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You can’t see Buzz Lightyear while backpacking
January 27, 2014 11:28 PM   Subscribe

You don’t want your privacy: Disney and the meat space data race
The bands are even uniquely colored and monogrammed with your family members’ names so that they won’t get switched up. Why? Because they don’t want their database to get confused and think that you, a 45-year-old man, rode the teacups instead of your little son Timmy. This is one of the first examples I’ve seen of physical design (e.g., monogramming and coloring) for the sake of digital data purity.
If ever there was a testimony to the importance big data has achieved in business it’s this: We will now shape our physical world to create better streams of digital information.
posted by frimble (74 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
This may indeed be the future... but according to Al Lutz, who is probably the most knowledgeable journalist and blogger who covers Disney theme parks, the program has been a big failure so far. In a post here, he explains that it simply hasn't been as profitable as hoped... and it has cost Disney literally billions so far. They have run into all kinds of technical issues, but the real problem is in trying to find something profitable in the short-term with the data they have.

Sure, they can use it to gather ride data, or track where park visitors generally go. But that's not what they want. They want money from you now... not data they can compile and use to get money from people in a couple years after changes and renovations are made.

This represents a major shift in thinking for Disney. The old thinking was long-term, essentially "build more rides and update old ones, and the money will roll in." Track what visitors want, build it over a couple years, reap the rewards in park popularity once the ride or feature is done.

The concept now is increasingly short-term thinking: "squeeze every last penny possible from each visitor, and the money will roll in." The massive increase in ticket prices, food and souvenir prices, and hotel costs over the last few years is evidence... and this program is their largest attempted cash grab yet... gather data instantly so as to try to immediately impact how much a customer will spend.

The real test, if they keep this program going, is in how they confront users with the data they have gathered. If they're savvy, they'll make it subtle. If they're greedy, it'll be Idiocracy come to life, with clumsy advertising and blatant in-your-face promotion.

"It's been eight hours since Jim last ate. Let's make his wristband start vibrating every time he walks within 200 feet of the nearest $18 churro cart."

The trouble is, seeing what they've been doing already, and considering what most companies would do... Idiocracy and vibrating churro bracelets, here we come.
posted by Old Man McKay at 12:15 AM on January 28 [25 favorites]


The trouble is, seeing what they've been doing already, and considering what most companies would do... Idiocracy and vibrating churro bracelets, here we come.

That'd be a real shame.
One of the best parts about Disney (and really, the part that makes it enjoyable) is that it is a cash grab, but not a pushy one.
I mean, you know they're deep in your pocket, they know they're deep in your pocket, but it somehow escapes being crass commercialism, even though it's the epitome of crass commercialism.

I think of it as the Disney Paradox. It's one of my favorite things to contemplate while Drinking Around the World.
posted by madajb at 12:49 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


(All capitals, why?)

It seems like this level of data isn't really worth as much as they assumed. You don't actually need that much information about every single individual, and the few interventions it actually enables are marginal or even unhelpful in terms of generating extra cash.

Even the hypothetical vibrating churro cart wristbands - what, you only turn them on when someone hasn't eaten for a while? We're using this expensive data to help us turn our expensive wristbands off most of the time? We're gonna let people just walk right past the carts if they had a hamburger two hours ago? Guys, are we even serious about promoting our churro carts? Or are we spending our money on combatting obesity, for chrissakes?
posted by Segundus at 1:09 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


They don’t want their database to get confused and think that you, a 45-year-old man, rode the teacups instead of your little son Timmy.

I was at the check-out in a UK supermarket the other day, explaining to the guy behind the till that I didn't have one of the chain's loyalty cards. The woman behind me in the queue couldn't grasp why "wasted" loyalty card points like mine couldn't simply be put on her card instead. The answer, of course, is that the supermarket doesn't want to get my shopping mixed up with her data.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:10 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


A guy in advertising and data collection, sorry a DATA SCIENTIST, thinking more data collection is a good idea?
Who would have thunk?

I, in fact, do want my privacy.
posted by Mezentian at 1:26 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Guys like this always start off by telling you they backpacked around Europe once. It's so that, when they later tell you that Disneyland is a fun time or that they welcome our approaching advertocracy, you don't dismiss their values outright. It doesn't work, though.
posted by distorte at 1:41 AM on January 28 [12 favorites]


I've been to Europe. Still haven't been to Disney World, and the 8 year old in me still wants to go.
posted by jb at 1:54 AM on January 28


ut according to Al Lutz, who is probably the most knowledgeable journalist and blogger who covers Disney theme parks,

Al Lutz' track record when it comes to rumors in the Disney Parks is much much more hit or miss than people realize. He's fairly strongly biased against the Florida parks, -and- the management of Disney in general and has been for ages.
posted by FritoKAL at 2:22 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


If it just says your full name on the band, it is not "monogrammed", it is "labelled".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:48 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


We’re all wringing our hands over the NSA, and meanwhile we’re handing our data as fast as we can to other entities for next to nothing. If the NSA were smart, it would buy Candy Crush Saga, change the permissions, and be done with it.
posted by walrus at 2:49 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


We’re all wringing our hands over the NSA, and meanwhile we’re handing our data as fast as we can to other entities for next to nothing. If the NSA were smart, it would buy Candy Crush Saga, change the permissions, and be done with it.

Way ahead of you man...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:53 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Of course with a rooted (or jailbroken) smartphone, one can just switch those permissions off individually, but it's a lot of work.
posted by walrus at 2:56 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


madajb: “I mean, you know they're deep in your pocket, they know they're deep in your pocket, but it somehow escapes being crass commercialism, even though it's the epitome of crass commercialism.”
While it's been a while since I've been to a Disney park, to me the value proposition is that the hospitality is so far above what you can expect most other family-friendly resorts that it makes the money worth it. As long as they don't forget that, I think they'll be okay.

Let me put it this way here's how my vacation planning has typically gone. "I'd love to go the Italian Riviera around race day in Monaco."

"Wow. With four adults and two kids, maybe something all-inclusive would be better anyway. Let's look at Atlantis."

"Oof, that's 'a week in Disney at one of the decent hotels including a meal-plan' money."

Which is why no matter where I think I'd like to take the family — Europe, Hawaii, the Caribbean, you name it — I wind up on the Disney site looking at what that will cost me.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:36 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I've only been to Disneyland Asia — would not have been 1% interested in heading there if I didn't have a child, lived in Paris without ever succumbing to the blandishments of Eurodisney, am precisely the sort of person who is predisposed to hate the whole damn circus — and was very agreeably surprised. Sure, it's all a sell, but it's a much cooler one (or a longer con, if you prefer), than state fair type of deals; you could more or less afford to eat, the rides were jolly good fun, and the merchandise was decently well put together.

Fuck, what's that beeping sound on my wrist?
posted by Wolof at 4:16 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


[putting moral concerns aside...]

It seems like this kind of person-tracking makes way more sense in a wide area (like a city or the Internet) than it does a narrow one like Disney World.

Virtually everybody who goes to Disney World has the same basic goals. They want to ride some rides and watch some parades and eat a meal or two. Most have children. They're all basically the same type of consumer. How do you pull any profitable data from that?

On the internet, there's value in finding the people who are interested in political news or iPhone apps or new shoes so you know what kind of ads to throw at them.

Disney has already filtered their audience: They are all the sort of people who are willing to spend $80 a day to get into Disney World. How do you market specific items to customers when they all want the same meal and the same ride and the same hat with round ears?
posted by mmoncur at 4:45 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Al Lutz' track record when it comes to rumors in the Disney Parks is much much more hit or miss than people realize.

I know nothing of Lutz, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that the magic band program has had some shockingly bad technical issues.

My family (parents/siblings/nieces/nephews/etc) have been going to Disney World for decades. The last trip we had was during the rollout of the magic band program. Issues caused by the bands themselves made it quite literally the worst Disney experience we've ever had, and resulted in (not exaggerating) an aggregate of over 15 hours standing in line or arguing with cast members to resolve the problems, after repeatedly getting locked out of rooms, having passes deactivate, having previously purchased passes transferred and then mysteriously lost, etc.

To add insult to injury, after we all managed to opt out (which was supposed to be totally fine, until cast members decided maybe we couldn't, or maybe we could, or ...), we got completely screwed on fast passes. Either by bug or by not considering the consequences of the design, the ability of magic band users to acquire fast passes prior to parks opening (from their hotel rooms) meant that we walked into the parks the minute they opened, and all fast passes for the day were already given out before a single person stepped through the gate.

Yeah, they're totally optional ... unless you actually want to participate in the fast pass program, which is the only thing that makes dealing with the lines at popular rides workable.

The whole experience was just terrible, from both the technical side and in terms of the cast members who were asked to help resolve the problems. It put a huge black mark on what was otherwise a record of decades of positive experiences with Disney. Everyone I was with left hoping that the program failed so badly that Disney would remove it prior to the next time we visit, because none of us want to deal with it ever again.
posted by tocts at 4:56 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


I guess this means I'll never get to go on Soarin'.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:12 AM on January 28


If ever there was a testimony to the importance big data has achieved in business it’s this: We will now shape our physical world to create better streams of digital information.

I sortof get the point but that's quite a song and dance to make about colouring and labelling of wristbands, which after all is a blindingly obvious thing to do. We've been shaping the physical world to create better streams of data ever since Supermarkets started getting people to carry 'club cards' or 'reward cards'. Which is about 15 or 20 years ago I think?
posted by memebake at 5:29 AM on January 28


Everybody look at their left arm and their right arm. Who's wearing a Nike Fuel or FitBit? At least Disney doesn't guilt you about ice cream while you wear it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:43 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Caveat up front: I live in Orlando, and know lots of people who work at Disney.

Despite all the complaints about privacy and tech related issues, most people like the magicbands. This isn't to say that Disney couldn't exploit this in a myriad of ways, but most guests don't know or don't care, because they are at Disney having fun. A wristband that has their ticket, room key, and charging priviledges on it means they have less things they have to shlep around the parks and potentially lose.

The rollout has been poorly planned from a logistical and technological point of view, but they have invested enough in at this point that they are not going to roll back this program. Most of the major glitches have been ironed out, and the system is moving forward. Two of the four parks have removed all of their paper fastpass machines, including the Magic Kingdom.
posted by Badgermann at 5:47 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I'm beginning to think one of the duties of citizenship in the present is to jam the system by generating false and meaningless data noise to obscure reality from the corporate watchers. Swap armbands at Disney, put wrong phone numbers on your grocery store card applications. Claim to "like" things. Call strangers on the phone. Search for things you don't care about.

Think globally, act randomly.
posted by Naberius at 5:47 AM on January 28 [26 favorites]


Naberius: put wrong phone numbers on your grocery store card applications

Rob Cockerham of cockeyed.com once created a Safeway Clone Army.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:50 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


It's more than collection of data. It's also a way to hide your monetary spending from the reality of it. The band is linked as a room key, which also serves as a charging device for souvenirs, food, etc. If you just wave your wrist and tap in a PIN, it doesn't give the same feeling as spending money, hopefully (to Disney), leading you to go ahead and get that extra snack, stuffed animal, etc.

In many ways, this is Disney dollars elevated.
posted by skittlekicks at 6:07 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


put wrong phone numbers on your grocery store card applications

My wife routinely puts the e-mail address of this guy she hated in college on applications for things like this. Oh Chris, you must get so many random birthday messages from companies.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:15 AM on January 28 [10 favorites]


I know nothing of Lutz, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that the magic band program has had some shockingly bad technical issues.

Whereas I, who've used it twice, have had basically zero problem with it, and mostly I've seen the system working well. (This was in the September test and December.) However, there have been some issues, and it's a pain if it happens -- just like any time vacations go wrong. The biggest issue is that front-line CMs had to call back line to fix them, rather than doing what they normally did. I've heard (but can't verify) that more functionality has been pushed to the front line, so they can fix more problems themselves, which is much more the Disney way.

Then again, it's basically the exact same level of pain you went through with a bad KTTW card in the old system, which I did have happen in a trip.

When I wasn't using FP+ (because I was with friends who weren't) there were plenty of fast passes. Fast passes are all but gone, now -- so it's in park FP+ or nothing.

The great thing about FP+ is that you can book your Toy Story fast pass *in the evening*, rather than running to HS first thing and having to take whatever time the machines were spitting out or wait until they roiled to the time you want. Of course, that simply doesn't work on your day of arrival.

The one bad thing -- and I'm hoping they'll fix this -- is you can't park hop with them. Basically, once you use a FP+ in a park, that's where all your FP+ are for the day. I suspect this will change once they fully cut over. There was definitely a broken dynamic with two sources of Fast Passes -- the online pre-booked FP+ and the in park FP, but that's ending.

I also wonder how FP+ will work in Anaheim. In Orlando, the vast majority of the guests are long-distance visitors, many staying on property. In Anaheim, the vast majority of guests are locals.

And, frankly, when it works (and again, it has just worked for me) I really like the system. I'm not worried about the privacy aspect, because, well, Disney was *already tracking you like that*. You had an RFID key you were paying with, there are cameras everywhere, etc. They used fingerprint scanners on the passes before to keep you from handing passes back and forth, because they're expensive.

In many ways, this is Disney dollars elevated.

Yep, but you could do the same thing before with the Key To The World cards, which had your park passes, your room keys, and charging privileges. Instead of tapping a band, you swiped a card. It's actually *harder* now -- originally with the KTTW cards, you didn't need a PIN, which I found a bit disturbing. (One factor auth to my credit card? Ummm.)

And, yes, you can say "Don't enable that" on a given set of magic bands. I think (but I am not sure) you can even put a limited amount of access on a given band, if you want to "give" the kid $10 worth of spending coin.

Finally, for the record: They are waterproof, but they don't float. Disney policy is they'll pick them up off the bottom of the pool, give them to the desk, who'll get them back to you. I found this out when, sitting at the pool bar, I saw a CM dredge up a few and asked.
posted by eriko at 6:19 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Two of the four parks have removed all of their paper fastpass machines, including the Magic Kingdom.

Does this mean that the fast pass system is now only for people staying at the parks? I also live in Florida and I bought a never-expiring 4 day pass a few years back because I have friends that run Disney half-marathons and I like to come up to cheer them on and do the parks with them. If they can do the fast pass thing and I can't because I took advantage of a Florida residents' rate a few years back, I'm going to be annoyed.

Actually, upon rechecking the thread, it looks like I'm going to be annoyed. Oh well.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:20 AM on January 28


Disney has already filtered their audience: They are all the sort of people who are willing to spend $80 a day to get into Disney World. How do you market specific items to customers when they all want the same meal and the same ride and the same hat with round ears?

There is still more to filter. Within a family, you might have one kid who likes Pirates, another who loves Princess Ariel, and a little one who just wants to see Mickey. There's merch for all of those things, so getting the merch into your hands more effectively is still part of the mission.

So if your kid is having a birthday in the park and there’s a character wandering nearby, that character can be notified to sneak up on your kid and creepily wish them a happy birthday individually.

Oh noes, creepy birthday wishes! Everybody panic!

Anyone who has been to Disney knows that characters have appearance locations that are scheduled and organized. The most that would happen is a character might wish you happy birthday as you approached them for your turn to have your photo taken.

Most likely, the long-range scans will be used for tracking traffic flow through the park. Traffic flow is very important in a theme park, and Disney is known for doing it well.

Overall, the author is trying just a bit too hard to maintain his "too cool for Disney" cred. Beginning with his unnecessary mention of backpacking, and use of words like "sneak" and "creepily" to color the article.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:24 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


JustKeepSwimming,

You can make FastPass+ reservations in the parks, they have kiosks scattered throughout the park. Typically in locations where the paper machines were. You will probably have to trade you current ticket in for at least a new one with the rfid card. Once you do that, you may be able to register the ticket on line and start making fastpass reservations that way.
posted by Badgermann at 6:32 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


//put wrong phone numbers on your grocery store card applications//

Where I live, (area code) 555-1212 works in about 80% of large chain stores to get me the discounts without actually bothering to have my own loyalty card. Whoever originally used that fake number probably gets some massive coupons in the mail though.
posted by COD at 6:37 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


So if your kid is having a birthday in the park and there’s a character wandering nearby, that character can be notified to sneak up on your kid and creepily wish them a happy birthday individually.

Yeah, I'm...trying to imagine a kid for whom this wouldn't be totally sweet.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:38 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I was going to make the point eriko makes above: they were already tracking a lot of this, at least for those staying in their hotels. You had a single card that was your room key, park admission, payment for meals (especially on a prepaid dining plan), and registered when you picked up a Fastpass. Now instead of knowing when I picked up that Fastpass, they track how long a guest spends in line and get accurate wait times updated every minute.

And now booking Fastpasses pre-arrival from your hotel room is another perk they use to persuade people to stay in their hotels, along with the dining plan and early/late entry, both of which appear to me to have been a huge success. Now you won't be running to get your Toy Story fastpass with the other 5,000 people who turned up at park opening, you'll be running to ride it while the day guests sort out the Fastpasses you pre-booked from your hotel room. They'll need to find a way to balance that so that day guests don't leave in disgust, but under the old system the Fastpasses for popular rides could easily disappear on days with hotel guest early entry before the day guests were allowed in, and that doesn't seem to have caused them major problems.
posted by penguinliz at 6:39 AM on January 28


Store loyalty cards have been a commercially successful trick because they help marketing develop a more accurate idea of how customers cluster. Knowing this helps them because consumers might make frequent return shopping trips to a particular store and because the clusters differ widely. It is thus possible to make appealing special offers targeting particular groups; the knowledge can also inform pricing and store layout. Both the stores and their customers may have ended up happier under ideal circumstances.

If Disney's customer base is (as mmoncur suggests) more homogeneous - and if they make much fewer trips to their parks anyway - then I find it hard to see how this data is going to have comparative value to Disney - or to the consumers whose end of the deal seems to be "you will be sold more stuff by us at the highest rate we can manage".
posted by rongorongo at 6:43 AM on January 28


Al Lutz' track record when it comes to rumors in the Disney Parks is much much more hit or miss than people realize.

Yeah, I have a friend that is working on the program, and it primarily appears to be about efficiency in customer flow. You don't want to stand in line for two hours, and Disney doesn't want you to either. You could be shopping at a park store or eating in a restaurant during that time. They want to make the park experience as painless and personalized as possible, because happy customers spend money and come back again.
posted by tavella at 6:47 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


rongorongo: If Disney's customer base is (as mmoncur suggests) more homogeneous

It really isn't. I've only been to Disney a couple of times, but every time I go I am amazed by watching the huge variation in park-goers, on just about every axis of humanity you can think of. If you start to break it down at the Ariel vs. Belle level, I bet it gets even more granular than it appears on the surface.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:51 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


My first thought
posted by ymgve at 6:51 AM on January 28


I went to Disneyland for the first time in 2012 and my husband was disappointed I wasn’t more "Whee!" about the whole experience. The entire place creeped me out from having my bag searched to the crowd control at the Main Street Parade. If I felt I was trapped in someone's model train layout, it was because I essentially was :D
posted by Calzephyr at 6:57 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


A wristband that has their ticket, room key, and charging priviledges on it means they have less things they have to shlep around the parks and potentially lose.

I've never been to Disney and will probably never go, but I'd love to switch over my two sets of keys and full wallet for a wristband. Unfortunately the tracking ship has sailed and every time I spend or carry my phone anywhere I'm in the database already, so I'd just as soon get some convenience out of it.

It is interesting though that they seem to be struggling to fully monetize the more granular data -- I wonder if they will need to find more cross-branding opportunities, or if their current park goers are about fully monetized already.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


You could be shopping at a park store or eating in a restaurant during that time. They want to make the park experience as painless and personalized as possible, because happy customers spend money and come back again.

The people that love bashing on Disney's park technology like MagicBand seem to all have one thing in common: they've never seem to have been to the parks for an extended period of time. You don't realize how massive a complex it is, how many freaking people that they have to move around and all present with a happy customer experience. Simultaneously. Try leaving the Magic Kingdom on New Year's Eve after the fireworks are done, it's 1am, and there are 95,000 people all headed for the exit at once. The pressure is even higher considering how much money and effort families spend (usually their year's savings and vacation time) to get to Orlando and make this trip happen.

While I'm not a big fan of this "oh let's reserve all our rides 6 months ahead of time on the web interface" thing, I also realize it's not 1978 anymore.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:03 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


put wrong phone numbers on your grocery store card applications

I've been using a landline phone number I had while living in Seattle 10-12 years ago for Safeway, Fred Meyer, and a few others. At Safeway, there used to be (and maybe still is) a store policy to thank customers by the name that showed up at the bottom of the receipt. The name associated with that number is a Japanese (I think) name of someone I never knew, and I am a white guy from Montana. It's always funny when the clerk stumbles trying to figure out how my name is Tomomo Sekino and what to do with that. Usually they start "Thanks, Mr....." and then just say "Thanks."

I've also heard that using (areacode) 867-5309 works well in most places and can get decent discounts at grocery store gas pumps.
posted by msbrauer at 7:13 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


Disney has been moving towards pushing local people and annual passholders who visit regularly out of their parks for a few years now. I live 2 hours away and we had annual passes for years but dropped them in favor of Universal passes. We used to be able to wake up and decide on a whim to go down to Disney for a day or a long weekend, but a few years ago things changed so that we couldn't go to any sit down restaurants without reservations. Then they changed the reservation window so that even if I decided a month in advance to go down, I would literally sit for an hour refreshing a window to catch a random cancellation (and this was for just a regular restaurant, not a character thing).

Now that they've eliminated paper fastpasses and you are limited to 3 a day, with a tiered system that ensures you can't have a fastpass for both Soarin and Test Track on the same day, they have ensured a longer vacation for people who plan a year or at least 6 months in advance. They discourage park hopping now (if you buy regular tickets, you have to pay extra for the park hopping option) and have made the entire experience geared towards people who travel in (hopefully they're flying and haven't rented a car) rather than locals who used to go every other month or so.

Universal has really picked up the ball and run with it as far as locals go.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:17 AM on January 28


I also wonder how FP+ will work in Anaheim. In Orlando, the vast majority of the guests are long-distance visitors, many staying on property. In Anaheim, the vast majority of guests are locals.

It won't work in Anaheim... probably none of this will. The parks are smaller and are 80% locals, who have no interest in going online six months beforehand and booking up all their rides for the day, who are not interested in reserving tables a year ahead at some fancy property restaurant, or having some unnecessary wristband that just serves as a Fastpass.

I totally get the logic of the program in Orlando, where it's mostly tourists, but it just makes no sense in Anaheim.

The future strategy with Anaheim instead is very simple right now: price them out. Anaheim's ticket prices have exploded because it is at a point where the parks are almost at max capacity- I mean, Disneyland even "sells out" some days during peak season, right? If you're so popular you are turning people away, then raise prices as high as you can. Get every bit of cash you can as they walk through the door, because they're locals, who can just go home to sleep and go to In N Out for dinner when they leave.

Plus, so many of Anaheim's visitors have less money for Disney to try to nickel and dime, to be blunt. You see roving bands of college kids everywhere, and massive families. The barrier to entry for a day at the park for most Disneyland visitors is $100 per person, plus parking and some gas to drive there. Most Orlando tourists have enough money to fly there, pay ungodly Disney hotel prices, eat at $20 a plate restaurants every night, etc. The barrier to entry is hundreds.

So higher gate ticket prices, here we come, and keep raising those churro prices. The $18 churro is nigh...
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:18 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


The other part of monetization that they can employ after they've had enough data is in staffing levels. All the Epcot rides fully booked up for Fastpass months in advance on a day? Maybe we should plus up Epcot street entertainment / store workers / cashiers / parking attendants as there's going to be a lot of people passing through looking to do something with their time.

Lots of reservations for the kid rides and less for the adult rides? Slide people over where needed instead of bringing more in, saving money. The reservations are basically a priority list, so Disney can see what rides / experiences are the priority for the day. They can use it to schedule maintenance windows, plus up and or reduce staffing, etc.

The money doesn't just come from the guest if they do it right.
posted by skittlekicks at 7:26 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I'm a data guy. (like I'm currently loading dozens of terabytes into a petabyte cluster in several windows right now)

"Big Data" is going to cause problems. It's going to get things wrong. It's going to cost people jobs, and happiness and create more and more walmartification and bland sameness around the world. Simply put, I'm scared of data collection. Especially at the frontier, before there are standards and acceptable practices for storage and anonymization.

BUT this makes so much sense for Disney. Yes, it has problems, but it's a huge endeavor. And the accountants are likely already annoyed with it. But the foundation is in place to do things with the data. To make more "Magic" for more people. Better modelling of a captive population, with limited, but really large number of options. A service oriented company looking for better service. At some point, they'll stop making everything more expensive, and make it more inclusive again. That pendulum has to swing back someday.
posted by DigDoug at 7:40 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


You can’t see Buzz Lightyear while backpacking

Right, which is exactly why I take my kids backpacking instead of fucking Disneyworld.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:40 AM on January 28 [10 favorites]


The Mark of the Mouse.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:41 AM on January 28


Right, which is exactly why I take my kids backpacking instead of fucking Disneyworld.

They might not say it, but secretly, your kids hate you. They want their Buzz.
posted by ymgve at 7:50 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


If the point of this article was to make me really want to go back to WDW, then mission accomplished. I'm pricing a trip for the summer now!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:51 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


They might not say it, but secretly, your kids hate you.

My 6 year-old told me that she's "just not into princesses any more" and now wants things with skulls on them (she broke her arm and is now obsessed with anatomy, she's not yet a goth).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:53 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


They have tons of Nightmare Before Christmas merch your kid would love!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:55 AM on January 28 [8 favorites]


I just got back on Saturday from a week at Disney World (first time since 1974) and we really like the Magicbands.

The inability to choose fast passes in different parks was a bit annoying but we worked around it. The other issue was the tiered system (i.e. can't get a fast pass for Soaring and Test Track) but again we worked around it. It helped that we were at the resort for 7 days and could be flexible with our plans.

The ability to change the fast passes on the fly was really good as well. At one point my youngest son decided he wasn't going to go on a certain ride so I was able to change his and my wife's fast pass for an alternate one and it only took a few minutes.
posted by smcniven at 7:57 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


In Jaron Lanier's book, You are Not a Gadget (highly recommended), he talks about how we increasingly give up the complexity of ourselves in the service of making our technology appear smarter than it is.

This Disney endeavor seems like a textbook case of his observation.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:03 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


The people that love bashing on Disney's park technology like MagicBand seem to all have one thing in common: they've never seem to have been to the parks for an extended period of time.

Can we not do the thing where we dismiss people we disagree with as somehow invalid participants in the conversation based on assumptions that don't even jive with what they've actually said in the thread? Because that's a pretty shitty way to have a discussion.

I have spent so much time on Disney property in my life that I'm embarrassed to even consider counting it up, due in no small part to my mother being a massive fan. I have no lack of experience with their policies, and how they've changed over the last few decades.

Magic Band was an unmitigated disaster for my family, and very nearly ruined the whole trip for us. Multiple adults in our party had to basically take turns working for hours to resolve all the absurd issues, instead of, y'know, spending time with all the family members we'd come together to spend time with. For our trouble, we got basically the worst customer service we've had with Disney in all our time there, and a couple group fast passes which did little to make up for the massive inconvenience.

I don't "love" bashing Disney, but I'm certainly not averse to pointing out that this program sucks, and it makes me less likely to return in the future.
posted by tocts at 8:08 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


This churro bracelet, it vibr.... ok I'll stop
posted by Smedleyman at 8:24 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


You guys might enjoy Josh at easywdw.com. He's an Orlando local who writes extensively about Disney from a fairly non-standard viewpoint. Here's his recent posts about being a non-hotel guest visiting the parks with FP+ Part 1 and Part 2. I would not call him a Disney Fanboy by any stretch; he does have some very insightful things (overall in his site) to say about what he thinks are the goals of the FP+ program.
posted by anastasiav at 8:26 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Some of these issues are not new. I remember going to WDW back in the early 90s (maybe earlier), and the on-property hotels had just implemented a card-based room key system. It was one of those cards with the grid of holes punched in it, not the modern magstripe cards. You don't see them much anymore.

They also had some sort of new computer system that was associated with it, presumably to link the door keys to the booking system and expire them at the right time.

It was kind of a hot mess. We got sent to rooms with people's stuff in them twice, and each time had to tromp back down to the checkin desk and try again. Once we got into our actual room, the keys randomly expired and locked us out a few times during the week we were there. For years it was sort of a family joke.

Of course, now even the most basic Holiday Inn has a system like that, so they don't have to deal with metal keys, and guests don't have to return them at the end of their stay. It's a bigger benefit for the hotel than the guest, but it's still a little bit of a win/win.

My guess is that if Disney perseveres and works the kinks out of the system, at some point it'll be like the electronic hotel door keys are today. Totally standard, at least whenever you have a big captive population and need to do crowd control, eliminate lines, etc.

And from what I've been told — I have admittedly not been to WDW in probably 15 years now, after my younger siblings finally aged out of it — the lines have really gotten out of hand. As others have pointed out, that's irritating to the guest and a wasted opportunity for the park: they can't squeeze money out of you when you're pissed off and waiting in line, plus it just makes the experience less fun overall. So the end goal ought to be no lines. Tell the system the rides you want to go on, and then let it guide you around the park so you can hit each of them at some sort of preassigned appointment time, keeping in mind where you are, how quickly you can walk, what the crowds are like between point A and point B ... that's what they should be going for. And if anyone can pull that off it's probably Disney.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:31 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I have a friend that is working on the program, and it primarily appears to be about efficiency in customer flow.

I hope it is. But if it were mostly about this, then they wouldn't be panicking at corporate over the fact that this has "not been profitable enough yet."

That leads me to believe that the emphasis here is in finding ways to get people to spend now-now-now... not gathering data that you can use to improve park infrastructure, create new programs, and improve staffing over a period of months or years.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:53 AM on January 28


they don’t want their database to get confused and think that you, a 45-year-old man, rode the teacups instead of your little son Timmy

So is it a problem if I want to ride the teacups though? I'm not 45 yet
posted by Hoopo at 8:53 AM on January 28


Kadin2048: So the end goal ought to be no lines. Tell the system the rides you want to go on, and then let it guide you around the park so you can hit each of them at some sort of preassigned appointment time, keeping in mind where you are, how quickly you can walk, what the crowds are like between point A and point B ... that's what they should be going for. And if anyone can pull that off it's probably Disney.

You just re-invented FastPass and FastPass+ which has really done an amazing job at making lines manageable.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:56 AM on January 28


So the end goal ought to be no lines.

Well, not no lines, just no waiting in a physical line. Disney wants you to do some waiting, they just want you to do it where you can buy food, merch, and services such as photographs. That's the beauty of the FastPass system.

The problem with scheduling rides too far in advance (either through multiple FastPasses or by telling Disney your schedule) is that, to paraphrase Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, "no Disney schedule survives its first encounter with a child." There are unexpected bathroom trips, bouts of hunger and tiredness, swings in attention, getting scared while waiting in line, and just plain meltdowns. And of course adults are susceptible to all of these things, too.
posted by jedicus at 9:16 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


If they had rolled out the magic bands initially as (only) a free optional way to know roughly where your family members were located in the park system as of the last time they passed a "family station" or some other checkpoint, they would have been able to do tons of real-world testing while keeping expectations for performance (beyond simple location tracking) low. Walk up to a checkpoint, the checkpoint shows the last place your family member was seen, and instruct the kids: if you get lost, go to a checkpoint and wait.

Over time they could have added invisible checkpoints at store/ride entrances and exits, with the ability to find out how long each member had been there, plus the wait time. You go to the obvious checkpoint, swipe your band, find out your family members have been in a certain ride's 40 minute line for 20 minutes, so you have time for the bathroom before meeting them at the exit.

Now add features like hotel room access via band, because you've been validating band presence/key card swipe correlations long enough to have the bugs worked out, and it becomes a new feature of the voluntary bands. Ditto every other feature.

It's a shame they rolled it out the way they did. Such a wasted opportunity.
posted by davejay at 9:34 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Also: the more you charge for tickets, the shorter the lines. The shorter the lines, the more valuable your ticket seems. So up go the prices.
posted by davejay at 9:38 AM on January 28


My girlfriend and I went to WDW in October and had MagicBands. Everything went off without a hitch. (Part of me disliked the idea that FP+ is limited to three rides per day, since regular FPs have no explicit limit; then I realized that the parks weren't crowded enough for this to be a problem. Of the rides we chose for FP+, only Toy Story Midway Mania and Space Mountain saved us more than ten minutes of actual waiting time. For most of our FP+ choices, the only difference was that we entered on the left side instead of the right.)

As for the scenarios dreamed up by the author, I'm not sure many of them stand up to a closer inspection. Let me rephrase: this guy has dumb ideas.

First: only the special MagicBand terminals can actually read the things, so unless they make you scan your MagicBand to get into the bathroom, they're not going to be able to correlate food purchases to use of bathrooms. I think the dude just wanted to write a fatuous sentence like "The next time your RFID tag lets Mickey know you’ve got diarrhea…" without being constrained by those meddling facts.

Second: he paints it like a Brave New World of privacy surrender ("with these bands, you are giving up much of your privacy and freedom to experience something 'untailored' in exchange for a better time") when it's just a quantitative extension of what Disney was doing before. Everything they're doing with MagicBands they could've done with Keys to the World; the technology is the same. There are only two differences: (a) now all rides have fast lanes, since they no longer have to dedicate space for physical FastPass distribution; (b) the fact that it's on your wrist, instead of in your pocket, is a convenience play — Disney hopes you'll choose to buy things with your MagicBand instead of reaching for your credit card.

What bothers me is his tone. I've read plenty of articles that overreached when trying to convince me of impending doom, hoping that the image of a cartoon mouse watching me poop will turn me into a privacy crusader. I've never read an article that tried to convince me that those farfetched scenarios were No Big Deal, and that people signaled their assent to poop surveillance when they handed over their money. It's half punditry and half conspiracy theory and adds up to total incoherence, like if someone were telling me that the 2010 midterm elections were a vindication for those who campaigned on the anti-chemtrail platform.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:51 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Ah, I must amend, because "don't read the comments" has led me astray. In the comments it's pointed out that MagicBands can also be read at long range. Still, I'm skeptical that the long-range readings give anywhere near the level of precision that would be needed to infer that visit-at-churro-cart plus presence-near-bathroom equals possible-food-poisoning.

It does let them know how long you stay in the parks, and where you go, but for the amount of money they've spent so far they probably could've just implemented casino-style facial recognition technology for cheaper.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:59 AM on January 28


Micechat talked about the reading capabilities of the magicbands back in early december. It is a pretty good layman's account with links to more technical reports.
posted by Badgermann at 10:05 AM on January 28


Disney World seems like so much work nowadays.

Is that true, or is it just Type A personalities making things hard on themselves?
posted by smackfu at 10:15 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I last went in January 2008, and the only thing that was a pain was getting dinner at sit-down restaurants with a party of 6. If you are a little flexible and not trying to min-max your visit it's awesome.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:16 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I'm a Walt Disney World veteran. We're one of those crazy childless couples who go every year. We were also the people who toted one of a Pal Mickey around. For years I've had my finger scanned while entering the park. Disney already knows what hotels I've stayed at and where I've made dining reservations. Every time I use a discount code, they learn what type of offer rings my bell. The scary text on the back of the MagicBand has been on the back of multi-day park tickets forever.

We'll be trying this out in the spring at WDW, and I'm excited. If Disney wants to send discounts on Art of Disney merchandise into my MagicBand then so be it. If they want to send my PhotoPass photos straight to the email address I used to reserve my room, then have at it. I still retain the choice NOT to buy them, and I don't have to worry about finding the fiddly little plastic PhotoPass card.

I wonder how the new FP+ system is going to work for the large tour groups. Until now, the tour leader took all 50+ park tickets to a FastPass machine and spent 15 minutes there getting paper passes.
posted by kimberussell at 10:30 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I once stayed at Disney World and went to Universal Studios, because it was cheaper (don't ask me how or why - somebody else set it all up). I guess the magic bands wouldn't have helped much with that.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:38 AM on January 28


With just an optional simple prick of the needle on the inside of the bands, Walt Disney World has their optional DiaBeatEase pass! It will monitor your children's blood sugar and make sure to sell you all the stuff they want before telling you where the closest food vendor is. ...Get 'em right before a melt down...
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:20 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Right, which is exactly why I take my kids backpacking instead of fucking Disneyworld.

It doesn't have to be either/or.
posted by madajb at 11:27 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I went to Disneyworld a few years ago, and was really prepared to not like it. I was in my early 20s, I don't really like Disney movies, I have no attachment to Disney media at all really. But my brother was seven years old, and my grandparents wanted to take him, and every other trip he had ever been on was camping (not quite backpacking, but you know, pretty close).

I loved it. It was fascinating and creepy.
posted by inertia at 12:55 PM on January 28


That article is overly fascinated by the amount of time people might spend in toilets.
posted by hippybear at 4:36 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


My 6 year-old told me that she's "just not into princesses any more" and now wants things with skulls on them (she broke her arm and is now obsessed with anatomy, she's not yet a goth)

That might be when she decides she wants to go to Disneyland.
posted by homunculus at 7:43 PM on January 29


Everybody look at their left arm and their right arm. Who's wearing a Nike Fuel or FitBit? At least Disney doesn't guilt you about ice cream while you wear it.

Mother Jones: Are Fitbit, Nike, and Garmin Planning to Sell Your Personal Fitness Data?
posted by frimble at 2:02 AM on February 2


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