US 20060190966 A1
A television message system is provided that allows users at user television equipment devices that are connected to a television distribution facility to transmit messages to each other relating to a television program or other suitable subject. The television message system permits users to participate in evaluations, contests, promotions, and surveys related to a television program while watching that television program. The television message system also permits users to compose and send a message to a television program entity. Users can send messages through the television message system to users at personal computers who are connected to the user's television distribution facility through a communications network. The television message system also allows a user to purchase a gift related to television programming for a recipient. The gift may be an electronic gift certificate for pay-per-view programming. The television message system may be based on an interactive television program guide or a set-top box application implemented on a set-top box.
1. A method for purchasing gifts using an interactive application, the method comprising:
allowing a user to select a program to purchase as a gift for a recipient using an interactive application;
allowing the user to provide information for purchasing the program as the gift using an interactive application; and
providing the program as the gift to the recipient.
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16. A system for purchasing gifts, comprising:
an interactive application implemented at least partially on control circuitry configured to:
allow a user to select a program to purchase as a gift for a recipient;
allow the user to provide information for purchasing the program as the gift; and
provide the program as the gift to the recipient.
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This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/356,245, filed Jul. 16, 1999, which is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety, and which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 60/099,301, filed Aug. 26, 1998.
This invention relates to television message systems, and more particularly, to techniques for supporting the transmission of messages in a television environment that may include an interactive television program guide.
A popular aspect of the Internet and other networking environments relates to e-mail messages. A network or Internet user can send e-mail messages to other users of the network or the Internet. Messages are delivered to a server where they are held until downloaded by a client such as a personal computer. The recipient of a message can access it at any time from the server and read it at his convenience.
Television programs are sometimes discussed in e-mail messages. However, there is generally no way in which users of a traditional e-mail message system may easily view a television program while exchanging messages about that program. A user might locate a television in the same room as the user's personal computer, but such an arrangement would be awkward to view. Moreover, many households locate their televisions in the living room, but are reluctant to locate their computers in the living room.
Although personal computers may be provided with tuner cards that allow television signals to be displayed on the computer monitor, many television viewers would prefer to view television on a traditional television set. Television sets generally offer greater viewing areas than computer monitors, so that users need not sit nearly as close to a television screen as they would a computer monitor. Televisions sets are also typically located in rooms within the home that are more suitable for watching television than where computers are typically located.
A system that attempts to integrate aspects of the Internet with the television viewing experience is available from WebTV Networks, Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. The WebTV system permits television viewers to access the Internet through a WebTV Plus Receiver connected to their television sets. The WebTV Plus Receiver enables users to surf the World Wide Web on their television by connecting their televisions to the web-based WebTV Network through a standard phone line. The WebTV System permits users to view television program listings and web sites related to television programs that appear in the program listings.
The WebTV system also provides TV Crossover Links that allow users to access web sites that are related to television programs. The WebTV PLUS Receiver detects data such as web links (i.e., universal resource locators (URL)) that is embedded in the video broadcast and notifies users with a TV Crossover Link watermark on the television screen. The TV Crossover Links permit users to link to web sites through the Internet related to the television program that the user is watching. The user can view the web site and the television program simultaneously through the WebPIP picture-in-picture function. If the web site supports e-mail features, the user might then send an e-mail message through the Internet while watching a television program. The WebTV system also provides users with e-mail accounts for sending and receiving e-mail through the Internet. A user can access a Web Home page from which he can send and receive e-mail.
Interactive television program guides implemented on set-top boxes allow users to view television program listings on their televisions. Such program guides allow users to view television program listings in different display formats and to perform various other functions. For example, a user may instruct the program guide to display a channel-ordered grid of current program listings. The user may also use the program guide to search for programs in a desired programming category such as sports, movies, news, or the like. If desired, the program guide may be used to order pay-per-view programming.
Previously known systems have not provided an integrated system allowing television viewers to view television programming and to exchange messages with other television viewers independent of the Internet. Previously known systems also have not provided television viewers with the opportunity to send messages to exclusively other viewers of a television program or channel. Previously known interactive program guides have not contained a feature that allows television viewers to exchange messages with each other.
It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a television message system that provides a television viewer with an opportunity to view television programming and to exchange messages related to the television programming to other television viewers that does not rely solely on the Internet.
It is also an object of the present invention to provide an interactive television program guide that contains message features.
These and other objects of the invention are accomplished in accordance with the principles of the present invention by providing a television message system that receives television programming over a communications path from a television distribution facility such as a cable system headend. The television message system allows users to transmit messages relating to a given television program to users who are currently watching that television program.
The message system allows messages to be transmitted between users at user television equipment devices. The user television equipment devices may be connected to a television distribution facility (such as a cable system headend) by coaxial cables or other suitable communications paths that carry television signals. In an illustrative configuration, the system eliminates the need for additional communications paths physically separate from the paths that carry television signal broadcast channels for the transmission of messages.
The television message system of the present invention permits users to participate in a television program-related contest, promotion, or survey while watching a television program by sending and receiving messages through the television message system. The television message system also permits users to evaluate a television program and send the evaluation to a television program entity such as the TV channel or another user as a recommendation.
The television message system of the present invention permits users to compose and send a message to a television program entity such as the program producers or a program cast member. In addition, users can send messages through the television message system to other users, such as other users of an interactive program guide, Internet users, PC users, etc., who are connected to the user's television distribution facility through a communications network. The messages can be composed by the user, or the messages can be standard messages such as a reminder message to watch a particular program. Message may be composed on an interactive TV screen or on a display remote control device.
The television message system also allows a user to purchase a gift related to television programming for a recipient.
The television message system may be based on an interactive television program guide implemented on the set-top box. If desired, the system may be implemented on other suitable user television equipment such as a satellite receiver, an advanced television receiver (e.g. a high definitive television or HDTV receiver), a television into which set-top box circuitry is integrated or the like.
Further features of the present invention, its nature and various advantages will be more apparent from the accompanying drawings and the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments.
An illustrative television message system 10 in accordance with the present invention is shown in
Information from database 14 may be transmitted to television distribution facility 16 via communications link 18. Link 18 may be a satellite link, a telephone network link, a fiber optic link, a cable link, a microwave link, a combination of such links, or any other suitable communications path.
Television distribution facility 16 is a facility for distributing television signals to users, such as a cable system headend. Some aspects of the invention may be implemented using a television distribution facility such as a broadcast distribution facility, or a satellite television distribution facility. Only one television distribution facility 16 is shown in
The program guide information transmitted by main facility 12 to television distribution facility 16 includes television program listings data such as program times, channels, titles, descriptions, etc. The information transmitted from main facility 12 may also include information on interactive message features (e.g. television program contests, surveys, evaluations, promotions, etc.) that are available for particular television programs or channels.
If desired, some of the program guide data and other TV message information may be provided using data sources at facilities other than main facility 12. For example, data relating to available television program-specific message features (e.g. a contest, promotion, survey, etc.) may be provided by a television program entity associated with a television channel, or other facility that is separate from main facility 12 and television distribution facility 16.
Television distribution facility 16 distributes program guide data and other information to the user television equipment 20 of multiple users via communications paths 24. Communication paths 24 are preferably bidirectional to support messaging and preferably have sufficient bandwidth to allow television distribution facility 16 to distribute scheduled television programming, pay programming, messages, and other video and audio information to user television equipment 20 in addition to non-video program guide information and messages. The messages supported by communication paths 24 may be text-based or, if more bandwidth is available, may be audio or video messages. If television distribution facility 16 is a cable system headend, communications paths 24 may be based on coaxial cable or fiber optics or the like. If television distribution facility 16 is a satellite system or broadcast system, unidirectional paths may involve transmitting information in free space. Bidirectional paths may have a free-space downlink to the home and a telephone line or cable or fiber optic return path from the home to the television distribution facility 16.
User television equipment may be based, for example, on a set-top box or other such device. For clarity, many aspects of the invention are described in connection with this illustrative arrangement, although any other suitable hardware arrangement for the user television equipment 20 may be used if desired.
Multiple television and audio channels (analog, digital, or both analog and digital) may be provided to user television equipment devices 20 (including, e.g., set-top boxes 26) via communications paths 24. If each path 24 includes a number of traditional analog television channels, one or more of these channels may be used to support a number of digital channels. The bandwidth of each analog channel that is used to support digital channels may support ten or more of such digital channels. Two-way digital channels typically require more bandwidth than one-way digital channels. Such two-way digital channels may support two-way communications in the form of messages between set-top boxes 26 and a server (e.g. at television distribution facility 16). If two-way communications between set-top boxes 26 and television distribution facility 16 involve only text or audio signals, the bandwidth required to support such two-way communications may be substantially less than the bandwidth required to support two-way communications involving video.
Messages may be distributed along communications path 24 using any number of suitable techniques. For example, text messages may be distributed using out-of-band channels on paths 24 using out-of-band modulators. Video or audio messages may be more efficiently transmitted using one or more digital channels on path 24. Such digital channels may also be used for distributing text and graphics. Any suitable communications protocols may be used for sending messages and the like. For example, communications may be analog or digital, synchronous or asynchronous, pocket-based, Internet protocol transmissions, etc.
Dedicated digital or analog channels, or at least an allocated portion of the available bandwidth in communications paths 24, may be used for the transmission of messages. Such dedicated channels may be separate from the channels used for transmitting television program broadcast signals to the user television equipment.
Because communications paths 24 support transport of messages between user television equipment devices 20 and television distribution facility 16, the arrangement of system 10 may eliminate the need for separate telephone lines connected to user television equipment 20 to transmit messages (although such telephone lines may be used with certain aspects of the invention if desired). If desired, television programming may be transmitted to user television equipment 20 along one communications path such as a satellite link from a satellite system, while messages to and from the user are distributed over a second communications path such as a telephone or cable.
Television distribution facility 16 preferably has a server or other suitable computing equipment or audio or video equipment such as audio voice mail equipment (herein collectively referred to as message equipment 22) for supporting the transmission of messages between users. For clarity, certain aspects of the invention are simply described as being implemented using a message server although these aspects of the invention are also applicable to other types of message equipment. The message equipment 22 (e.g., a message server) may be capable of handling messages involving text, graphics, video, or audio data. If desired, the bandwidth requirements of message equipment 22 may be reduced by restricting messages to text, audio, and/or graphics, rather than including video. Message equipment 22 in television distribution facility 16 may be configured in a client-server arrangement in which each piece of user television equipment 20 (i.e., each user television equipment device 20) acts as a client processor.
Each user has a receiver, which is typically a set-top box such as set-top box 26, but which may also be other suitable television equipment into which circuitry similar to set-top box circuitry has been integrated. For example, user television equipment 20 may be based on an advanced television receiver such as a high-definition television (HDTV) receiver or other such television-based platform. A set-top box may include a DOCSIS modem for use in two-way communication to and from a server or television distribution facility. For clarity, the present invention will be described primarily in the context of user television equipment 20 that is based on set-top boxes 26. As shown in
Program guide information may be distributed to set-top boxes 26 continuously (in real-time), periodically, on request (using a client-server arrangement), or using a combination of these techniques. Messages may be distributed to set-top boxes 26 in real-time or on-demand (e.g., when a user checks his e-mail or message equipment 22 and requests a message for viewing). The message equipment may receive messages from set-top boxes 26 in real-time or periodically.
Main facility 12 preferably contains a processor to handle information distribution tasks. Each set-top box 26 preferably contains a processor to handle tasks associated with implementing an interactive television program guide application containing television message features or an independent television messaging application on the set-top box 26 (hereinafter collectively referred to as a television messaging set-top box application or simply a set-top box application). Television distribution facility 16 preferably contains one or more processors (e.g., part of message equipment 22) for tasks associated with the distribution of messages and for tasks associated with providing program guide data to the program guide on the set-top boxes.
It should be understood that some or all of the functions of the program guide or the messaging set-top box application hereinafter described may be integrated into an operating system on the set-top box, implemented as a stand-alone application on the set-top box, or performed by a server (e.g. part of message equipment 22 or separate from the television distribution facility). In client server architecture, the set-top box sends data or requests to the server. The server can store and process data and send the results of a request back to the user television equipment for further processing, display, or storage. Any of the functionality of the set-top box application hereinafter described may be implemented using client-server architecture.
Various mechanisms may be used for launching the television messaging set-top box application from a program guide application on the user's set-top box. One mechanism involves using a hot link to launch the television messaging set-top box application. Hot linking involves invoking a non-program-guide application such as television messaging set-top box application with information such as a web site address, e-mail address, program title, or other information that has been preselected based on the current content of the program guide or status of set-top box 26. For example, if the user is watching a program, viewing a program listing, viewing the description of a program, or taking other action within the program guide related to a given program, channel, type of channel, or the like and the user directs the program guide to launch a non-program-guide application, the program guide may launch that non-program-guide application and direct that non-program-guide to take an action related to the given program, channel, type of channel, or the like.
Hot links may be activated by dedicated buttons, a launch button, menu options, or any other suitable technique. For example, a remote control may be provided with a dedicated message button, a dedicated shopping button, and similar buttons associated with other non-program-guide applications. When the user presses the message button, the program guide launches the television messaging set-top box application and directs the television messaging set-top box application to set up a message to a character in the program, a fan club, or other message recipient associated with the program. When the user presses a shopping channel button, the program guide launches a shopping application (e.g. for purchasing gifts for recipient users) and directs the program guide to preselect merchandise related to the program. Further features of an illustrative hot linking system are described in Ellis et al. U.S. patent application Ser. No. ______, filed concurrently herewith (Attorney Docket No. UV-85), which is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.
Each set-top box 26 is typically connected to an optional videocassette recorder 28 or other such recording device so that selected television programs may be recorded. Each videocassette recorder 28 (or set-top box 26) is connected to a television 30. To record a program, set-top box 26 tunes to a particular channel and sends control signals to videocassette recorder 28 (e.g., using an infrared transmitter) that direct videocassette recorder 28 to start and stop recording at the appropriate times.
During the use of the television message systems, the television messaging set-top box application on set-top box 26 may display messages on television 30. If the television message system includes an interactive television program guide, the interactive television program guide may display program listings on television 30. A program guide with message features may also be used to display the messages. Each set-top box 26, videocassette recorder 28, and television 30 may be controlled by one or more user interfaces 32 which may involve a remote control, mouse, trackball, microphone, digital video camera, dedicated set of buttons, etc.
As shown in
User interface 32 may also be based on a television screen keyboard 50 as illustrated in
If desired, the user may compose messages by selecting from a list of standard messages 70 or words 72 displayed in a display screen such as display screen 75, as shown in
System 10 allows users at user television equipment 20 to exchange television program-related messages while watching television. The user may send messages with system 10 without investing the effort involved in operating a personal computer and the software that is associated with it. In addition, system 10 allows users to retain the high video quality and channel range of television viewing while exchanging messages with similarly situated users.
As shown in
Messages may be handled on a server that is not located at the television distribution facility as shown in
As shown in
The message system may also be configured so that users at one or more of user television equipment devices 120 may exchange messages with one or more of user television equipment devices 100. User television equipment 120 is associated with a different television distribution facility than user television equipment 100. User television equipment devices 120 are connected to television distribution facility 116 via communications paths 122. Message server 118 may be used to store messages. The configuration of message server 118 and user television equipment 120 may be based on a client-server arrangement. Television distribution facilities 104 and 116 may be connected to each other via communications network 110. Messages that are sent between user television equipment 100 and user television equipment 120 may be stored on message servers 106, 108, or 118. If desired, any number of television distribution facilities may be connected together via communications network 110 or other such communications networks to allow user television equipment from these television distribution facilities to exchange messages with each other.
In addition, messages may be transmitted between user television equipment 100 or 120 and user communications equipment 114. User communications equipment 114 is connected via communications network 110 to television distribution facilities 104 and 116. User communications equipment devices 114 can be any number of, e.g., personal computers that can send and receive messages.
Another aspect of the present invention involves using the television messaging set-top box application to provide the user with an opportunity to send messages related to a television program or channel which can be sent to certain recipients. Messages transmitted between set-top box application users are sent from one set-top box and stored at a message server. The recipient user's set-top box can download the message from the message server after logging onto the message server. Once the message has been downloaded onto the recipient's set-top box, the recipient can review the message using message features provided by the set-top box application. The messages sent in this format may be delayed in the sense that they are not necessarily received by the recipient immediately after they are sent. The messages can be stored on a message server for a long time until recipients access them. Messages may also be sent by a user of a user television equipment device to a television program entity such as a television channel using the television messaging set-top box application.
Communications may also be sent between set-top boxes in the form of instant messages. Instant messages are messages that are only stored temporarily at the recipient end. An instant message is available for viewing by a recipient only for a limited period of time after which the message is purged from memory. The message is purged regardless of whether the recipient actually opens the message during the time period it is available. Instant messages are useful for transmitting information that is valid only for a limited period of time. For example, one user may wish to send a message containing the score of a football game to another user in the form of an instant message because the score may change continuously throughout the game.
Referring now to
The set-top box application may display screen 130 automatically at an appropriate time while the user is watching a television program 148. The set-top box application may also display screen 130 upon prompting by the user (e.g. when the user presses a message button on the remote control). Information that indicates that the television program has associated message options such as those shown in
The decoded data may then be used by the set-top box application to determine whether an option exists for the user to send a message to a TV program entity based on the received data. The data decoded by the set-top box also can indicate which message options are available and the return path or destination address to which the messages can be sent (e.g. the e-mail address of a television program entity which is designated to receive and process the messages from the users). If desired, TV message information may be provided using an out-of-band data path. Such information may also be provided as a digital data stream that accompanies other streams of digital data (such as digital data for various television programs) Screen 130 allows the user to send a human-readable message 132 (e.g., a text message or a graphic message containing text) to the TV channel which broadcasts program 148 by selecting option 134, the television program producers of program 148 by selecting option 136, or an individual cast member of program 148 by selecting an option such as option 138 or option 140. Television channels include networks such as ABC, local affiliates, local broadcast stations, pay-per-view channels, cable channels such as HBO and CNN, etc. Once the user of the set-top box application has chosen one or more desired recipients of the message, the user may send the message by selecting send option 142.
The television message system will then deliver the message to a television program entity such as a television message facility associated with the television channel that is designated to receive messages from users of user television equipment devices. The television program entity will process the messages, and respond to them if necessary. For example, a designated television channel representative at the television program entity may read and respond to messages sent to the television channel. The television program entity who actually receives the message from the user may also be, for example, the personal e-mail address of a cast member or program producer. The user may cancel the message and return to a full screen view of the current program 148 by selecting option 144.
An illustrative process for sending a message to a television program entity recipient is shown in
At step 172, the television message system sends the message to a message server associated with the television program entity which is designated to receive and process messages relating to the television program, or channel. The set-top box application may obtain the information necessary to forward the message to a television program entity (e.g. the recipient's destination address) from the program guide information obtained from the main facility or from data associated with a television program (e.g., data embedded in the VBI of the television program signal). The destination address may be an e-mail address or other information identifying a location where electronic messages may be sent. The destination address may also be stored at the television distribution facility. In this case, the set-top box application may forward the message to the television distribution facility, which would then forward the message to its destination.
The television messaging set-top box application may also present the user with the option of entering profile information data for users in the user's household. An illustrative television messaging system display screen 420 that the television messaging set-top box application may present on a user's television set to enter user profile information is shown in
Television display screen 420 may also provide the user with an opportunity to filter the messages that are sent to that user. The user may specify that all incoming messages are to be blocked, except for those other users whom the user identifies in box 435. Alternatively, the user may specify that only messages from certain recipients should be blocked. The user may identify these recipients in box 437. The filtering function may be performed by the set-top box or by the message equipment. The set-top box or the server checks all the incoming messages and does not accept messages from the blocked recipients.
A user may select OK option 436 when he has finished entering user profile information. The data entered is preferably stored in the set-top box, but may be stored at a remote server or elsewhere in the hardware of the user television equipment device such as a separate storage unit connected to the set-top box. The user may select cancel option 439 to exit display screen 420. User profile information will not be saved if the user selects cancel option 439. Further features of an illustrative system for entering user profile information are described in Ellis et al U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/034,934 filed Jun. 11, 1999, which is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.
In addition, the message system may be configured similar to the ICQ system so that a user may make his profile information public so that it can be accessed by other users. ICQ is an Internet tool that informs Internet user's who is on-line at any time and enables users to contact them at will. ICQ can search for an individuals on-line and alert a user when they log on. ICQ allows a user to chat, send messages, files, URL's, play games, or just hang out with fellow Internet users while surfing the Internet.
A user may fill out a questionnaire through the message system which includes information regarding the user's television program preferences as well as additional non-television related information about himself such as his hobbies (e.g. using display screen 420). The user profile information may be useful for finding other users who are interested in exchanging messages relating to certain topics. The user profile information may be stored at a remote server or jointly on the set-top boxes. A user may access profiles which have been made public and form a “buddy list” or address book of other users who have the same interests. The buddy list can include a user's identity, TV preferences, and other interests.
The message system may be set up so that a user must obtain permission from a second user before he is able to obtain the second user's profile information. For example, the message system may send the second user a message indicating the first user has requested the second user's profile information. If the second user accepts the request, the message system allows the first user to add the second user to his buddy list so that he can have access to the second user's profile information. In addition, the message system may ask the second user if he wishes to add the first user to his buddy list. A user may add further information to the profile based on his knowledge of the other user's preferences. The message system may also allow users to search for other users based on an ICQ number, an e-mail address, TV program preferences, and/or other preferences.
An illustrative television messaging system display screen 421 that the television messaging set-top box application may present on a user's television set to enter user identity information is shown in
When the user selects OK option 429, the set-top box application will save the user identity information (i.e. the user's name and address) in a memory device such as memory 25 in
The identities of users whose identity information has been entered in display screen 421 of
The user may select a recipient or recipients of a message, recommendation, gift, reminder, etc., by selecting an identity or identities in the list. Option 444 is highlighted to indicate that the user has selected “Seinfeld Fans” to be a recipient of a message. The user may select as many recipients of the message as he desires from the names in the list. The user may choose to enter additional identities of other users by selecting option 446 which returns the user to television display screen 421 in
When the user has selected the recipients of the message (e.g., using arrow keys and pressing enter), the user may then position the highlight region on OK option 448 and press enter. The television messaging set-top box application may then retrieve the addresses for each recipient of the message. The television message system may then deliver the message to the appropriate message equipment for each of the recipients. The user may select option 450 to cancel and exit from the address book display screen 440.
Referring now to
The user can select option 194 to send the evaluation to other users of user television equipment as a recommendation to watch or not watch the particular program. The set-top box application will then display a user address book such as display screen 440 so the user can choose the desired recipients of the recommendation. The user may then select send option 199 to send the evaluation to the designated recipients. The set-top box application includes the identity of the TV program along with the evaluation or recommendation message. The television message system may then forward the evaluation to the destination addresses of the television program entity obtained from the program guide information or from data associated with the program. The television message system may transmit the recommendation to message equipment (e.g. server) for access by the recipient users of user television equipment. The communications paths in
An illustrative process for sending a television program evaluation or recommendation to a recipient is shown in
At step 224, the television message system delivers the evaluation or recommendation to the destination address or return path. If the address information is not known, the evaluation or recommendation may be transmitted to a return path which may be, for example, the user's television distribution facility. If the television distribution facility has sufficient information, the television distribution facility may forward the evaluation or recommendation to the appropriate destination.
The television messaging system of the present invention may also provide a fast and efficient way to gather ratings for television programs. A TV program rating is an estimate of the number of people who are watching a television program based on a survey of a selected group of people. In the television messaging system of the present invention, each set-top box connected to a given television distribution facility may send a message to the TV channel or an associated entity indicating whether the user is watching the current television program. A rating may be determined from this data if the sampling is taken from a large enough group. This system provides television channels and ratings services with a way in which to gather up-to-the-minute ratings on television programs from users who are currently watching the programs.
As shown in
If desired, the survey questions and return path (or destination address) may be encoded digitally in-band with the television program signal on a digital channel, provided in the VBI signal, or otherwise provided as data associated with the television program. The set-top box application functioning on the user television equipment may then decode the survey data from the program signal or other associated path, and indicate the availability of the survey option on a program listings menu in an interactive format so that the user may access the survey (see, e.g.,
The user may answer an additional set of survey questions by choosing option 236. The user can send the responses he has given to the survey questions by choosing option 238. The television message system will then deliver the survey answers as a survey message to the return path or destination address (e.g., a television program entity such as a television channel survey center) for processing. The user can cancel and return to a menu or to a television program by choosing cancel option 240. If desired, the television messaging set-top box application may provide the user with inducements for completing a survey, such as a chance to win a free month of programming or the like.
As shown in
The television message system will then deliver the message to a television program entity associated with the television channel that broadcasts program 256 for processing. The return path or destination address of a television program entity and the other promotion information displayed on screen 250 may be obtained using any suitable technique including encoding it digitally in-band with the television program signal on a digital channel, embedding it in the program signal VBI, otherwise providing it as data associated with the program, or downloading it to the set-top box 26 from a server or the main facility 16 (
Referring now to
The contest questions and other contest information (e.g., the return path) may be encoded digitally in-band with the television program signal on a digital channel, embedded in the VBI of the television program signal, or may be provided as other associated data or may be transmitted from a server to the set-top box over a separate channel. These arrangements allow contest information (such as contest questions) and the program signal to be continuously received by the set-top box during the course of a program. The contest information that appears on the interface screen 416 may be updated as it is received on the set-top box. Because the set-top box is receiving the television program signal for the TV program and the contest information concurrently, display screen 416 may be synchronized with the action occurring in the program as it unfolds. The winners of the contest can be determined immediately and may be announced during the course of the program. This aspect of the present invention allows television channels to implement interactive television programming for their users.
An illustrative process for allowing a user to participate in a contest, promotion, or survey is shown in
As shown in
The user may enter a time slot in box 164 or otherwise select a time slot of interest. The set-top box application then displays program listings in column 154 for programs that are scheduled to be broadcast at the time indicated in box 164 on the channel in column 152. The messaging features available with respect to a given program are displayed by the set-top box application in column 156. For example, the program Wheel of Fortune is offering a contest which a user can participate in. The user can highlight contest option 162 and press enter on his remote control to enter the Wheel of Fortune contest. The I icon in circle 158 indicates that the channel has provided more information with respect to the Wheel of Fortune contest which the user may be interested in reading before entering the contest. The set-top box application may provide the user with an opportunity to review this information before the user is entered into the contest. Also, the user may simply view the program Wheel of Fortune by highlighting the Wheel of Fortune option 155 and pressing enter on the remote control. The user can scroll up or down to view the program listings and messaging features for more programs and channels as indicated by arrows 160. An advertisement may be displayed on screen 150 such as the one in region 157.
The features described with respect to
Another aspect of the present invention relates to the ability of the television message system to transmit reminder messages between users. Reminder messages are messages that are sent by one user to another user to remind the other user to watch a particular television program. Television message system display screen 260 of
A reminder message may also be sent to a user of a user television equipment device from a web site that has program listings and that supports the transmittal of reminder messages such as www.tvguide.com. An Internet user may select a program from the listings displayed on the web site and enter the address of the recipient user. The web site transmits the reminder message to the recipient via a server.
Referring now to
The illustrative reminder message 282 of
Reminder messages can also be sent across time zones or local broadcast areas. When a set-top box receives a reminder message, it will search through the program guide listings to determine when the program will be broadcast in the user's time zone or local area. The set-top box application then displays the reminder message on the television screen at an appropriate time before the program airs. The user may decline the reminder message by selecting cancel option 288 causing the message to disappear from the TV screen. The identity of the sender of the reminder message is displayed in region 283. If the set-top box application does not recognize the sender, then the sender's address or web site may be displayed in region 283. Displaying the sender's identity is useful for allowing the user to block that sender's reminders in the future. An advertisement may be displayed in region 285 of reminder 282 as shown in
The television message system may provide the user with an opportunity to block all future reminder messages from a specific sender or all senders. When a reminder message is displayed to the user, it may include an option to block all future reminder messages from all senders such as option 287. The reminder message may also include an option such as option 289 which allows the user to block all future reminder messages from the user who has sent the current reminder. The reminder message may additionally include option 281 which configures the message system so that all reminder messages are blocked except reminders from the sender of the current reminder. These blocking features may be implemented to block other types of messages received on the set-top box. The filtering and blocking functions herein described may be performed at the set-top box of the recipient, at a remote server, or a the television distribution facility.
An illustrative process for allowing a user of user television equipment to send a reminder to another user of user television equipment is shown in
Another aspect of the present invention relates to sending and receiving text, audio, or video messages between other users of user television equipment and users of communications equipment (e.g., Internet users, users of personal computers, etc.). The messages are similar to electronic mail (e-mail) in that they are stored on a message server and can be downloaded onto the recipient's set-top box by the set-top box application at any time. The user television equipment devices may communicate with the message server using any suitable network including the ones shown and described with respect to
As shown in
The user can compose the text of the message in box 308 using a wireless keyboard such as the one shown in
The user may enter the recipient's name or address in box 302. In
The user may also send an audio message by selecting option 307 or a video message by selecting option 309. The user can compose an audio message by speaking into a microphone connected to the set-top box or by sending an audio clip from a program. The user can compose a video message using a video camera, a VCR, or by using video clips or video stills from a TV program. The video may be recorded using a local storage device (e.g. in the set-top box) or at a server. The user may also send video clips from a server-based library. The user may also send program guide information to another user as part or all of the message by selecting option 311. The program guide information may be a brief description of the program in window 304, a portion of the program guide listings, or a TV program or channel schedule. The user can send the message to the recipients by selecting send option 306. The use can cancel the message by selecting cancel option 310 and return to a set-top box application menu or a full screen view of the current television program. An advertisement may be displayed in region 301 of screen 300.
As shown in
Television display screen 320 is an example of how the message can be displayed. The message may be received by the user's set-top box 26 and stored in memory 25 (
If desired, the set-top box application may display an icon such as a small mailbox in the corner of the television screen or turn on a light on the front panel of the set-top box to indicate to the user that a message from another user has been received. The user may then access the content of the message by pressing a designated button on the remote control. The message may be displayed in a corner of the screen as shown in
Window 322 displays the content of the message 324, and the sender of the message. If the set-top box application does not recognize the sender or the sender's name is not provided as part of the message, the set-top box application may display the sender's path or address instead. Message 324 may contain an advertisement or other information that the set-top box application or message server appends to it. In
As shown in
The recipients of the message may be selected in a variety of ways. For example, the set-top box application may allow the user to view the names of other users in the address book and to filter out only those other users who have an interest in the same program, channel, etc. by selecting option 210. The message would only be sent to the other users with appropriate interests (as determined by the user). If desired, user addresses may be provided with information identifying their interests. The set-top box application may then automatically search for users in the address book who have interests that match the current program, current channel, or category of the current program (options 204, 206, and 208). Users interested in a category of programs may be identified in a group stored in the address book such as “Movie Lovers” or “Monday Night Football Fans,” as shown in
If desired, the television message system can deliver a message related to a given program to a particular message server with an indication that the message is intended for receipt by current viewers of the given program, users interested in the program, users interested in the channel of the program, or users interested in the category of the program. The message server may group the message with other messages relating to the given program, channel, or category. The message server then may allow any user's set-top box application to access all the messages for the programs, channels, or categories that the user at that set-top box is interested in or is currently viewing. Any other users who wish to access messages relating to a program, channel, or category of programs can download those messages from the message server onto their set-top boxes so that they can be read on a television set.
A user can indicate to his set-top box application that he wishes to access messages relating to a program he is currently watching by, for example, pressing a message button on his remote control. In a program guide, a user can access messages relating to any program he is interested in by highlighting a program listing for that program in a program guide and pressing the message button on his remote control or by choosing a program guide menu option. The set-top box application may provide the user with an opportunity to access messages relating to specific channels, or categories of programs in a similar fashion. Messages may be download from the message server by the set-top box application onto the set-top box for viewing by the user. The set-top box application may display the messages in a list format by sender, topic of message, etc. The user may then choose the messages he wants to read from the list.
An illustrative process for transmitting a message composed by a user of user television equipment to other users of user television equipment that were selected based upon television program-related criteria is shown in
The set-top box application may provide the user with an opportunity to send a gift to another user of user television equipment or a user of communications equipment (e.g., an Internet user). As shown in
Television message system display screen 350 may display the gift options that are available for a particular program that the user has selected from the program listings. Information regarding which gift options are available for a particular channel or program may be part of the program guide information that the set-top box receives from the main facility, encoded digitally in-band with the television program signal on a digital channel, provided in the VBI signal, or otherwise provided as data associated with the television program. If gift options are available for “Titanic,” the set-top box application will display the gift options such as gift options 354, 356, and 358 that are available for the program that the user has chosen. Gift option 354 allows the user to purchase program merchandise for another user. Gift option 356 allows the user to purchase a pay-per-view program for another user to watch, such as “Titanic” on PPV1. Gift option 358 allows the user to purchase a gift certificate for program merchandise, a pay-per-view program viewing coupon, etc. The user may enter the identity of the recipient of the gift by choosing option 360. Gift information relating to a TV program may also be provided for a specific program on a program information screen that a user can access by highlighting the program in the listings grid and then pressing an “info” button on the remote control.
A gift may be processed when the user selects send option 362. Gift information may be sent to a television distribution facility or a television program entity for processing. The user's account at the television distribution facility may be debited for the cost of the gift or another suitable accounting mechanism may be used. The recipient of a gift may be notified of the gift by a message received on the recipient's set-top box or e-mail to an Internet user. Gift merchandise may be shipped to the recipient. If the gift is a pay-per-view program, the recipient's pay-per-view account may be credited by the amount of the gift or gift certificate. If the recipient is not a user of user television equipment (e.g., the recipient is an Internet user), the recipient may be notified of the gift and given an access code that allows the recipient to view free pay-per-view programs on his television up to the amount of the gift. If the recipient is a subscriber to the services of the same television distribution facility 16 as the gift giver, the access code may be provided by that television distribution facility and may be released by the same television distribution facility.
If desired, television distribution facilities may be networked together so that a gift giver and recipient may be subscribers in different television distribution facilities. The TV message system may also authorize a specified gift PPV program automatically for the recipient without requiring an access code. In another embodiment, the local program guide that receives the PPV gift may allow the recipient of the gift to access the PPV program without charging the recipient and without requiring an access code.
Referring now to
Referring now to
An illustrative process for allowing a user of user television equipment to purchase a gift through the television message system is shown in
After the user selects the gift and the recipient of the gift, the television message system transmits the gift information to the television distribution facility (or a remote server or a television program entity for e.g. the purchase of program merchandise) at step 392 where the user's account is debited. The user's account can be a pay-per-view account or other account maintained with the television distribution facility, an account maintained with a television channel, an account maintained at a third party institution (such as a bank), a credit card account such as a Visa account, or any other suitable account. At step 394, the recipient may be notified that a gift has been purchased for him. The recipient may be notified by the shipper of the merchandise, or by the television distribution facility that handles pay-per-view programming for that recipient. The recipient may be notified by an electronic message that is sent to the message server where messages for the recipient are maintained.
Many of the features of the present invention may be used with a two-way interactive display remote control. An example of a display remote control is shown in
The user may also view messages that have been sent to him by others users by selecting option 492. Option 492 opens up the user's inbox so that the user can read incoming messages directly on display screen 482. These features give the user additional privacy when composing messages and reading incoming messages. The display remote control therefore is a two-way interactive remote in that messages may be composed and sent, as well as received and read by the user. Further features of an illustrative display remote control are described in Herrington et al. U.S. provisional patent application Ser. No. 60/138,868, filed Jun. 11, 1999, which is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety. A display remote way also be used for chatting between users. Further features of an illustrative television chat system are described in DeWeese et al. U.S. patent application Ser. No. ______, filed concurrently herewith (Attorney Docket No. UV-101), which is hereby incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.
The foregoing is merely illustrative of the principles of this invention and various modifications can be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention.