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Thursday, February 21, 2008, 10:00 am PT (01:00 pm ET)

Apple looks towards personalized on-demand podcasts

Apple appears poised to evolve podcasts into a new form of dynamically generated media, where users would customize the contents of a digital media file prior to downloading it to their iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.

The idea, which builds on a recently publicized concept of user generated "Podmaps," is outlined in an 18-page filing from the Cupertino-based company originally made in January of last year and published for the first time on Thursday by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

In it, Apple explains that traditional podcasts typically consist of fixed media where the subscriber has no control over the content provided in or with podcasts file prior to downloading it to a digital media player, computer or other device.

"Unfortunately, however, a subscriber may desire a podcast that is somewhat different from the available podcasts," wrote patent inventor Ellis Verosub. "In many cases, a subscriber is not interested in the entire pre-established podcast but would prefer to modify the podcast in some manner. However, there is currently no way for a subscriber to alter the content within a podcast."

To address this issue, Verosub again suggests (as he did in the recent filing for podmaps) a sophisticated backend content delivery system capable of generating, managing and delivering personalized media items for users — essentially, a means of creating customized news broadcasts that present only the content and information desired by the viewer.

For example, a user could use an application like iTunes to subscribe to and personalize a podcasts that would automatically download and sync to a device each morning for viewing over Apple TV during breakfast or on an iPod or iPhone while on the way to work.

Personalized Podcasts


The podcast could consist of one or several segments selected from a predefined set of continuously updated media categories on a digital download service, such as the iTunes Store. A 20-minute customized podcast, for instance, could consist of a 5 minute segment from CNN on the day's national news, a 5 minute segment from a local news station, and a 10 minute segment on sports highlights from ESPN.

A "podcast request dialog" in iTunes would assist the user in the creation of the custom file by presenting a list of predefined news categories and a form interface for naming and specifying media type, life-span, and preferred delivery preferences.

Personalized Podcasts


Besides the predetermined categories that would be made available via iTunes, the podcast request dialog could also include a custom button, Verosub added.

"Upon selection of the custom button, a user can be assisted with another dialog screen to create a category of content, namely, media content, that is to be included within the custom podcast," he explained. "For example, in the case of sports, the user may desire to create a category that is specific to their interests. For example, the user may request to receive sports highlights from the weekend during the NFL season regarding specific teams or teams in the Eastern division. As another example, the user may desire to receive statistics regarding games played during the past week in the NFL."

Once a user has personalized their podcast, iTunes would then send a request to several remote content servers that would then return the requested podcasts segments. At this time, Verosub notes that a "podcast creator" would then stitch the segments together appropriately into a single podcast file, and in some cases embed advertisements between the segments. The completed file would then be upload to an RSS server, where it would be downloaded to the users machine and synced to an iPhone, iPod or Apple TV for instant playback.

"In addition," Verosub added, "for management of podcasts, a client device or a portable media device can also be configured so that the podcasts are automatically maintained or discarded based on any of a number of different criteria. For example, the number of podcasts (or episodes thereof) being maintained could be limited and the oldest stored podcast can be deleted when more than the predetermined number of podcasts (or episodes thereof) is being stored."