The iTV Doctor is in!: MONKEYmedia Defines "True Telescoping"
The iTV Doctor has been on somewhat of a quest about what the industry calls "telescoping." In three prior columns (published on itvt.com, April 23rd, May 13th and May 27th), we've seen that folks in the interactive television business may have been a tad "vague" in their discussions about whether they can actually "telescope" (which I define as "pause, fetch, resume") with existing technology. The complexity of managing interactive applications, DVR functionality and VOD streams cast some doubt on the viability of an in-home hardware-based solution.
And most readers seem to agree that if we do it wrong, we may never get another chance. So it makes sense to get it right. Now.
As the result of many conversations, and the help of a couple of terrific engineers, we know that existing network/VOD technology can get the job done. And, of course, the folks at TiVo have been doing it for years now with their own hardware and software.
Today we'll talk to Eric Gould Bear, CEO of MONKEYmedia. I first met Eric at the TVOT Show earlier this year and MONKEYmedia has joined the growing ranks of sponsors of The iTV Doctor. Eric is a prolific user interface designer and a named inventor on over 100 patents and patent applications. Since anything to do with patents (even though I've got one) is WAY above my pay grade, I've decided to ask him some questions that I probably share with many in the industry.
First off, let's try for a bit of definition. How does MONKEYmedia define telescoping?
"True telescoping involves interrupting the linear display of an audiovisual stream to insert optional content. When a viewer chooses to watch an expansion, such as a long-form ad, the main video pauses until the viewer is done with the expansion.
It's important to distinguish between true telescoping (where nothing is missed) and unmanaged hyperlinks (where program content and other ads are stomped on).
I believe that true telescoping provides the best viewer experience. And independent research has shown true telescoping to be the most effective vehicle for advertisers. It's a win-win approach."
How do the MONKEYmedia patents relate to telescoping?
"I'm not a patent lawyer. But in my mind, the special sauce of what we call 'Seamless Expansion' is the round trip. When the viewer is done with the expansion, the main video resumes more or less where it left off. These are user experience patents and the viewer's experience is what matters. We're agnostic as to whether it's accomplished using local storage on a DVR or VOD infrastructure.
MONKEYmedia also holds patents on 'Seamless Contraction,' which involves shrinking the amount of time or space allotted to a video program or other document so only certain portions of it are seen."
OK, so you're saying that MONKEYmedia "invented" True Telescoping. Can we get down to the basics of what is an invention?
"Again, I'm not a lawyer, so I can only answer in layman's terms. An invention can be described in a utility patent as of a way of doing something (aka a method), a software or hardware component (aka an apparatus), or content that contains certain functional instructions (aka a computer-readable medium). MONKEYmedia's portfolio includes claims in each of these various types."
How do the MONKEYmedia patents intersect with TiVo's patents?
"We're big fans of TiVo, but haven't studied their patents."
If I understand it correctly, MONKEYmedia has several patents for the invention of what you call "True Telescoping." How do you monetize that?
"Our 'SeamlessTV Partner Program' makes the patents available to CE manufacturers, service operators, movie studios and others at reasonable rates. There are program entry fees and royalties for ongoing use. Pricing information is publicly available at http://seamless.tv."
How would you describe your approach? How is it different from what Henry Yuen and Gemstar did a decade ago? It's been said that the "guide wars" stifled innovation. How does MONKEYmedia intend to avoid that result?
"I wasn't involved in the so-called guide wars, so it wouldn't be fair for me to comment. As a human interface designer, though, I can tell you that I care more about ubiquitous deployment of great user experiences than making top dollar. To support this goal, we've priced our license fees low enough to encourage open communications and broad adoption of our technology. We're taking conscious steps to avoid wasting time and money in the courts because we believe that's best for everyone."
MONKEYmedia has made some noise recently by taking Apple to court over an alleged violation of some of their patents. Tell me about this case. I've heard some say that you've got to really hate them to sue them.
"Apple is a company I greatly admire. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are both personal heroes. Their vision and products have forever changed my life and have positively impacted the world. So I am, and expect will always be, a huge fan."
So why sue?
"Filing lawsuits is certainly not our preferred mode of doing business, but we believe MONKEYmedia is entitled to be paid for use of its patented inventions. We just want to be fairly compensated."
As I understand it, MONKEYmedia is a non-practicing entity that doesn't actually make anything. How does that affect your relationships with companies that do make things?
"MONKEYmedia was originally an interface design firm that made money by creating innovative designs for other companies' products. We were specifically brought in when our clients couldn't solve problems themselves. We also came up with some great user experience technology of our own during that time. We are now in the phase of monetizing those inventions by working with manufacturers positioned to commercialize them. It's a natural evolution of our company."
The patents you hold seem mighty broad. How can you possibly have been granted claims that cover such ubiquitous techniques?
"First, I disagree that our patents only deal with broad concepts. The patents do have some fairly broad claims, but they also have many narrow claims. More importantly, while the techniques may be ubiquitous today, 2010 is the wrong vantage point.
With the fast pace of technological change, it's easy to forget life before our current-day gadgets and user interaction techniques. Who remembers their iPhone without apps? Today's technology seems to erase yesterday's reality. It's especially challenging to roll the clock back to a time before cell phones, TiVo, DVD and the Web. Some of MONKEYmedia's patented techniques were reduced to practice over 18 years ago. I'd recommend reviewing user experiences circa 1992 for an historical refresh before judging any examiner's decisions to issue patents filed in that era."
I have a piece of a patent (for mosaics in EPG's) that was sold along with the company I worked for, and then sold again, bundled into a package of IP, and now part of the future arsenal of some big DC law firm. Patent acquisition and Intellectual Property management seems to be its own ruthless enterprise. If that's what the patent system has turned into, it looks like it is broken.
"The USPTO [United States Patent and Trademark Office] was instituted to spark innovation and protect inventors who dedicate their lives to the "Progress of Science and useful Arts." It's a cornerstone of the constitution and provides important incentives for businesses to invest in R&D. There certainly have been abuses, and those should be addressed. But the patent system is important for independent inventors, like myself, who come up with new and useful ideas.
What's broken is not necessarily the patent system, but the ways in which large businesses operate. Many corporations are incented to not negotiate with independent inventors, and the proliferation of patent suits seems to be cultural evidence of a widespread failure to communicate and negotiate in a reasonable manner."
The cable industry is a pretty closed group. Operators, programming networks and many technology providers are truly insiders--part of the club. Companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft are outsiders. So on one hand, we don't really care what you do with them. But we REALLY care what you do with us. So what are your intentions for the cable industry?
"The ITV industry is a perfect environment for taking media technology to the next level. I see lots of opportunities to deploy true telescoping, not just in advertising but also in content programming. When everyone's doing it, viewers will be engaged rather than frustrated, advertisers will see better results, and operators will reap the benefits of increased profitability.
MONKEYmedia is engaged in productive communications with the industry and continues to be interested in working with all players to help them get the user experience right."
The iTV Doctor is *Rick Howe*, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at email@example.com