Disney to Use Facial Recognition to Gauge Audience Reactions to Movies


For decades, people have accused studio blockbusters of being soulless examples of art by committee and/or the work of bean-counting robots. While that is obviously an exaggeration of sorts, it may be getting closer to reality than we realize. Studio execs have always tried to hedge their bets with test screenings and market research, but now in the digital age it is becoming easier than ever to track people’s media consumption… just ask Netflix. Now it appears that Disney is looking to extract real-time feedback from moviegoers without them even knowing. Are we looking at a future where every major movie is built directly from big data? Hit the jump for the full scoop.

According to the CBC, Disney Research is currently testing technology that would allow them to track facial expressions in a darkened theatre to determine how audience members react while they watch a movie. They can use this to get a general gauge of how the audience feels about a movie overall, but they can also apparently predict how a specific audience member will react throughout the rest of a movie after tracking them for just a few scenes. This would potentially be a lot more reliable than the standard test screening process, which requires a moviegoer to articulate their opinion afterward.

While there are obviously some privacy concerns with gathering this kind of data, it gets even crazier because they mention that they could change a movie in real time based on the feedback. While I have always been intrigued by interactive storytelling, this strikes me as an entirely new medium and not cinema as we know it. After all, how can you possibly cater to everyone? How can you critique and discuss a movie if everyone has a different experience? Can a filmmaker still have a creative voice if they are forced to create multiple endings and bow to the viewer’s whim? What does a world without challenging or different movies even look like? I’m not sure, but clearly if there is one studio that is looking to create absolutely safe, homogeneous entertainment, it is Disney. How do you feel about Disney’s facial recognition technology?

  • I feel like I only have 2 expressions while watching a movie. Laughing or not laughing. My face doesn’t change if I’m watching a tense thriller or VOD trash. Do with that what you will Disney.

  • Jr

    Not cool Disney…not cool.