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“Magic Bands”: Disney Parks go Digital

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Disney Parks uses RFID-enabled bracelets to revolutionize its theme parks

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

Tom Staggs, former COO of the Walt Disney Company and champion of the magic band project

 

What is a “magic band?”

In 2013, the Company debuted the “Magic Band,” a bold, billion-dollar initiative to digitize its park assets. The Magic Band is a plastic bracelet inspired by the Nike’s SportBand, an early entrant in the consumer wearables market.1 The plastic band is embedded with a Radio Frequency Identification chip (RF), a transmitter, an antenna, and a battery that will last roughly two years.1, 2 The transmitter sends and receives RF signals through the antenna. The device can be read when guests actively scan it at short-range touch points or as they passively walk through the park using long-range readers.

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A Deconstructed Magic Band [3]

 

How the band revolutionized the Parks’ operating model

From a management perspective, Walt Disney World is an operational wonder. The Park’s 30,000 employees run over 140 attractions, 300 F&B outlets, 36 hotels, and a monorail with a daily ridership of 150,000.1 From a visitor’s perspective, it can be a logistical nightmare, with 8,000-10,000 guests flowing through the main entrance every hour.5 The magic band addresses several “pain points” in the park experience.

Reducing bottlenecks at entry

Before visitors even step foot into the park, many will encounter their first bottleneck – the gates. Previously, guests lined up in winding queues at turnstiles. At each station, an employee accepted a ticket, scanned it, and allowed the visitor to move through entry. Parents and those in large groups often delayed the line, shuffling for tickets. Handicap guests and families with strollers would wait as a second attendant would open the closest adjacent gate. The process could take anywhere from seconds to minutes per guest. With the magic band, park entry is now seamless. The gates and turnstiles have been removed, giving way to an open air courtyard peppered with band readers, enabling seamless entry.

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Guests Swipe Band in front of a short range sensor to enter the park [4]

 

Reducing bottlenecks in the park

Long-range readers of the bands can detect when certain area of the park is becoming too crowded.4 This information can be used to trigger a parade or other distraction to alter guest flows.4

Reduced variability by introducing ride “pre-booking”

Variability in ride queues is one of the biggest operational challenges Disney faces. The length of queues not only depends on the general popularity of a ride, but also on the season, time of day, the weather, and maintenance issues. Some of the most popular attractions can have waits of over 180 minutes. With the introduction of the magic band, Disney also rolled out a website where guests could reserve up to three rides per day in advance of their trip. Once at the park, guests simply arrive at the ride during their scheduled time and swipe their band to confirm the reservation. Once confirmed, they are directed by an employee to move to the front of the line. For guests, the value proposition is clear, as they are ensured immediate access to their highest priority attractions. For Disney, the company gains a valuable way to spread demand by controlling the times available to book for each ride.

 

 

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Guests can pre-book rides, dining & entertainment and validate their reservation in-park with the magic band [4]

How the band revolutionized the Parks’ business model

Disney & Big Data

When viewed as a data source, the magic band has nearly limitless potential to enhance the current business model. Traditionally, the company has always had data on its customers, but it was limited to what customers provided (emails, online purchase behavior, trip booking details). With multiple guests in a group paying on different cards, it is nearly impossible to track spending by party. With the magic band, Disney now becomes a massive aggregator of individually identifiable consumer behavior data. For entering the park, validating ride reservations, entering a hotel room, or paying for food & merchandise, guests actively swipe their magic band in front of a short-range reader. This is one collection point of critical data, like merchandise preferences and spend.  The long range readers installed throughout the park can track guest as they move among attractions and across the resort.  Whereas guests previously moved anonymously within a park, now every step, purchase, and ride can be linked back to their identity. The ability for the company to monetize this information is clear – by better knowing its consumers, Disney can better run its business and better market its product.

Of course, with any data collection program of this scope, privacy concerns rise.6 The long-term success of the magic bands and other digitization efforts will hinge on the company’s success at demonstrating a clear value proposition to customers and ensuring them that the data is secure.

[775 words]

[1] Wired, “Disney’s $1B Bet on a Magical Wristband.” https://www.wired.com/2015/03/disney-magicband/

[2] Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/my-disney-experience/frequency-technology/

[3] https://atdisneyagain.com/2014/01/27/making-the-band-magicband-teardown-and-more/

[4] Walt Disney Company https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/

[5] Fast Company, “The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness.” https://www.fastcompany.com/3044283/the-messy-business-of-reinventing-happiness

[6] CSO Online, “The Magic of Disney Magic Bands.” http://www.csoonline.com/article/2867326/access-control/the-magic-of-disney-magicbands.html

 

5 thoughts on ““Magic Bands”: Disney Parks go Digital

  1. Awesome article Caroline! I think everyone who visited Disney as a kid remembers those long winding lines to enter the park. The magic band is a very smart way for Disney to match customer demographics to revenues by tracking park entrance rates and merchandise purchases among other metrics. It seems like one of the most valuable metrics is tracking population density within the park in order to manage crowds and wait times. In this way, Disney can actively avoid some of the TOM pitfalls we learned about like bottlenecks, blocking, and starving at various stations within the park. I would be interested in learning more about how much it cost Disney to institute this bracelet system and whether they have seen any cost savings as a result. You mentioned the bracelet battery has to be replaced every two years, and I assume that some bracelets also get lost in the normal course of business–I wonder how these incremental costs would add up and affect Disney’s bottom line (or maybe they are very negligible). The magic bracelet definitely has a lot of applications outside of Disney–most recently, I used a very similar bracelet to pay for food and drinks at the Blue Lagoon, a tourist attraction in Iceland. Perhaps this technology could be expanded to more uses like bars, cafeterias, and movie theaters in the future!

  2. Thank you for the post! This is a perfect article for me as I am going to Orlando’s Disney World Resort this winter with my wife and two children, and I totally agree that it is an operational wonder though I have never thought in the ways till I read your post. Tokyo Disney Resort still uses physical tickets and fast passes so we sometimes lined for 100 minutes to ride an attraction… To get fast passes, people race to get them as soon as the park opens. The extreme congestion can badly affect the quality of experiences. But I am glad that the original home took an initiative. As now it is less than 60 days to go, we have already reserved the attractions and it would definitely reduce the time we would be stuck in lines and the average cycle time for each attraction will decrease and output will increase, so that we can maximize the happiness!

  3. I loved this post, Caroline. The idea of “triggering a parade” got me to thinking about one additional benefit of the Magic Band and its ability to match the movement and purchases of each guest to her identity. The Disney Parks are built on the promise of magical moments. Beyond using all that data to market products to an individual guest based on her preferences, Disney could build magical individualized experiences based on which Disney movie is a guest’s favorite, which character is most often featured on the merchandise she is buying, what park and rides she likes, and what type of food and drink preferences she is showing. One could imagine a team of behind-the-scenes park managers rerouting Chip and Dale cast members to search out the guests who would get the most enjoyment out of getting the signatures of those two rascally chipmunks. In this way, Disney could use the Magic Bands to not just relieve bottlenecks and facilitate payments, but also to enhance delivery on its core brand promise.

  4. What a great topic Caroline! As an industrial engineer (and a previous Orlando resident) I have had many conversations about the operating model at Disney and how the park’s efficiency could be improved. Having such detailed information on all of their guests at an aggregate and individual level must be a dream come true for the parks designers and engineers. But I do have serious concerns about your last point. In a world where big data has become the norm, people are beginning to take a stand for their privacy and consciously attempting to stop “giving away their data”. I think this stand for privacy could even be magnified in a scenario where the majority of this data is being collected on children. I think the value for Disney here is obvious, and this digital system will certainly provide a much more seamless experience for the users of the park, however I fear what sorts of backlash Disney may face for collecting so much data on the children in their park in a time where privacy has been making a strong comeback.

  5. Really interesting piece that demonstrates how a relatively simple operational improvement can solve a host of issues across an organization’s operating model. You really nicely laid out the specific value that the magic band offers to both the park and to guests as well as how the technology in the band opens the door to a whole range of valuable insight. I would expect that Disney’s ability to track guests’ positions in the park could prove invaluable at enhancing the overall experience for guests while allowing the company to allocate labor and overhead costs more efficiently. I also agree with Kiernan’s point that these bracelets better allow the Disney to deliver on its core value proposition, and I think that the organization should continue to explore ways to leverage the treasure trove of data offered through the use of the magic bracelets to make improvements to both its business and operating models.

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