Apple to Embed Ads and Marketing Information in iTunes?

Apple adds something to those songs you’ve been listening to from them, but it’s not music.

Normally, at the time a digital media file is created, there’s information about the content included with the music. This data is embedded in the digital media file’s header section, including such things as copyright information and digital rights management information, as well as title, author, and publisher.

If you’ve been watching the shelves of your local music store, you’ve probably seen enhanced CDs and DVDs, which contain hyperlinks to additional media content, often available on web sites. Apple wants to be able to include additional information, like that, in digital tunes that are downloaded.

This isn’t a problem with streaming media, which could have that kind of information added to it, but many people prefer direct access to the songs so that they can listen or watch when they don’t have access to streaming media.

A patent application from Apple Computer, Inc., Digital media file with embedded sales/marketing information, came out last week, and it describes a way to add sales, marketing, and tracking information into digital media files.

The patent application (document number 20060100924) was filed on November 5, 2004, and published on May 11, 2006, and lists Avadis Tevanian, Jr., as the inventor of the process it describes. Here’s the abstract:

Techniques for facilitating e-commerce by utilizing sales, marketing and/or tracking information (“e-commerce information”) embedded in digital media files are disclosed. These techniques can allow a user of a media management application to purchase digital media files or other subject matter based on the embedded e-commerce information.

Why does Apple say that they are pursuing this? Here’s an example provided in the patent filing:

A music promoter may want to upload a low-quality digital music file of a popular recording artist’s hit song without DRM restrictions to a file-sharing service or promotional web site for advertising purposes.

Unfortunately, if the distributor wants a recipient of the file (e.g., downloader) to subsequently buy a higher quality file or to buy tickets to a concert by that recording artist, there is conventionally no convenient and quick way to direct the downloader to the distribution/sales point of the distributor’s choice.

Also, there is no simple way for the distributor to track the file once it has been downloaded.

From a marketing perspective, it would be very useful to be able to know where the downloader of an unprotected file obtained the file in order to judge which methods of distribution are most effective.

A couple of other examples would be enabling people listening to a music preview to connect to a web site where they could buy a high quality version of the song they are listening to, or the watcher of a movie preview to purchase tickets to see the film at a local theatre.

I’m not sure that I like the idea of tracking information embedded into media files, especially if it might be done without any type of disclosure. Of course, this is only a patent application, and just because it provides a way to do this, doesn’t mean Apple will do it.

The tracking information would possibly do such things as record the network card number or IP address or user or computer name of a computer the file was stored upon. If the file is moved to a different computer, that information could also be recorded.

The tracking information could be extracted and examined to see what the original source of the file was, and where it has been. If someone makes a purchase using the ecommerce material embedded in the file, this tracking information could be used to see how it got to the purchaser, and give Apple some idea of how it got to that person.

That might tell them how best to market their music and videos to people, where people were finding their files, and how effective their marketing efforts are.

Added – May 20, 2006

Macsimum News has a very nice post on this patent, describing some specific uses for the marketing information that would be embedded in digital media files. These include how ticket purchases might ideally be made, and how online shopping can be done.

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