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Lo-res_DT66CB-SThe success of The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, became evident soon after its release, with big box office numbers and nominations for prestigious awards. But Fox Studios could have told us that, well before its release, because it implemented a new form of data collection that showed it that audiences found the gritty tale compelling, such that they could barely move in their seats or take their eyes from the screen, but also thrilling in 14 specific moments.

The studio obtained this detailed, specific information not by asking audiences, exactly, but by adopting a method that allowed audiences’ physical reactions to give them the information. Test audiences in four cities watched a prerelease version of the movie while wearing a fitness tracker that the data analytics firm Lightwave had developed. The tracker gauged their heart rates (10 times per second), bodily movements, body temperatures, and skin conductivity (which signals whether a person’s nervous system has taken over, as an automatic response to a stimulus suggesting the need to fight or flee).

The resulting “hundreds of millions of rows of data” revealed exactly when audiences experienced the most excitement, which was mostly when something—bear, arrows, hanging, live burials—threatens the life of the main character. But they also thrill to see icy rivers and chase scenes through majestic landscapes. Thus Lightwave could inform Fox Studios that it had 14 separate “heart-pounding” moments in the film.

Furthermore, the massive data revealed that for nearly half of the film’s relatively long running time of 156 minutes, audiences sat quite still, implying that they were transfixed by the story being told on the screens in front of them. That is, rather than wiggling impatiently in their seats or leaving to get a popcorn refill, they kept their eyes glued to the screen.

Although these tests aimed mostly to predict the performance of The Revenant, Lightwave anticipates that the technology also could be used in product development phases, enabling studios to reedit or revise films that fail to capture people’s attention. It also promises that the devices can be used in other entertainment settings, from television shows to concerts to sporting events. The resulting data would give providers vast new insights into what gets people excited—and what doesn’t—to help them better meet their demands. And maybe pick up an Oscar or two in the process.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What step(s) in the marketing research process might be affected by this form of data collection?
  2. How could these types of data inform a marketing research–based action plan?

 Source: Dan Tynan, “How ‘The Revenant’—and Big Data—Will Change Movies Forever,” Yahoo Finance, January 13, 2016