Apple Has Plans for Radio (And TV Too?)

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was granted a patent on Tuesday that would allow users to skip unwanted broadcast segments, such as commercials, with on-device content like songs, podcasts, or other media.

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U.S. Patent No. 8,249,497, which was granted Apple today, is for “seamless switching between radio and local media.” The patent describes a system in which a mobile device will automatically switch between broadcast content and stored media to offer a unique, customized user experience.

Users of devices utilizing this technology would be able to skip sections of content on a radio station, filling the gap with “non-radio media or content sources” already stored on that device. The patent could allow users to skip commercials entirely.

Covered by the patent are broadcasts from a “radio stream provided over any communications network,” while the stored media can include content saved in a device’s memory or from a streaming host device.

The patent essentially outlines technology that switches the station when the content is not to the listener’s liking, filling the space with user-chosen content. It uses metadata from assets like Radio Data System (RDS) data, broadcast listings, or published third-party schedules to “determine when an upcoming broadcast segment or media item is not of interest to the user.” When such an instance is detected, the device will seamlessly switch to stored media until that segment of the broadcast is over, at which point it will switch back.

The technology would also analyze audio and video from the source to help discern what kind of content a user may or may not want to consume. The patent employs comparisons of media items to generate a preference profile, much like the system used by Pandora (NYSE:P). As with Pandora, a user can “like” or “dislike” a song and the corresponding metadata will then be included in a preference profile.

In another potential embodiment, the device could keep track of a user’s content consumption habits and make guesses as to what that user would like. The metadata could be specific media items — artists, songs, genres — as well as specific types of media.

After the system identifies an upcoming segment that does not match the user’s preference profile, the device then looks for an appropriate replacement from stored media. The patent notes that a “relevance algorithm” can be used to keep the stored media in line with content from the broadcast stream — that is, so that someone listening to say, Opera, doesn’t suddenly get switched to Heavy Metal.

While the patent Apple was granted on Tuesday only outlines how the technology would be used for radio, it does leave room for a similar function to be used with television broadcasts:

As used in this application, the term media item will be understood to include any audio or video that can be broadcast by a content source and received by an electronic device for playback. For example, a media item can include music (e.g., a song), a talk show segment, an advertisement, news programming, a podcast, videos, or any other media content that may be provided to a user.

Such a system for television broadcast would certainly lend itself nicely to the set-top cable box Apple is rumored to be building. While DVR systems have for years allowed users to skip past commercials in pre-recorded content, viewers of live broadcasts have had to suffer through the ads or change the channel. Apple could fill those gaps with any number of different content types.

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