air commercials.

        If this ends up being a feature TV watchers like, TV stations will just have to change buisness models. Probably by increasing product placement in lieu of commercials.

        Truthfully, I'm surprised that advertisement as a TV revenue stream didn't fail decades ago. Sur
      • >If you are viewing their network programming they do.

        They have the right to force you to sit through the commericals?

        >For the life of me I can't figure out where people believe they should get TV for free.

        Because we naturally rather have it for free?
      • They provide you with programming for the low price of watching commercials.

        They provide us with programming and they hope we watch the commercials. When the government gives a company the right to use a chunk of the airwaves or to create a monopoly (in the case of cable TV), they don't guarantee the company that the people receiving the broadcasts will tune into any particular part of a broadcast.

        What makes you think they don't have a right to make money but you have the right to watch free TV?

        If the

      • If you want advertising to go away then you can kiss "free" publications goodbye with the exception of non-profits.
        You know what? TOUGH SHIT. Perhaps the paid-by-ads business model is dying. I like this possibility more than the content providers deciding what I can connect to the TV set/VCR/computer I paid for.
      • Yes, it is how they make money. However, is it our duty to make sure X company gets money and doesn't go out? No. They're pushing the power out of their antenna for anyone to watch.
      • by Viking Coder ( 102287 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:52PM (#7835859)
        It's a broadcast signal. Broadcast. That means that anyone can do with it what they please, as long as they obey copyright law. Copyright law prohibits me from distributing copies, or making unlicensed derivative works.

        I can change channels when a show jumps to commercials, I can mute the sound when a show jumps to commercials, I can even video tape a show and watch it at a later time - as many times as I like to. Because presentation is different from copyright. I can re-present a copyrighted work to myself, if I have an authorized copy of it. I am not licensed to watch a copyrighted broadcast work - there are no limits on how I may use it, as long as I don't break copyright law.

        Read that again - there are no limits on how I may use it, as long as I don't break copyright law.

        I am under no obligation to buy all of the advertised products. I am under no obligation to give due consideration to the advertised products. I am under no obligation to pay attention to the advertised products. I am under no obligation to watch the products be advertised. Even though, if I were to do all of those things, it would make the broadcast business more successful, and those reasons are in fact the only reason why the business is providing a broadcast television signal.

        McDonalds could hire a guy to stand in a Hamburgler suit, and hand out $1 bills to everyone that walks into the restaurant. They are legally allowed to give things away for free. They can expect people to notice that they're giving away something for free. They can expect people to buy more of what they're selling, because they've given away something for free. But the people have no legal obligation to notice, or to buy the products!

        It's advertising! Even the television program itself is advertisement for the products in the commercials. "Notice me! Buy this!" Certain forms of advertising are illegal - false advertising comes to mind. But as long as consumers obey copyright, they are allowed to do anything they want to with the advertisements! They provide me with a free product, broadcast television, and they hope that I'll watch the commercials. A car company could give away free cars, loaded with 10% off coupons for McDonalds. If I don't sign any contracts, then I am under no license, there are no limits on my use of their free product, and I don't have to drive their car to freaking McDonalds. If they program the car to automatically drive to McDonalds, then I can chose not to use the car - but under the DMCA, I am prohibited from tampering with the device, and I must merely accept what it does - drive me to McDonalds - as long as that causes me no harm. I may not personally like that law, but it is the law.

        It doesn't matter that you're correct that if people completely ignored advertising, that "free" publications would go away. They have no legal protection that their business practice of giving away something free will always result in increased sales. They're relying on psychology, that repeated presentation increases the perceived desirability of a product. They're using your mind against you. I can use my remote control against them.

        Everything has an associated cost somewhere unless those doing it are not getting paid.

        They are giving away something for free, and they hope that you'll be tricked into buying their products. They're chosing the cost of giving away something for free - I am not accepting the responsibility to pay them. If I signed an agreement saying that I would watch commercials in exchange for video programming, then they would have a legal right to force me to watch their commercials - it's a contract, and both parties profit - I get TV, and they get me to do what they want - watch their commercials.

      • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @03:47PM (#7837947) Journal
        For the life of me I can't figure out where people believe they should get TV for free. What makes you think they don't have a right to make money but you have the right to watch free TV?

        I don't think anyone thinks that commercials should disappear. It's a matter that networks have made commercials monumentally annoying, and are willing to put the extra effort into skipping them because of that annoyance.

        Additionally, I don't think you'll find that people are complaining that over-the-air broadcasts should be commercial-free, but you could certainly say that cable/satellite TV should be, since you are paying a few dollars for each station, per-person, per month.

        Also, programming is getting crappier (no nostalga here, it really is much crappier) and if you had to tolerate the nasty commercials, it wouldn't be worth watching. Networks should consider these boxes their saviors, otherwise nobody would be willing to watch their stations, and nobody would then be paying their providers and keeping the stations on the air.

        Right now, stations are so terrible that the market is ripe for the picking. Put on a handful of decent station, decent content, and non-iritating commercial, and you'd take-over. Unfortunately, stations that seemed to be doing that (eg. Bravo) got swallowed up by big companies with other annoying channels (eg. NBC/Time Warner) who don't want people to have an alternative.

        No then, I'd be more than happy to pay a few bucks for each commercial-free channel I recieved, but I don't have that option. I strongly dislike the programming on HBO/Showtime and even if I didn't cable companies want too much money, and don't offer them without $40++ basic service as well.

        So, I'm disgusted with the whole thing, and there doesn't seem to be much alternative out there. If things get much worse, I'll just cancel my cable service, and invest that money in upgrading my netflix service.
    • I globally agree, but as, in the land of the free, contrary to socialist Europe, corporations earn money providing a public service (broadcasting news and entertainement) in place of state TV (BBC, France Televisions...).

      If they are no longer profitable, the service disappear. So, without national broadcasting, you have to protect them, in the interest of the public.

      Note: I don't believe half what I just wrote, but it could be an explanation.
  • I have to say that I much prefer my vcr's automatic commercial skip over Replay's, as long as I am going to be a passive viewer. With the replay, you keep hitting the skip button, until you reach the end of the commerical block, and then sometimes you have to backtrack. Where as with any standard vcr, after you record a show, it goes back and flags commercials, and when you play it, the vcr automatically fast forwards through commercials. maybe not as handy, but much simpler.
    • Older (and now the really new) ReplayTVs have automatic commercial skip. The technology detects the brief black screen before and after the commercial breaks and skips over them automatically.
      For me, it works most of the time. The times it doesn't is typically during shows with a lot of black gaps like 24 and Law & Order.
    • With the replay, you keep hitting the skip button, until you reach the end of the commerical block, and then sometimes you have to backtrack.

      That was the way it used to be, but they recently updated the software to "automagically" sense the end of a commercial block while your hitting the skip button and it stops (the skip icon changes in the corner of your screen to let you know that it has sensed the end of the block). It works correctly about 90% of the time too.
  • by bludstone ( 103539 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:45AM (#7835236)
    So, as people switch to skipping commercials, we will probably see a huge push in product placement in new tv shows. Hell, I was watching some movie channel the other day, and the people who introduced the movie also doubled as salesmen, trying to push some random product on me.

    Looking forward to seeing bart's room covered in butterfinger wrappers.
    • Ever see Evolution? That turned out to be a 1 1/2 hour build up to a Head and Shoulders commercial!
    • One channel near me puts up an ad for some TV maker in the bottom corner of the screen when "Star Trek: Enterprise" (nee "Enterprise") starts. The ad is about 1/6th the size of the screen. It's really annoying.

      Perhaps they realize that all the Star Trek geeks have TiVo and are skipping the commercials.

      I hope this doesn't become a trend. Having my favorite character on "Friends" holding a Diet Squirt is fine withe me. Having a big can of Diet Squirt appear in the corner of the screen and bounce around wo

  • by cybermancer ( 99420 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:45AM (#7835238) Homepage
    I welcome the ability for people to skip commercials or advertisements for the simple reason that they fail to deliver on their goal. They only seem to annoy people and motivate them to switch channels.

    If a commercial / ad actually imparts information or entertainment value, then I enjoy and look forward to it, the first couple times. Too many commercials /ads are repeated over and over again. If I wasn't interested the first time, then I doubt I will be the 100th time. This is the same way with SPAM. I get 3 offers a day for the same useless products. One thing I really hate about Discovery channel (and others) is that they only have about a dozen commercials that they play over and over and over again.

    It is unfortunate that advertisers believe (and possibly rightfully so) that consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they are repeatedly exposed to an ad that does not actually provide information about the product, but instead annoys the heck out of them due to content or frequency of occurrence.

    Much like elections, it usually comes down to name recognition.
    • Car ads (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 )
      Has anyone ever based a multi-thousand dollar car purchase on a car ad they saw? I'm sure some ad exec would bend over backwards trying to make some tenuous psychological argument about "sub conscious choices" or "product awareness" but I think car makers just waste a hell of a lot of money in the end.
      • I'm sure some ad exec would bend over backwards trying to make some tenuous psychological argument about "sub conscious choices" or "product awareness" but I think car makers just waste a hell of a lot of money in the end.

        IANAAE (I am not an ad exec) BUT, I'd augue that product awareness is exactly correct. Ever buy a car, new or used, and all of a sudden you start to notice that SO many other people have one, when you've never noticed before? Yeah. It's like that. If you don't notice the product rea
      • I remember reading, long ago, that the reason wasn't to sell the car, but for you to see the ad and say, "see, I didn't waste my money - other people are buying them too". It's for the people who own the car, not the people who may buy the car.
      • Re:Car ads (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Suidae ( 162977 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:32PM (#7835650)
        They probably don't make you want to go buy a new Model X car, but they do keep reminding you how nice a shiny new car would be, which helps to keep people buying cars.

        How often would you think about buying a new car if you never saw a car commercial?
      • Re:Car ads (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Artifakt ( 700173 )
        Do commercials actually work? There's increasing evidence they don't. For example, there have been some new studies on movie theatre subliminal type methods, and the researchers announced that the old claim that they didn't influence behavior was actually wrong, but that they didn't influence behavior in the desired way, instead.
        It seems that a quick subliminal picture of a Coca-cola product, for example, actually influences viewers a great deal. They apparently all get reminded to think about whether t
    • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:19PM (#7835539)
      It is unfortunate that advertisers believe (and possibly rightfully so) that consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they are repeatedly exposed to an ad that does not actually provide information about the product, but instead annoys the heck out of them due to content or frequency of occurrence.

      They are.

      The point of ads isn't to make people say, "Hey! I need a Big Mac right now!", it's to bash the product in the minds of people so that when someone thinks to themself, "I'm hungry, I need to grab something to eat really quick" the first thing that comes to their mind is "McDonald's".

      Here's a great example: If I asked a bunch of people who use the internet a lot what to get if I wanted a small, remotely viewable camera for spying on my (hypothetical) wife when I'm not home, the first thing that will come to their minds is "X10!". Not because it's a superior product, not because they've used it before and like it, but because it's been bashed into our minds so much that the X10 is immediately what we think of.

      THIS is what advertisers want.
    • Believe it or not, there's a point to the practice of showing you the same ad time after time. The idea is to burn the idea of the product and logo deep into your brain. They want you to associate the ad, and the situation in the ad, no matter how poorly acted/presented, with a product.

      Repeatedly showing the same scenario to you - say, the white nuclear family is talking about Timmy's grades over dinner, Whippy Mayonnaise in the new plastic container falls off the table and falls, bounces, but does not b
      • It works in reverse as well.

        When Coke was doing their blind product testing for New Coke, people liked the new recipe and Coke thought they were onto something. But a lot of people liked the original Coke because of those impressions - it reminded them of their first kiss, or going somewhere with their parents, etc.

        When the formula changed, some people lost their connection to those impressions and declared that they didn't like the new formula - even if they picked it as a preference in a blind test. The
  • by fname ( 199759 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:48AM (#7835258) Journal
    I own a TiVo, and I understand the benefits of skipping ads. However, I don't think this is what DVRs so compelling. Time shifting a show (watching a football almost live from the start after missing the 1st quarter) and season passes (TiVo: Record all new Simpsons episodes and save them all until I delete them. And start the recording a minute early & end it a minute late) are much more useful. When I'm watching something intently, skipping ads is great; when I'm watching TV while doing something else, it sometimes is more of a pain than its worth-- sometimes I fell like I *have* to skip ads.

    Commercial skipping is nice nonetheless, although I'm not sure how useful automatic skipping is; I'e never tried it. TiVo also has the ability to skip 30-second chunks of shows. Just start playing something from "Now Playing." Press Select-Play-Select-3-0-Select. You'll hear 3 "dings." Now when you press the "jump-to-live" button, you'll skip 30 seconds at a time. You have to repeat this procedure if the TiVo gets rebooted.
  • by questamor ( 653018 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:50AM (#7835272)
    I remember back in the late 1980s listening to my parents and their disgust at commercial television stations now having up to THREE advertisements in ad spots, when before it was one, or maybe two on a slow night.

    Now, on pay television and free to air, I'm seeing 8-12 advertisements in each slot, and massive amounts of the shows I watch being cut out. Last time I watched X-Files (only because I know it used to be 43 minutes per episode when first shown) the entire show was cut down to 35 minutes. that's eight minutes of the show I want to watch gone, and over 80 advertisements.

    Now. What's the difference? What's so pricey nowadays that requires so many advertisements constantly?

    Pricey reality television shows. blah.
  • ...since I always skip commercials. Hell I should be classified as a totally unamerican freak since I can honestly say that there are full weeks where I don't even see/hear a commercial.

    Even worse I don't even have any form of broadcast/cable/sat television signal coming into my home at all.

    Horrors! I must be some sort of terrorist freak since I prefer to spend my time reading books. Were it not for my DVD collection and my PS2 I'd not even have a TV in the house.

    Send out the FBI! Notify the NSA! Wake u
  • by Guano_Jim ( 157555 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:52AM (#7835303)
    Unfortunately, skipping does not mean the end of commercials, just commercials as we know them.

    Subtle and not so subtle product placements [] will ensure that we continue to see advertising every time we watch TV, despite our best efforts.

    I suggest listening to public streaming radio [] (in ogg format no less) as a wonderful alternative to the tripe Madison avenue continues to shove down your throat.

    Unless you like tripe. [] Whatever floats your boat.
  • The big red button on my TV-set turned out to be the perfect Ad-skipping device with 100% accuracy. The loss of little content hidden between the commercial can be discounted as negligeable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @11:58AM (#7835352)
    It should be easy to identify commercials for skipping. They are the blocks of broadcast time that don't have the Broadcast Flag set.
  • For the children. Seriously. Anyone with small children knows that all the adverts placed in children's television really isn't good for them -- or their parents. The non-stop barrage of advertising really undermines a parents ability to teach their children moderation and selective consumption. With a PVR set to auto-skip adverts it would be a lot easier to limit their exposure to so much commercialism. Of course we have to expect they'll be exposed to some degree and MUST meet our obligations to teac
    • Oh please.

      For the children my ass.

      You want it back for yourself (!) so you can be lazy and let the television raise your children for you. The real solution to your problem is to not leave your children in front of the television alone, and to have them watch public television.

      Are you completely blind to the fact that childrens shows these days *are* the advertising? Look around your house. How many TV show related dolls or action figures do you have? How will auto-skipping the commercials fix that?

  • by ausoleil ( 322752 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:02PM (#7835386) Homepage
    While nearly all of us who have PVR's enjoy the ability to skip screaming car salesmen, corporate drug pushers (pharmaceutical companies), incredibly heart warming financial companies touting their trustwothiness, etc. etc. et. all ad nauseum, eliminating them from our entertainment will be all but impossible. In fact, by eliminating the containerized thirty or sixty second ads, we'll instead get blasted by pop-ups and embedded product placements, etc., AND the traditional commercial. In fact, it is already happening. To wit:

    Disney owns ABC, ESPN and the Discovery Channel. How often on ESPN does one see "the stars" of that great new hit on ABC? How often does ABC tout programs on ESPN? And now, Discovery is in the act too, offering us "documentaries" on the magic behind Disney World in Orlando. And of course, who owns Disney World? Disney.

    Films made by Sony's studios almost always feature Sony equipment when a given character is using his or her PC. Also, the word "SONY" is often in huge black letters on the rear of a monitor, even though they aren't usually so prominent on the products shipped to Joe Consumer from the factory.

    Add to that the PAID product placements like Coca-Cola being drunk by a given character. There are many of those.

    And finally, the grand-daddy of product advertising discguised as content: NASCAR. Each car is festooned with no less than twenty different sponsors, starting with the make and model of the auto being raced (even they have exactly one part in common with their street version: the roof panel) plus the major sponsor of the driver, plus the minor sponsor plus all the super-minor sponsors not the least of which is NACAR itself. The whole race is a rotating advertisement, one which the competitors are trying not only to beat each other but also to gain the most exposure time for their sponsors. A higher position on the track means more "impressions" for the sponsors on the viewers. Best of all, when a driver is interviewed, he thanks 1) God 2) his crew and of course his sponsors for painting his "Folger's/Viargra/Ford/Taurus" in their colors. The entire event is, in short, an ad.

    That's direction we're headed. Like death, taxes and Microsoft security flaws, one simply cannot avoid marketing. It's simply more malleable than are the viewers or listeners of a given content.
    • Good points. I personally address this issue by not connecting an antenna to my television, but I'm concerned about advertising in movies. In short, my eyeballs aren't for sale, but there are some occasions where I find it difficult to keep my gaze pure of influence. It isn't like I'm some automaton who will obey advertising, but I don't like the influence.
  • How it works (Score:3, Informative)

    by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:03PM (#7835395)
    Automatic commercial skipping has been around for years. I had the capability on a VCR that I had about 8 years ago. The way it works is that the device looks for the completely black screen that preceeds the commercial and the resumption of the show. Next time you're watching a show, pay attention to that transition and you'll see it. It apparently never happens at other times (well, hardly ever: my VCR was fooled once in a great while by something in the middle of a show or string of commercials). If my Tivo had something like that, it'd be even more awesome (but, the manual skipping using the remote ain't that bad as it is).
  • They have a one-day special 'cause we slashdotted them.

    At least they have a sense of humor!

    We've been slashdot'ed! Woo hoo! Get $10 off Beyond TV and Beyond TV Kits (with tuner card). Buy Beyond TV for as low as $49.99! Simply use coupon code "slashdot2003" to redeem this special offer. (posted 12/30/2003)

    Pick from one of the items below:

  • Even though I've had a ton of issues with the product quality (two units dying), I LOVE my ReplayTV 5080 for three reasons:

    1. Automatic Commercial skips WORKS. (It works best when a show has "bumpers".)

    2. Networking...with DV Archive I can offload shows onto unlimited drive space and/or burn to DVD.

    3. Component video...yes I know the source is only S-Video, but there is an unquestionable increase in quality. I have both s-video and component outs hooked up, and there IS a difference.

    I also prefer t
  • Automatic skip commercial recording all together... save me several hours of wasted hard-drive space.
  • by strags ( 209606 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:38PM (#7835697)
    MythTV [] also has this feature built in.

    I cannot emphasize just how cool this project is - it has all the features you'd expect from a modern DVR, and many more besides. It's open-source and immensely configurable. For example:

    I also decided I'd like to be able to transfer recorded programs to my machine at work and watch them there, so I hacked up a little script to re-encode them at 100kbps, and added a "Watch Now" link to the MythWeb HTML web interface.

    The other day my wife was complaining that the fonts on the screen were too small, so I tweaked the XML configuration file to bump them up a bit.

    Thanks to LIRC, I can pretty much use any remote I like to control the box. I'm using an ancient, spare TV remote right now, and I can map the buttons whichever way I like.

    It'll also optionally rip DVDs and CDs, enabling you to play them from the hard drive. It will also play pretty much any video file you have (through MPlayer). If I want to show the wife a movie trailer that I've downloaded from the internet, I just copy it over to the MythTV box, and she can watch it on the television.

    Let's see you do all *that* with a Tivo!
  • by British ( 51765 ) <> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @12:42PM (#7835754) Homepage Journal
    Why not use several methods to determine if there's a commercial?

    1. The blackout interval. Sometimes though, like on Frasier there's blackouts during the program.

    2. The audio levels

    3. Closed captioning. Are commercials closed captioned? I haven't goofed off with CC settings for a while. My advent tv seems to have several of them.

    4. network bug detection.

    Perhaps using a combination of the 4 above can do perfect commercial skippage. Then have it make a small database of which times it skipped commercials a day/week before to give it a general guideline on when to do it again.

    Take your anti-spam tech and use it towards tv commercials.
  • by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:00PM (#7835959)
    many years ago and way back when, there was an FCC requirement that there was to be a minimum of a 1 second fade to total black leaving the program and going into a commercial and the same was to be applied leaving the commercial and going back into the program.

    Of course this rarely happened due to the fact that college kids were running the place as interns and there was a *lot* of screwing up..

    Anyway, I had been working on a circuit that would monitor the video stream for the fade to black and would mute the volume automagically on live TV. (This was about 20 years ago though.)

    You would be amazed at the information that's encoded into a video stream that you can't see without special equipment. It's neat as hell. We used to send stuff out, like text messages in the VBI that only other techs could get. The FCC would have shit if they had known what was going on back then..

    Anway, The point is that you can design circuits that KNOW (or are supposed to know) when commercials start and end and take action based on that. But it's not fool proof, it depends on the broadcaster sticking to the rules, and they rarely do...

  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @01:07PM (#7836040)
    IANAL, NDIPOOTV (I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV).
    As it stands, it looks like automating the skipping process is what takes away the substantial non-infringing use claim for customers. (Of course, this is likely to change rapidly in the existing legal environment, but that looks to be the case for now).
    The court should have recognized that being able to detect commercials automatically in the first place shouldn't have been possible at the accuracy the devices are capable of, unless broadcasters are themselves infringing on both laws and FCC regulations. For example, some of these devices detect differences in the peak or mean amplitude of the audio track. Others detect digital labeling originally used internally by the broadcast studios, and so are not just detecting commercials, but public service broadcasts, tests of the EBS, and station identification.
    That last would not be necessary if local stations didn't sometimes broadcast 10 or 12 commercials in a row, broken up by a station identification segment to give a superficial legal defense against violating the FCC rulings.
    That being the case, it's like a drug dealer going to court for taking a bad check. Their own violations mean they should not have standing to bring the lawsuits. Unfortunately, their own violations have been largely ignored by the system, which is often reluctant to enforce the law, and powerless to give FCC rules the full weight of law.
  • by Darth RadaR ( 221648 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @02:29PM (#7837017) Journal
    Yeah, but what does it do when you're watching an info-mercial? ;)
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @03:56PM (#7838044)
    The only way for stations to solve this commercial dillemaa is this.

    Make it really, really easy to download commercials - then before every show show "trialers" for a few commercials related to the show. If these are done well enough then people would watch instead of skipping, and go somewhere else to view the full versions of thigns they liked.

    I LOVED adCritic when it was free and I could look at whatever commercials I liked. Broadcasters (including cable on over the air stations) are really missing out by not making it so that I can look at a commercial when I want to, instead of when they think I should. As it is even if skipping is not in a product I can and do just leave or FF anyway, since I have no idea anything of any interest may be shown.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.