An Apple patent worth gawking at, given its grander ambitions for advertising, iTunes and TV subscriptions: It details a way to make you watch ads embedded into video content, like say, a free or cheap TV show.
Conceptually, it's not too dissimilar from what you see with Hulu, actually—essentially, in order to unlock further segments of the video, you have to watch an ad. You know, just like real TV worked, before DVRs!
The patent goes in-depth about how ads would be embedded with content that could be downloaded to multiple devices—like an iPhone or iPad—how it'd react to trying to jump ahead of the ad, and gathering statistics about how the ad was viewed or interacted with.
The reason it's interesting, primarily, is that Apple's reportedly been heavily pitching networks both on selling TV shows for cheap—99 cents—and signing on to an iTunes TV subscription service that would bundle a selection of TV shows from major networks for 30 bucks a month, like say, Gossip Girl from CBS. The networks have been cool to both suggestions, given that TV's expensive to produce and stuff.
Ads, especially ones with detailed usage statistics (and maybe demographics), would help make up the revenue lost by offering shows for a buck, and make $30 subscription a lot more palatable, and possibly even offset the screams of cable operators watching content dance out the door and maybe onto the cloud.
The retrenchment of the old timeline model of television with interstitial advertising in the age of the DVRs, where we can create any timeline we want as we watch, is one of the more curious developments of networks groping for new ways to make money off of old media on new devices. What's old is new is old again, apparently.