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Time Warner behavior lab tracks consumers’ emotions with biometric monitoring

Jan 29, 20124 mins
BiometricsData and Information SecurityData Center

Time Warner launched a state-of-the-art behavior lab to study how people understand, enjoy and consume the full spectrum of media types, platforms, mobile devices and scenarios. It's not supposed to be about invading privacy, but delivering better content and ads. MediaLab tracks emotion via biometric monitoring, eye tracking, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration.

When you are browsing a webpage or using a new app, the companies behind those products put a lot of thought into the design and lay out of the content in order to get their consumers to respond in specific ways. They also go to great lengths to track consumers. What if these companies could get inside your head for real, take that tracking to a whole new level, and gauge your emotions with biometric monitoring to measure physiological responses to content? That’s become a reality with the new MediaLab research center that uses biometric monitoring and eye tracking to test the effectiveness of content and ads across the full spectrum of media types, platforms, mobile devices and scenarios.”

Time Warner announced the opening of a new 9600 square-foot facility in New York City to study how people understand, consume and enjoy media in new high tech spaces. “The Medialab’s cutting-edge technologies and the breadth of its research capabilities will give our businesses and ad partners an unmatched ability to look inside the mind of the consumer as we develop even more engaging content,” stated Jeff Bewkes, Chairman and CEO Time Warner Inc.

Neuroscience research has shown that “after being exposed to stimulus, a person unconsciously experiences emotions before thoughts, feelings, or actions.” Innerscope Research, which was founded by Harvard and MIT scientists, explained how unconscious responses can be measured and analyzed through “four channels of biometric data, heart rate, skin conductance, respiration and motion.” When eye tracking is added, it measures “visual attention for deeper diagnostic detail.”

MediaLab has a “50-seat theater, an in-home style living room, a consumer retail area with a mock checkout, an eye-tracking station and gaming stations” which can all be used to study consumers who are “all observable live by researchers both at the lab and around the world….The center’s virtual testing room is configured for eye-tracking studies that test the effectiveness of content and ads on PC/web, television and mobile devices. The lab also houses several large focus group and observation rooms, all equipped with the latest technical and mobile viewing devices.”

The video below gives you a better look at the facility’s capabilities.

“We have every possible testing scenario designed for here,” says Van Riley of HBO.” Riley told NY1, “That is taking their own galvanic skin response. It’s intended to understand blood pressure, heart rate, those sorts of things, and map that to the experience that they’re seeing. This technology allows us to know truly are they feeling an emotional response to it.”

According to the announcement, Medialab was used “ahead of the launch” by HBO to test the latest version of HBO Go and Turner’s Adult Swim. The lab “conducted biometrically-informed focus groups to test its new shows and content. One major differentiator of Time Warner’s Medialab is its ability to utilize its research capabilities within live programming. CNN has already taken advantage of the research center during last night’s State of the Union address by incorporating audience reaction during coverage. Turner will be experimenting in the lab during the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship to show audience interaction with the games on various devices, while researchers are able to watch in the observation rooms. The retail research area will be stocked with NCAA advertiser products to offer participants the complete consumer experience.”

Like the previous anti-piracy tool to harvest and market your emotions while you are in a movie theater, monitoring your biometrics is here to stay whether you think it’s cool or creepy new ways to track you and get inside your head.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.