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Magicband Mystique

Much has been said about Disney’s NextGen project by myself and many others in the Disney community, but the recent public inquiry by Congressman Ed Markey regarding their intended use of the RFID enabled Magicband has brought quite a bit of interest Disney’s way, and not all of it is flattering. In fact, much of it seems to border on fear and perhaps even paranoia over Disney’s use of this new tech. It seems that many have an irrational fear regarding the new MagicBand suggesting that Disney is going to use this somehow to “spy” on guests in a George Orwell, 1984, Big Brother style.


Disney’s Notorious MagicBand

It is true that with this new technology there is a huge potential for them to collect a lot of personal data on guests and while I have no proof to show to the contrary, I just can’t fathom that this new system will be THAT comprehensive or devious in its use. As best I’ve been able to surmise, the system will have the ability to loosely track guests movements thru the parks, at the front gates when they enter, in gift shops and restaurants when they make purchases, at the queues of rides where they’ve chosen to use a Fastpass+, as well when they get photos with a Photopass+.

So, the big question everybody seems to be asking, is why? What does Disney want to do with this? How are they planning to recoup the $1.5+ billion (rumored to be 2 now) investment they have made? The answer most seem to gravitate toward is that Disney intends to secretly sell guests personal information to third parties, but I just can’t accept that. Perhaps I’ve drank too much of Mickey’s Magical Koolaid, but this just sounds like a really bad idea for a company as smart and savvy as Disney. Am I giving them too much credit?

I’ve thought about this for a while, and tried to figure out what they could possibly do with the known data points, but first, let’s take a look at what those might be, then we’ll try and figure out how they might use the data.

The list below are the known RFID scanner points that are being installed around WDW property and the potential data elements that might be collected from the guest:

  • Hotel room door (Enter/exit times, location, time in room)
  • Park entrance gates (Enter, exit times, location)
  • FastPass+ Ride Queues – (Scheduled time, arrival time, possible ride time, estimated exit time, location)
  • Gift Shops/Stores – (Individual Purchases, location, estimated time in store)
  • Photopass+ – (Time, Location)
  • Restaurants – (Entry time, Order time, Location)

There may be others, but these are the ones I’ve read about so far. I could foresee readers added at bus stops in the future to help with bus scheduling.

So, here’s a few ideas of what I think can be done with this data.

Hotel room –

  • notify hotel management – this could be used for emergency notifications in case of fire or bad weather, it would give management a more detailed view of how many guests are at the hotel and where
  • deliver baggage/packages  – If they know you’ve checked back in to your room, they can deliver your stuff
  • activating or waking up the environmental (heat & A/C) systems energy saving mode.

Park Entrance/Park Ops

  • Transportation management – Identify which resort guests come from, or if from parking lot, allows for better management at end of day with more precise resources (boats/capatains, buses/drivers)
    Also, if there is a rainstorm or other event that causes a mass exodus prior to closing, they could know and automatically queue transportation.
  • Plan vs Actual – If guests take advantage of the advanced features such as FP+ ride reservations and Dining reservations, the systems could automatically adjust if guests change their minds or for some reason don’t go to their pre-planned destination. For example, if a family reserved FP+s for Space Mountain, 10am, but they still had not left their room at Animal Kingdom Lodge by 9:45, the system would automatically release the reservation they had for someone else to use. The same would work for dining. 
  • Dining reservations – It would be assumed that if a guest is in the park for which they have a dining reservation, they would likely be using the reservation at the time they scheduled. However, if for some reason, they left the park, the reservation might automatically cancel or be released for someone else to use. The system could also verify the cancellation with the guest before cancelling.

FP+ Ride Queues

  • Exact number of riders in queue / on-ride
  • Exact wait times (no more red lanyards)
  • FP+ Usage
  • Age
  • Gender

Gift Shop

  • Purchases – Sure, they could profile you, based on what you buy.  Your preferences, colors, sizes? Although, I have to wonder how well this would work for us since we buy not just for ourselves but friends and family too. 
  • Spending habits – How much you spend on various types of merchandise, clothing, toys, jewelry, etc. 
  • Resort level spending 


  • Food preferences
  • Allergies
  • Amount of food you eat – portion sizes? frequency?

Other data

  • Time you spend in park
  • Time you spend in room
  • Touring habits  – early riser and arrival at opening, sleep in with later arrival, park closer, mid-day breaker, etc
  • Attraction preferences and types
  • Hotel Preferences, room preference, bed preference, pillow, towels, etc
  • Time of year preference to visit (this could be via a questionaire, or an accumulation of data over multiple visits), serves the purpose of tailoring a custom promotion/advertisement for you and your family

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

In my limited and somewhat rose-colored thinking, I’ve come up with but a few ideas here, but I’m sure they have many more ways they will choose to use this data. However, based on everything I’ve been able to find concerning NextGen, points to Disney simply trying to find new ways to improve the guest experience in hopes of influencing them to spend more money, with the thought being a happy guest will spend more money, and choose to come back sooner. Yes, it seems they will achieve this via data mining and using the new technology to provide them with more detailed feedback, but it’s more about streamlining the experience as far as I can tell. Mind you, there may be more involved that they’re not spelling out, but the following is just some of what I’ve found in patent applications.

Patent – 7720718 – Management of the flow of persons in relation to centers of crowd concentration
A goal of this invention is to improve the desired functionality needed to derive increased guest satisfaction, additional revenue opportunities and resort differentiation.

Patent (application) – 20120271834 – Managing experience state to personalize destination visits
A method for managing distribution of entitlements, such as personalized or enhanced experiences at a destination such a theme park.
-For example, the operator may change arbitration rules based on data mining that may indicate that entitlements have not been distributed as desired (e.g., experiences were being provided in a too concentrated manner to a small fraction of visitors, experiences were not being delivered to preferred customers as often as desired, and due to other business rules/goals). In other cases, the I/O devices may be used to alert operators of the management system when a visitor is about to leave a facility without receiving one or more experiences (which they may have purchased the entitlement to), and the operator may the take proactive steps to try to provide the visitor with the experience or to take later steps to make up for the missed opportunity (send the visitor a free pass or gift).

Patent application – 20130018661 – Guest experience management system and method
An exemplary computer implemented method comprises receiving information from a guest, determining a guest strategy based on the information received from the guest, and generating a schedule for the guest visit based on the guest strategy.
-One disadvantage at many theme parks and amusement parks is the long lines that guests face to enter the park, at the attractions within the park, and when purchasing food at mealtimes. Long wait times for attractions in particular detract from the guests experience, not just from the time spent standing in lines, but also by causing the guest to rush from attraction to attraction to maximize the number of popular attractions, without taking time to notice or enjoy the other offerings of the theme park such as music, live entertainment, restaurants, shops, etc.
-Additionally, guests that rarely frequent the park are typically unfamiliar with the layout of the park as well as with the peak times for more popular rides. This can further decrease those guests enjoyment, as they may take circuitous routes in order to try and visit as many attractions as possible, and may cause them to experience even longer lines by failing to visit the most popular attractions at off-peak hours.
-Different methods have been used to try and minimize wait times in theme parks and amusement parks, including limiting ticket sales on a given day to prevent overcrowding and allowing guests to purchase more expensive express tickets that allow the guest to use shorter express lines for popular attractions. These methods are limited and more prevent overcrowding in the theme park itself, but do not guarantee guests that they will have shorter wait times.
-Similarly, other methods to try and minimize wait times in theme parks include allowing guests to appear at the attraction and reserve a specific time in the future when the guest can return to the attraction and enter through an express line. This method is also limited in that it does not allow guests planning their trips to know ahead of time what attractions they will be able to visit on a given day, and what is the best route through the theme park for those desired attractions. Moreover, such systems will typically not allow the guest to make multiple appointments (manifested as flexible return windows)s at the same time. Thus, if the only available appointment times for a popular attraction are late in the day, the guest must either make the appointment and forego the opportunity to make appointments at other attractions, or risk missing the popular attraction entirely.
-Accordingly, there is a need for a method and system that better manages the guest experience and the wait times at theme parts, amusement parks and resorts.

I should add that this last one includes a whole lot more detail about providing customized experiences, not just more FP+s, but interactive elements and special effects made available for specific guests based on what “experience level” they purchased. (This could point to a new ticket pricing structure.)
I could cite more examples, but I think this should suffice (for now).


Experience Type – pre-planned package arrangements? 

In Disney’s recent DisneyTime sweepstakes they held (early 2013), they were asking guests to pick from a variety of “experiences” they would like to win. These or something similar could be used in the future to help guests in tailoring their visit with  pre-planned activities or events that would be automatically selected for them should they choose to go this route. Listed below are the choices Disney offered:

Character Cuddles and Happy Happenings. Includes:

      • One (1) Disney’sMagical Celebration “in room” décor, as chosen by Sponsor, in winner’s Walt Disney World® Resort hotel room [winner’s room only];
      • One (1) Disney Character Dining experience for four (4) persons, and
        VIP viewing for one (1) Disney Theme Park parade or show for four (4) persons.
      • Parade and/or show selection and date of experience is at the discretion of Disney.  Based on availability. Restrictions apply.

New Discoveries and Magic Makeovers. Includes:

  • One (1) Disney’sMagical Celebration “in room” décor, as chosen by Sponsor, in winner’s Walt Disney World® Resort
    hotel room [winner’s room only];
  • Up to two (2) Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique Princess Package makeovers (Guests ages 3 to 12 can choose from 3 hair styles—Fairytale Princess, Disney Diva and Pop Princess) or up to two (2) Pirates League experiences;
  • Disney’s Family Magic Tour for up to four (4) people, and
  • One (1) Disney Character Dining experience for four (4) persons.

Wild Fun and Amazement. Includes:

  • Ticket upgrade to include the Water Park Fun & More Option;
  • Wild Africa Trek for up to four (4) people. Must be at least 8 years old and at least 48” inches tall, and
  • Fantasmic! Dining Package for four (4) persons. 

Big Thrills Beyond the Theme Parks. Includes:

  • Ticket upgrade to include the Water Park Fun & More Option;
  • One (1) Disney Shopping Spree with a maximum value of five hundred dollars (US$500), and
  • Choice of recreational experiences such as, but not limited to, boat rentals, kayaking, bass fishing, spa, miniature golf with a total a value up to five hundred dollars (US$500).

Grownup Fun and Romance. Includes:

  • Ticket upgrade to include the Water Park Fun & More Option,
  • Signature Dining experience for up to four (4) people,
    Choice of spa experiences or one round of golf for up to four (4) people with a total value of eight hundred dollars (US$800), and
  • A night at Downtown Disney Area, featuring unique shopping and dining, as well as exciting nighttime entertainment, for four (4) people with a total value of four hundred dollars(US$400);

One final thought: It’s remotely possible Disney could have a second or third phase planned for this that is even more encompassing. A couple of years ago (Aug, 2010), Disney tried out a queueless waiting system http://bit.ly/XyRDGS  at Rock N’ Rollercoaster and from what I hear, they’ve implemented a form of this on the new Dumbo queue. Consider, if all of the attractions are linked to FP+, Disney could conceivably set up all queues in this way where guests could pre-schedule their entire park visit ahead of time. Or, a computer would do it for you based on a pre-selected experience type. Then you would simply show up at the park and mill about shopping, eating, playing interactive games or just sight-seeing until you get notified of your ride time. Whether that’s part of the ultimate plan, will have to just wait and see.

One more final, final thought: With ticket prices inching closer to the $100 mark, many have questioned whether a day at the park(s) is really going to be worth that much. Will visitors be willing to pay THAT much for a ticket? Rumors have been floating around that all of the big players are looking into alternative ticketing strategies that would ease the impact of raising tickets to this price. Speculation on my part (again), but with the MagicBand technology, Disney could implement a tiered ticketing system, offering the guest varying levels of “experience” types, similar to those above. This would be a similar model as the airlines, hotels and rental car companies, where if you pay more, you get more. For example, they might have a Premium Experience level that has 4 FastPass+ options, a Table Service credit, and free drink refills, then maybe a Standard Experience level that would include 3 FastPass+ options, a Counter Service credit and a free drink refills, then they would have a Basic Experience with just 2 FastPass+ options and nothing else. These might be priced at $125, $105 and $95 respectively, just as an example.

Also, if you’re interested in knowing more about what Data companies are collecting, be sure to check out the following link: Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You


DizFanatic – Michael DiMare – http://dizfanatic.com/diztech012.aspx

Jim Hill Media – http://jimhillmedia.com/editor_in_chief1/b/jim_hill/archive/2013/01/07/walt-disney-world-is-using-its-nextgen-program-to-try-amp-win-over-the-next-generation-of-theme-park-goers.aspx

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