Wired: Disney's billion dollar bet on MagicBands

Posted Tuesday, March 10, 2015 9:50 AM | Contributed by Jeff

From the Wired feature:

MagicBands, tech-studded wristbands available to every visitor to the Magic Kingdom, feature a long-range radio that can transmit more than 40 feet in every direction. The hostess, on her modified iPhone, received a signal when the family was just a few paces away. Tanner family inbound! The kitchen also queued up: Two French onion soups, two roast beef sandwiches! When they sat down, a radio receiver in the table picked up the signals from their MagicBands and triangulated their location using another receiver in the ceiling. The server—as in waitperson, not computer array—knew what they ordered before they even approached the restaurant and knew where they were sitting.

Read more from Wired.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 1:38 PM

That's a pretty solid feature overall. I enjoyed the context around the initial vision, because when you're around some of those thousand people who worked on it, it's amazing that any of it works at all. I know that's totally inside baseball, but from an IT execution standpoint, wow did they overpay.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 4:54 PM


Tuesday, March 10, 2015 5:39 PM

We were flabbergasted when our French onion soup and roast beef sandwiches arrived. I asked the host and she just said "Magic!" We knew it was the band, but how the heck...?

A couple of things in this great article struck me for some reason. One, was the design aspect of the band. When ours came in the mail I thought it was so clever how they made one band able to fit adults and kids alike. The details of how this came about was fascinating.
The other was future applications for the band. The idea that Mickey might actually find me at an appointed time makes me anxious for that day.

I don't recall not ever seeing a red light at Walt Disney World, but you best believe I'll be checking next time.

Thanks, Jeff, for this contribution. I loved it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 6:12 PM

There are blinking red train track lights in front of the water play area by Barnstormer. Just sayin'. Seems like more of a rough guideline than a rule!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 12:53 AM

Wow. Definitely a really great read!

And now I'm convinced more than ever that the day where Disney knows exactly when and what you'll be doing for the duration of your stay with them is a near-future concept.

Notice I didn't say "100% pre-planned" Disney Vacation...because I don't think that's quite right anymore...even if the end result is the same.

"You make people happier not by giving them more options but by stripping away as many as you can. The redesigned Disney World experience constrains choices by dispersing them, beginning long before the trip is under way. “There are missions in a vacation,” Staggs says. In other words, Disney knows that parents arrive to its parks thinking: We have to have tea with Cinderella, and where the hell is that Buzz Lightyear thing, anyway? In that way, the park isn’t a playground so much as a videogame, with bosses to be conquered at every level. The MagicBands let you simply set an agenda and let everything else flow around what you’ve selected. “It lets people’s vacations unfold naturally,” Staggs says. “The ability to plan and personalize has given way to spontaneity.” And that feeling of ease, and whatever flows from it, just might make you more apt to come back.

Instead of telling your kid that you’ll try to meet Elsa or ride It’s a Small World, Franklin says, “you get to be the hero, promising a ride or a meet-and-greet up front. Then you can be freer to experience the park more broadly. You’re freed to take advantage of more rides.” There is an elegant business logic here.

“The whole system gave Disney a way of understanding the business,” says Franklin, who stepped down last July as Disney’s executive vice president of next-generation experience. “Knowing we need more food here, how people are flowing through the park, how people are consuming the experiential product.”"

The idea that people are happier when they know they'll be doing the most important things to them is exactly the argument I've made over the years. Disney seems to agree following that with the idea that in the long run, planning for those things enables guests to do more outside of those things because they're not wasting time fretting or worrying over "conquering those bosses" (as the article puts it).

If I may be so bold...

Go read through the pages of my gibberish in this thread. (better yet don't - just trust me).

Run it though the filter of someone much more intelligent than myself who also has connections to the system's abilities and inner workings and you get the above paragraphs.

Disney already knows a ridiculous amount about what their guests do. These wristbands are tracking you and over time the data they create will take that to a startlingly deep and accurate level.

Once you book your hotel, choose ticket options, reserve rides, make dinner plans - you know, set an agenda (their words, not mine) - there's less and less 'filling in the blanks' to be done. It won't be long before Disney is scary-accurate and knowing how you'll fill in those blanks.

The end result is essentially a 100% pre-planned vacation. The beauty of it (and what I was shortsighted in seeing) is that Disney is f'n magic. They aren't going to put the onus of keeping track of and meeting an agenda on their guest - they'll do it themselves without you even realizing it.

They already have keypoints of your day all mapped out. People are predictable. They have the data. Connecting the dots isn't going to be too hard...and the last little margin of error? Well, check that bit about doing things like pushing you a coupon for free ice cream if they see you've waited a little too long in a line. This is the key to modifying behavior on the fly if needed. Little nudges that 'encourage' you along certain paths.

So I officially retract my long-standing prediction of guests creating a 100% (or near 100%) pre-planned Disney vacation.

I replace it with a much more magical prediciton where you're trip is essentially 100% (or near 100%) pre-determined by an insane number of variables that you choose ahead of time during the planning process (which Disney somehow also manages to make into family fun time) - you'll just never know it's happening.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 9:34 AM

If you're done tugging at your own junk, the part you quoted says you plan a few things and everything "naturally flows" from that. That isn't 100% pre-planning at all. I don't understand how you keep arriving at that.

And he's right, that's what happens today. The funny thing about FP+ is that it chooses some times for you, and people don't realize that you can modify it all. I can tell you that's by design. The ability to alter it is obfuscated just enough to keep most people from doing it. The win is often that they get families at stuff they otherwise wouldn't consider. You don't really need a FP for Living With The Land, but since it sends a lot of empty seats at 4 o'clock, they want to divert people away from doing standby for Soarin'.

So you tweak crowd distribution throughout the day, and there's a macro effect of a balanced park. To the family, they just happily flow in that system for three hours of the day. The rest they're making up as they go along, but that made up part is better because of the aggregate sets of 3-hour blocks. That's a far cry from your 100%.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 10:26 AM

He didn't arrive at pre-planned at all, he arrived at pre-determined. That's totally different.

Disney doesn't at this point want you to preplan everything, they want you to plan just enough so that they 'know' what all you want to do, and they'll plan most of everything else for everyone. They'll send these people here at this time, those people there at that time, just as someone's food is magically delivered to their table without having to order, since they already did that online, and were just seated. Magically, of course.

Last edited by Tekwardo, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 10:32 AM
Wednesday, March 11, 2015 11:40 AM

My only concern is the spontaneity of it all diminishing substantially. I think this system works better for those once-a-year (if even that frequently) visitors, but what about those people who want to just wake up that morning and do whatever the spirit moves them to do? It almost seems like this is as much of a case as Disney deciding what they want you to be doing as much as it is you deciding for yourself.

It's genius from a capacity management perspective, and I think they've developed the perfect system of preventing people from having to miss out on some of the big-name attractions, but part of me thinks that they may be starting to fall a little short on another piece of capacity management: offering enough to do in the first place, at least as far as attractions go.

Again, I'm not opposed to the idea at all, and quite frankly I think it is impressively forward-thinking, but I just don't want it to become the only meaningful way to get anything accomplished.

Last edited by sirloindude, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 11:44 AM
Wednesday, March 11, 2015 11:50 AM

I think you can still mostly do whatever, day of. The only thing we, as locals, ever must plan for is Toy Story and Mine Train.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 12:44 PM

What people will be doing in between their reserved attractions could differ. Disney will know that 22% of guests will go to Attraction X after they ride their reserved attraction, 44% will ride Attraction Y, and 54% will try out Attraction Z. It's not entirely "preplanned." It's still very helpful information.

After reading that article, I'm finally sold on this. Took me long enough.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 1:30 PM

Jeff said:

If you're done tugging at your own junk, the part you quoted says you plan a few things and everything "naturally flows" from that. That isn't 100% pre-planning at all. I don't understand how you keep arriving at that.

I thought I explained it pretty well.

What Disney is doing now isn't 100% pre planning. It's the beginning of a system that will one day know with startling accuracy exactly what you'll be doing with your day in the park.

If you plan to be in Eastern PA at noon and Western PA at 6pm, I can easily infer that you'll either:

1. Take the turnpike across the state.
2. If you're the type to avoid tolls, you'll head north to 80 and come across.
3. Some other obscure route.

Now imagine I'm armed with all kind of traffic data, including maybe even your own past travel preferences.

I can probably say with a pretty decent amount of accuracy where you'll likely be all afternoon.

Now expand the pre-required location times by just one. Say you have to be in Harrisburg at 2:30.

Now I know you're taking the turnpike.

You only have three places you have to be. I can easily infer the rest and know where you'll be with a window of accuracy that - for all intents and purposes - is the equivalent of a much more detailed itinerary.

The more choices (reservations) you make ahead of time, the more accurately I can predict your route.

Add another data point - State College at 4pm.

Now you're taking 78/81 to Harrisburg, 22 to State College and 80 across to western PA. You really don't have any other reasonable options if you plan on making your 4 appointments.

Your day is far from preplanned, but I know exactly where you'll be all day.

For each choice you made ahead of time, you reduced the number of choices you'll be able to make along the way.

Put it all together and there's no reason that same logic can't apply to how you travel about a theme park.

Pick three rides. Reserve lunch and dinner. Set up a character greet. Tell me you'd like to catch the parade.

I spit out a series of times for those 7 activities. I know based on your preference what kinds of attractions you like. I know what people like you demographically tend to do. If you're a repeat visitor I have pervious personal in-park data to pull from.

With a 12 hour day at the park and the knowledge that things take a certain amount of time (a ride via FastPass is 10 minutes, a meal takes an hour, walking time between A and B is 15 minutes, etc) the variables are much more limited than they seem.

You don't feel like you've preplanned your day at all. But I know with a very high level of accuracy exactly where you'll be all day. The illusion of choice.

It might not be 100% pre-planned in the technical sense, but the end result is exactly the same - and it's totally how Disney would pull it off.

Like I said, I retract my 100% pre-planned prediction. The guest can't (and isn't) going to handle that. Disney will use their magic to make it happen without you even realizing it...in fact, they claim the guest is happier for it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 1:42 PM

Magic Kingdom is not PA. Here's my plan for today:

  • 5pm - Big Thunder Mountain
  • 6pm - Space Mountain
  • 7pm - Barnstormer.

What will I be doing before, during and after? I have some ideas, none of which I'm committed to. My friends from Seattle who are there today have this:

  • 12:45 - Tomorrowland Speedway
  • 2:05 - Splash Mountain
  • 3:05 - Pirates

What do you think they did before and after the speedway? By the way, they don't have MagicBands.

The thing that they are right about from the story is capacity planning, but this is data that existed well before MyMagic rolled out. Having attendance and attraction trends gathered over time is something that has been around forever. Their competition even does it. It's how they know to close Universe of Energy and Living With The Land at 7, because there aren't enough people who bother with them (and they close the damn pretzel carts there too, which is annoying because your only choices are on the far side of World Showcase).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 2:17 PM

I think you're both right.

What I'm getting from Mr Lord Gonchar is that Disney can look at the data and predict patterns: -- X number of groups have early afternoon Fastpasses on Haunted Mansion and early evening Fastpasses on Living With The Land; 25% of those will have dinner at Be Our Guest at 6 -- and adjust staffing/send coupons/etc appropriately. Some of those people will decide to change their plans and not use some of their Fastpasses, but most will. (I just re-read Asimov's Foundation trilogy and this all makes me think of psychohistory.) I've over-simplified, I know.

Like Jeff, my visits to WDW parks are not heavily scheduled.

I'm fortunate enough to have very nice Orlando area friends who sign me into the parks; for me, a visit to Magic Kingdom can involve rides on Haunted Mansion, Pirates and Small World, then a Dole Whip, and we're done and off to Epcot or Studios. If I get to a park and it's packed, then I walk around, maybe grab a soda, watch the crowd for a while and move on. I don't have much use for the planning functions of MagicBand.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 3:24 PM

You're asking me to do what the billion dollar Disney corporation isn't even fully doing yet. The fact that I am not Disney in 2025 doesn't disprove a single thing. The same way my guesses don't prove anything.

But of the two lines of logic, mine holds more water.

Jeff said:

Magic Kingdom is not PA. Here's my plan for today:

  • 5pm - Big Thunder Mountain
  • 6pm - Space Mountain
  • 7pm - Barnstormer.

What will I be doing before, during and after? I have some ideas, none of which I'm committed to.

Three data points and none of the info Disney would potentially be sitting on a decade from now? This isn't loaded or anything.

Obviously, there's not enough to answer that beyond reasonably guessing the most direct route between rides that would also satisfy Simon.

Over time Disney would have general data about what to 40-something parents with a 5 year old tend to do. If you visit a lot they'd also have data on what you guys personally do.

Again, the fact that you being someone living within firework-viewing distance of the park with season passes can spit out three rides and times to a dude sitting in Dayton, Ohio today does nothing to prove that Disney won't encourage someone to reserve 4 rides, two meals and a character greet along with filling out a checklist of preferences a family info (demographics) when booking a weeklong vacation sometime down the road.

With that said, If you're at BTM at 5pm, you're off at say 5:10-5:15. With just 45 minues to get to the other side of the park and a later reservation for a Fantasyland ride, you're not going to walk around the back of the park. My guess is a path around the water by the Riverboat through the hub into Tomorrowland with maybe a quick spin on the Transit Authority Peoplemover (at around 5:25-5:30) because Simon digs it. You're off the Peoplemover at 5:40-5:45 and with just 15 minutes until your SM reservation, you're not leaving the immeidate area. Whether it's a bathroom stop, people watching, a drink or another quick ride - it doesn't matter. You're staying right there to hit your 6pm on Space Mountain.

Alternately, you catch the train, get off in Fantasyland. Walk to Tomorrowland and then do what I suggested above once there.

That's the idea. And that's just this stupid ol' guy in Dayton, Ohio making barely reasonable guesses based on your limited info, a park map and what little I know about how you visit Disney. I can't imagine what Disney could do.

My friends from Seattle who are there today have this:

  • 12:45 - Tomorrowland Speedway
  • 2:05 - Splash Mountain
  • 3:05 - Pirates

What do you think they did before and after the speedway? By the way, they don't have MagicBands.

Again, I don't know. I'm not Disney ten years from now. Hell, Disney isn't Disney 10 years from now.

Sometime in the future, MagicBands will be required. That will be your ticket, season pass, access, whatever. No one in the park won't have one.

And that's not to say they'll be able to pin everyone down. Obviously, as a local season pass holder, you're likely to pop in and out. You're the margin of error on the vast majority of guests who are doing the big WDW trip. But even still, after enough visits, Disney is going to see patterns in your visits. You usually show up at X time or X amount of time before your first FastPass. You tend to stay for so long. You seem to ride X or do this or that on most visits.

Obviously things change. What someone does today is usually setting up for something bigger and better tomorrow. Especially in a business and super-especially with Disney.

Which is exactly the point.

None of what I posted is the case...yet. It is an educated guess at where things are headed based on where they've been and where they are.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 4:29 PM

I've never really believed in Big Brother, but if he existed, I certainly would not have expected him to be wearing mouse ears. ;)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 4:53 PM

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 10:05 PM

You can get almost anywhere to anywhere at Magic Kingdom in 15 minutes (add 2 more to go the back way :)). It's true. The notable exceptions are when there is a parade or fireworks. That was my point, I could do virtually anything in that time.

The insight that you think they can get I don't think is the insight they're after. They already know big picture trends in terms of traffic flow, queue depth and culinary load. They don't need to know what I'm doing personally between FP's... they've already scheduled cast and forecast inventory.

There is a ton of potential for post-vacation, tuned marketing, that's for sure.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 10:37 PM

It's not about just getting the insight, I don't think.

It's about using that insight to control. It's about using that control to give the appearance of a magical vacation.

It's to their benefit if they can hold your hand, nudge you in certain directions and generally control your day (or week). Both in terms of managing the park and in terms of guest satisfaction.

All the italicized stuff from my post above (paraphrased)...

The less options we give you inside the park, the happier you'll be. When you set an agenda there's a feeling of ease once you're actually here. You can play hero and promise your kid you do this and this and that. The whole system gives us insight - knowing where food is needed, understanding crowd flows, how people are personally consuming the experiental product - to make this happen.

...they're flat out saying it.

A vacation at WDW is pretty overwhelming for the average visitor. We can make it better by doing the work for you. And why not? Who wouldn't prefer a tour guide that makes your day perfect based on your preferences, desires and expectations? If Disney can do that and still make it feel like you're in control and it was YOU (and you're wonderful family) that pulled off the perfect vacation...

...my God, that's gold!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 11:03 PM

I feel like the thing you're arguing is always evolving. That's OK, I just can't keep up.


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