IBM's secret growth plan is … Karaoke?

♫ I guess that's why they call it Big Blue ♫

IBM might be planning a karaoke-led-resurgence, if a new patent application titled “Enhancing karaoke systems utilizing audience sentiment feedback and audio watermarking” is any guide.

If IBM had a theme song it would probably be “I guess that's why they call it the blues”, as the company is beset by problems: the cloud challenges the company's already-dwindling hardware business, its SoftLayer cloud trails rivals Azure, Amazon Web Services and Google. Outsourcing isn't as popular as it once was which means the company's consulting business is no longer thriving. It's even paying others to take loss-making business units of its hands.

One of Big Blue's strategies is a new album of products with an analytical beat. This patent could be a b-side in that effort, as it appears to add the chance for crowdsourced social feedback for Karaoke.

“Frequently, singers can receive immediate feedback from spectators who evaluate the singer's performance of a karaoke song,” the patent application reads. “Unfortunately, the phenomenon has not evolved with today's social networking. Although social networking is a phenomenon that is currently driving interactions between people, social iterations (e.g., social karaoke Web sites) of karaoke lack the real-time interaction and feedback often associated with traditional karaoke.”

The application, filed with the US Patent Office, is written in densest patentese, but the gist of it seems to be that singers will appreciate realtime feedback and the ability to share performances across their social networks, but that rights-holders will also like the ability to associate a performance with the original work, with biometric watermarking of their performances and analysis available to the owner of a song.

IBM holds or has a hand in thousands of patents, including this one for a mosquito trap. So it's not entirely unusual for Big Blue to have waft at something a little odd.

But this one could be crazy like the fox: karaoke may seem a bit of a nineties relic in Reg-reading nations, but remains colossal in Asia. A patent to socialise it could turn into a tidy business for IBM and perhaps even give Big Blue a chance to offer Karaoke-analysis-as-a-service from a Watson cloud. Either that, or the likes of Singstar are about to have incoming sueballs.

Either scenario could leave investors singing “I will always love you” to IBM. Take it away, Whitney. ®

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