A patent application filed in 2011 has revealed that Microsoft may plan on bringing achievements to TV watching — including use of its Kinect camera system to monitor the behavior of TV viewers. As an application, the patent doesn't provide any definitive evidence that Microsoft plans to bring TV achievements or viewer monitoring to the Xbox 360 or the Xbox One, but it's an example of where the company's thinking could be headed as it expands its focus on the living room television experience.
Microsoft has already used Kinect to let viewers interact with ads; the company unveiled its NUads program more than a year ago, which is designed to use the sensor to let users share ads on social networks or control other aspects of advertisements. Responding to privacy concerns over NUads, Microsoft told The Verge that it has "strict policies in place that prohibit the collection, storage, or use of Kinect data for the purpose of advertising."
In the application, Microsoft notes that "traditional television viewing experiences tend to be passive and do not frequently provide opportunities for a viewer to engage with programming." Microsoft presumably thinks that adding achievements for TV watching is a way to increase engagement — specifically mentioning the value this could provide for advertisers. "To increase interactive viewing and encourage a user to watch one or more particular items of video content, awards and achievements may be tied to those items of video content," Microsoft writes.
Harnessing Kinect to detect how you watch TV isn't far-fetched
"Producers, distributors, and advertisers of the video content may set viewing goals and award a viewer who has reached the goals," the application notes. Those awards could include anything from digital gifts, like a score or some flair for your avatar, or promotional rewards from third-parties, like coupons or products.
Microsoft's examples include achievements or awards that could be offered for watching an entire television series from start to finish, for watching enough commercials during a program, or for "an action performable by the viewer." How Microsoft thinks it can achieve the last bit is the most interesting, because it would require monitoring TV watchers as they sit on the couch — something the company is poised to possibly implement with the Xbox One, which will ship with a Kinect camera.
We already know that the Kinect can be configured to monitor motion, depth, and audio data in its range — indeed, the peripheral will even listen to you while it's turned off — so harnessing its capabilities to detect how you watch TV isn't far-fetched. (As Microsoft demonstrated to us this month, the new Kinect will even be able to know when you're looking at or away from the screen.) The patent application states that the system "may be configured to track the viewing behaviors of one or more viewers," and "may then compile one or more user-specific reports of the viewing behaviors."
There's no guarantee Microsoft will actually implement the details of the patent, but it wouldn't come as a huge surprise. The company focused heavily on the Xbox One's television capabilities during its reveal event this month, with a heavy emphasis on voice and motion control integration with the TV watching experience. We've asked the company to comment on its plans, but so far Microsoft has been tight-lipped about the biggest mysteries surrounding its newest console.