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An Ad-Supported Model With Teeth?

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A computer-implemented method for operating a device, the method comprising:
disabling a function of an operating system in a device;
presenting an advertisement in the device while the function is disabled;
and enabling the function in response to the advertisement ending.

So reads the first claim from a patent application that Apple recently filed (with Steve Jobs as first inventor, no less!) for technology to deliver a rather compelling ad-supported business model. Or perhaps the better word is compulsory. You can read an analysis by Randall Stross in the New York Times.

I agree with Stross that it’s hard to imagine Apple ever implementing the technology described by the patent application–indeed, Apple has been one of the few success stories for paid digital content models. That said, the approach does feel like at least one endpoint for the ad-supported model–it guarantees the advertisers the attention that they are paying for by subsidizing content or services.

The advertising business is a bit more top of mind for me, now that it pays my salary. Google’s approach, however, follows the aphorism that honey catches more flies than vinegar: it tries to target ads well enough that users want to click on them, rather than to simply endure them as a cost of subsidizing free services. Google’s revenue (and the popularity of PPC models in general) is a testament to the success of this approach, my occasional rant notwithstanding.

In general, the industry seems to have found a compromise in how aggressively to push ads at users. Users can safely ignore (or even block) sponsored links, but few people do.  Pre-roll ads on video sites (i.e., advertising before a video starts)  are more invasive, but a number of sites let users skip them. You can read why the YouTube folks are testing this approach. Advertisers–or at least ad-supported services–seem to recognize that they can’t cross the line between pursuing users’ attention and annoying users to the point of alienation.

Still, technology like Apple’s patent application describes shows that it is possible for the ad-supported model to take a more more aggressive approach. Part of me wonders if more aggressive ad-supported models would revitalize paid content models, as users would stop perceiving the former as free. But I suspect that the gentler ad-supported model is here to stay, and that it will continue to strive toward the point of optimal effectiveness.

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