There’s no telling where you’ll find the idea that will make your fortune, but mine came on day one of early voting.
A poll worker at the ballot scanner promised that, once we cast our votes, all political ads would disappear from our TVs.
While everyone else laughed, I felt the inspiration for a smartphone app.
I’ll hire an app developer, and here’s how it will work:
After you vote, the Elections Board will give you a code you will then key into your smartphone app, and it will communicate with the cable box on your TV. Then, whenever a political ad is about to run, you’ll hear soothing music and see Outer Banks videos instead.
Upgrades are the way to get rich with apps, so once 75 million people pay me $2.95 each for the first version of SlimeBlock, I’ll release an upgrade for another $1. After your yearly physical, your doctor will give you a code for SlimeBlock+, and it will block, during the nightly news, all pharmaceutical ads for maladies you don’t have.
An associated app, BeggingBlock, will black out UNC-TV’s money appeals if you’ve already contributed. I’ll charge $5.95 for that update because only rich people watch PBS, and Shannon Vickery’s pleading for pennies is more annoying than political ads. I’ll donate a dime for every unit sold.
Sound like a fantasy? Yes, of course, except that the original idea of blocking annoying ads might not be that far away, just through another approach.
When AT&T offered to buy Time Warner, analysts speculated that it wanted to marry its Internet data with Time Warner’s entertainment content. (Other telecoms are trying the same thing.) With “targeted TV advertising,” your cable company could tailor ads specifically for you.
If AT&T U-verse knew, for example, that I read daily baseball and hockey blogs, they could charge the Durham Bulls and the Carolina Hurricanes extra for ads directed only at me and similar fans. These advertisers would have an interested customer and would save money by not advertising to non-fans. Advertisers already “target” us on our phones and Web browsers.
No sooner did I come up with this idea than the Federal Communications Commission in late October issued privacy rules saying the telecoms can’t marry this information without our permission. And that’s how my poll worker’s fantasy becomes reality, maybe.
The telecoms want to use your info, but they need your OK. So, you negotiate. For the right to your data, you decide which ads you want and which you don’t. I’ll ask for more beer ads and no political or pharma ads.
And if these mega-telecoms won’t negotiate, someone will. The cable companies are besieged by cord cutters these days, and many new streaming services are offering content. A service will come along and market on the promise to let the consumer choose advertisers.
At least that’s my fantasy. After this campaign, we’re all entitled to at least one, aren’t we?
Paul T. O’Connor has written about North Carolina state government and politics for 35 years. He teaches in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC.