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October 7, 2013

Disney Testing Billion-Dollar Big Data System

Isaac Lopez

The “House of Mouse” is getting a big data upgrade to the tune of more than $1 billion, aimed at enhancing visitor trips as well as their spending output. The new system, dubbed the “MyMagic-project,” employs wristbands equipped with RFID chips that tell Mickey what his guests are up to during their vacations.

The new MyMagic system is currently being tested at Walt Disney World. According to a recent report, it is being used to track the tens of millions of visitors attending the theme park each year. The wristband data collection process happens in two distinct ways. Using short-range sensors, guests can open hotel-room doors, pay for items (the wristbands can double as credit cards), and other guest-initiated actions. Additionally, there are long-range sensors that will pick up the wristband frequencies and tell the Disney database about its guests’ travels through the park.

Disney’s CFO, Jay Rasulo, says that the company is expecting the technology to increase the time guests spend with them, thus improving the opportunity to extract additional cash along the way. “We can now offer services on a personalized basis, because we know who you are, where you are and — if you tell us why are you are coming to visit Walt Disney World for this vacation — whether you’re a first-time visitor, a 50th-time visitor, it is your child’s fifth birthday, it is a graduation, it’s an anniversary. The more you share with us as a guest, the more we are able to tailor services and, we think, get a lift in selling those services,” Rasulo said.

According to a New York Times report, the program has been under development since February 2011, when the company identified the technology as a way that it could boost and differentiate the Disney theme park experience while reaping incremental revenue. Users of the MyMagic technology will be able to access a website called “My Disney Experience,” where they will be able to provide personal information while pre-planning their trip – including the selection of three FastPasses, scheduling times for character meet and greets, and more.

As customers move through the park, employees and characters will be able to interact with the guests who have provided the data by name, including the robotic characters in certain line queues, such as Scuttle the seagull from The Little Mermaid. “We want to take experiences that are more passive and make them as interactive as possible — moving from, ‘Cool, look at that talking bird,’ to ‘Wow, amazing, that bird is talking directly to me,’” said Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering in the Times report.

Rasulo recently explained to stock analysts that while they will have in-park analytics that will be used to drive revenue, the primary purpose of the technology and its ability to increase revenue centers around what they hope will be longer guest visits with customers spending more of their time in Disney parks, and less with competing area parks.

With Disney parks being as big as they are (in Orlando the company has four theme parks, two water parks, several retail areas, golf courses, resorts, and more), the expectation is that customers will plan more of their trip online through its portal, giving Disney insights on ways that they can draw the guests further into the Disney experience by offering special packages that aim to make extra days more attractive to guests who might otherwise plan on visiting a competing amusement park, such as Universal Orlando of SeaWorld Orlando.

The billion-dollar system gives us an early peek at what the future may look like as companies and governments look to maximize user experiences while at the same time lining their own pockets. It will be interesting to see how the Disney implementation affects its $13-billion-a-year parks and resort business.

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