News & Insight
News & Insight

BLT InsightNetflix’s “Skip Intro” Patent

2 Dec 2021

<Netflix Logo>


Netflix is a pioneer of the OTT (Over The Top) business.

In a time when video rental services were the mainstream, Netflix quickly preempted the OTT market by launching a subscription-based streaming business for video contents viewing on personal devices. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic which started in early 2020, people at home in lockdown subscribed to OTT services, and the number of Netflix subscribers exploded.


With American contents suppliers such as Disney and HBO providing their own OTT services, competition in the market has been intensifying. Disney has stopped providing contents to other platforms, instead exclusively offering its contents through its own Disney Plus service. 

While Netflix no longer has access to Disney’s Marvel series, they have opted to produce their own Netflix Original contents to stay in the game.


But as the OTT market matures, the average user today is subscribed to three OTT services. In Korea as well, Netflix users are also subscribed to one or more domestic OTT services.


<Competing OTT services in the U.S. market>



<Netflix’s “SKIP INTRO” interface>


Netflix provides a number of features to enhance user convenience, one of which is “Skip Intro.” Whether Netflix’s “Skip Intro” feature was manually implemented or implemented automatically through software was a topic of hot debate.


Netflix holds a patent titled “Identifying previously streamed portions of a media title to avoid repetitive playback (Korean Patent 10-2286410)” that is key to its Skip Intro feature.


The patent automatically isolates an introductory sequence (an episodic series frequently includes an introductory sequence played at the start of each episode) to allow viewers who have already watched previous episodes to skip the introductory sequence in a subsequent episode, or to selectively skip introductory sequences in individual titles.


Introductory sequences commonly depict primary characters in the serial, play a theme song associated with the serial, display credits indicating persons involved with production of the serial, and so forth. Episodic serials also sometimes include a recap sequence in which content from one or more previous episodes is displayed in order to refresh the viewer’s memory about past events in the serial and provide context for the current episode. One problem with the above approach is that introductory and recap sequences can be fairly repetitive across the various episodes in the serial.


By offering the “Skip Intro” feature, Netflix addresses user inconvenience in having to repeatedly view introductory sequences, helping the user maintain focus on the contents.



Claim 1

A computer-implemented method, comprising:

generating a first set of fingerprints based on a first video sequence, wherein each fingerprint included in the first set of fingerprints identifies a different portion of the first video sequence; generating a second set of fingerprints based on a second video sequence, wherein each fingerprint included in the second set of fingerprints identifies a different portion of the second video sequence; comparing the first set of fingerprints to the second set of fingerprints to determine that a first portion of the first video sequence is substantially similar to a second portion of the second video sequence; and when playing back the second video sequence, causing the second video sequence to advance past the second portion.

 

Claim 8

The computer-implemented method of claim 1, wherein causing the second video sequence to advance past the second portion of the second video sequence comprises generating a first time range corresponding to the second portion of the second video sequence, and advancing the second video sequence past the first time range in response to a selection received via a playback interface.

<Claims of Korean Registered Patent 10-2286410>


In the invention of the patent, representative frames are extracted from a plurality of segments of each video sequence (episodes of a series) to generate individual fingerprints for each, then fingerprint sets are compared across video sequences to allow segments with substantially identical fingerprints to be skipped during playback. That is, any implementation of a “Skip Intro” function wherein i) each episode is divided into numerous segments and a representative frame is extracted from each; ii) a fingerprint of each of the representative frames is acquired to generate a fingerprint set for each episode; iii) fingerprint sets are compared across multiple episodes to extract similar sections determined to correspond to an introductory sequence; and iv) allowing these similar sections to be skipped during playback of the next episode makes use of the patented technology.


<Exemplary drawing of SKIP INTRO in Korean Registered Patent 10-2286410>


In the process of determining an introductory sequence, some human intervention may be required to improve accuracy. While manually setting the introductory sequence of a title is feasible given small content volume, the need to improve the accuracy of automatic introductory sequence identification increases as the volume of content in a service increases. Netflix is determined to be in the process of patenting such technology in key countries of service such as the U.S. and Korea, in light of the need to address user inconvenience in having to watch introductory sequences repeatedly and the need to automate in response to the rapidly-increasing content volume. 

 

That said, Netflix’s patent does not cover a “Skip Intro” UI itself, and cannot keep other OTT services from manually setting introductory sequences or implementing methods different from that of Netflix for recognizing and allowing skipping of an introductory sequence. Korea’s “Watchaplay” has also added a skip intro feature in their service.


<Watchaplay’s “Skip Intro” UI>


Moreover, Watchaplay has begun providing a “automatically skip intro” feature which allows the skipping of introductory sequences without user touch input. (Netflix has also been confirmed to have recently added a feature allowing the introductory sequence to be skipped automatically when a subsequent episode is played back after a previous episode ends.)


<”Automatically skip intro” setting screen in Watchaplay>


That said, Netflix currently holds 290 registered patents (including 12 registered graphic image design patents) and 105 published patents in the U.S., and is thought to hold numerous patent applications not yet published. That is, Netflix holds a patent portfolio covering a host of technologies necessary for OTT services. Based on their U.S. patent applications, Netflix is filing applications to secure patents in various countries where they provide their services. This patent portfolio is expected to give Netflix the upper hand in future competition over contents in the OTT market, and to serve as a powerful weapon against competitors.

For continued growth, Korean OTT services will inevitably have to consider expanding their services and popular Korean contents overseas. To ensure safe expansion of business, scrutiny of Netflix’s global patent portfolio will be crucial.




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Taekyun Chung

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