AT&T Z-depth system would replace TV ads with ‘personalized contextual video programs’

If AT&T succeeds with a new advertising system disclosed in a patent application on Thursday, TV commercials would be replaced by virtual product placements tailored for individual viewers based on profiles containing information about viewing history and demographics.

In the advertising world envisioned by AT&T inventors, automobile manufacturers wouldn’t buy 30-second spots. Instead, Mercedes, Chevrolet and Acura would bid for the right to have one of their new models featured as the car driven by characters in a primetime program.

“A television show may depict the protagonist driving in a Mercedes. The entire Mercedes can be a segment that covers multiple frames and changes position, size, and angle over the frames. The system can identify that the Mercedes segment is susceptible to inserting another car, for example, an Acura, Lada, or Chevrolet, in its place. Each of the advertising components which may be inserted into the video in place of the Mercedes can be a candidate, but the system selects the identified advertising component based not only on video metadata indicating that a car is in the scene, but also on ad metadata and viewer preferences,” AT&T states in the patent application.

AT&T said its system, which it calls “Z-depth,” would assign higher priority to advertising components to the advertiser who offers more money than a competing media buyer.

“The system can allow for bids on a wholesale scale to be shown to many millions of viewers or on a more targeted scale where each user receives only ads that are directly relevant to her. A middle ground somewhere between these two extremes or a blend of the two is much more likely in implementation,” AT&T writes in the patent application.

The patent application includes an example that shows an image of a TV program where a picture of Alaska hangs on the wall, a bottle of Coke sits on a table, and a lamp rests on top of a fireplace mantle. When the Z-depth system kicks in, the Coke bottle is replaced by a can of root beer, the picture of Alaska becomes a promotional poster for Ireland and the lamp morphs into an Ikea lamp.

AT&T shows how it could also use the Z-wave system to sell personalized virtual product placements in video games. The example it includes in the patent application shows an ESPN logo placed onto the helmet of a game character riding a motorcycle, and a blimp pulling a banner for Warner Bros. movie “The Dark Knight.”

Inventors named on the patent application, titled “System and Method for Dynamically Constructing Personalized Contextual Video Programs,” include Lee Begeja, Paul Van Vleck and David Gibbon, lead member of the technical staff in the video and multimedia technologies and service research department at AT&T Labs. The patent application was filed on June 9.