Disney's NextGen Initiative
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  1. #1
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    Disney's NextGen Initiative

    From the Orlando Sentinel:

    Disney’s ‘NextGen’ may heighten visitors’ enjoyment



    The Walt Disney Co.’s theme-park division is quietly working on a major technology initiative that boosters hope could radically transform the theme-park experience.

    Details of the project, dubbed within Walt Disney Parks and Resorts as “next generation experience” or “NextGen,” are being closely guarded. But there is widespread speculation among former Disney executives and bloggers who follow the company that at least part of the project involves wireless-communication technology that could be used in concepts ranging from keyless hotel-room doors to rides and shows in which the experience varies based on an individual guest’s preferences.
    The budget for the program totals $1 billion to $1.5 billion, according to former Disney parks executives who spoke only on the condition that they not be identified. The amount is roughly comparable to what Disney is spending to build a pair of 4,000-passenger cruise ships.

    Just before Christmas, Disney assigned oversight of the project to Nick Franklin, head of global business and real-estate development for the company’s theme-park unit. Franklin’s newest title is “executive vice president of next generation experience.” At Walt Disney World, the project is being led by Jim MacPhee, a vice president who once ran the Epcot theme park. MacPhee’s title was changed last month to vice president of park operations and next generation experience.
    Disney would not discuss specifics of the project.


    “Our company has a long history of leveraging technology to enhance the experience of our guests, and we are constantly exploring new opportunities to build on that legacy,” spokeswoman Tasia Filippatos said.


    Though Disney typically keeps a tight lid on projects in development, the strict silence surrounding the NextGen initiative has surprised some company veterans. Disney has required employees assigned to the project — “several dozen” people are currently working on it, according to one of the former executives — to sign confidentiality agreements forbidding them from discussing their work, even with colleagues.
    One former Disney manager described the climate surrounding the project as “super quiet.” Yet another likened the hush-hush atmosphere to the silence that surrounded the development of Disney’s Magical Express, the airport shuttle-and-luggage service introduced in Orlando in 2005.


    “Usually you hear a lot of different things leak out,” added Michael Crawford, publisher of Progress City USA, a Web site devoted to Disney. “This has been really locked up.”


    Several other people in and around Disney said they are aware of the NextGen initiative. But all said they were either unfamiliar with details or that they could not discuss them.


    Bloggers speculate
    The secrecy, of course, hasn’t stopped speculation. Though the “NextGen” work has multiple components, several Disney bloggers, including Crawford, have reported that a key part involves the development of radio-frequency identification microchips that could be implanted into park passes or wristbands. Guests would supply personal information ahead of their arrival — from their names and credit-card numbers to their favorite Disney characters — that would be downloaded onto the RFID microchips, which would then interact with sensors deployed throughout Disney’s resorts.


    Disney has discussed the technology with Precision Dynamics Corp., a San Fernando, Calif.-based company that manufactures RFID wristbands. A representative for the company said he could not elaborate on those talks because Precision Dynamics has signed a non-disclosure agreement with Disney.


    RFID technology has “certainly been on Disney’s radar as well as the other major [tourism] players in the Orlando area,” said Tom Foster, sales manager for Precision Dynamics’ RFID solutions group.


    Crawford said he has been told that Disney’s work includes what is being called a “personal experience portal,” which he thinks could be the online site that guests would use to provide personal details and preferences. The blogger noted that posts he has written in recent months on Disney’s RFID efforts have attracted unusually heavy Internet traffic from IP addresses associated with Disney offices in Orlando and California.


    RFID technology is already used in many areas of everyday life, from the contact-information chips that pet owners have implanted in their dogs and cats to the bracelets that hospitals use to track patients and their treatments. The technology is spreading through the amusement industry, too.


    Indoor-water-park operator Great Wolf Resorts now uses RFID wristbands manufactured by Precision Dynamics at seven of its 12 resorts in the U.S. and Canada. The wristbands function both as hotel-room keys and personal charge cards for guests, allowing them to buy food and souvenirs without carrying a credit card or cash.


    “Given this new technology, guests who otherwise may not have wanted to go all the way back to their room for their credit card or cash and be inconvenienced may now be making purchases due to the added convenience of having their wallet on their wrist,” said Rajiv Castellino, chief information officer for Great Wolf Resorts. “The ease of use and convenience have proven to be big hits with guests at our properties.”


    Personalized rides?
    Though Disney is also interested in keyless hotel entry and cashless transactions, its full RFID plans are said to be more ambitious.
    Former employees and bloggers say Disney is looking at using RFID sensors in attractions, so experiences could be tailored based on individual guest preferences. For example, as guests wander around a park or advance through a ride, their favorite animated character might appear and address them by name.


    Another goal, according to the former Disney managers, is to greatly reduce or eliminate lengthy wait times at popular attractions — waits that can top three hours on particularly busy days and which a current Disney World executive said are routinely cited as a “key negative” by guests who visit the resort. One possibility is to allow guests to select preferred ride and show times and then use RFID scanners at attraction entrances to verify that they are showing up at the correct time.


    RIFD tracking could also give Disney much more detailed data about its guests’ spending habits and movements, which could in turn be a powerful sales tool. Disney might be able to tell, for instance, that a family wandering one of its theme parks in the evening has no dinner reservations, and so could contact the family by cell phone to suggest nearby restaurants with available seats or promotions.


    “The back story of this is they’re going to be able to track everything you’re doing,” said Al Lutz, editor of MiceAge.com and someone who also has written about Disney’s RFID development efforts.


    But would it work?
    The project isn’t without risks. Some former employees have expressed skepticism about whether the technological advances would do enough to boost attendance or guest spending at Disney’s theme parks to justify the $1 billion-plus price tag — or whether such money would be better spent on projects such as new resorts or attractions.


    Disney also faces questions about whether guests would want to put so much thought into planning their vacations — and how such advance planning by some guests might affect others who could conceivably miss out on a popular attraction because time slots have been reserved ahead of time by those who planned.


    Even eliminating attraction lines could be tricky: A theme park could actually feel more crowded if a certain percentage of people were no longer spending time waiting in ride queues.


    Although Disney would not discuss its NextGen concepts, the company has said improvements to its guests’ vacation experience will lead to bottom-line gains, because happier customers are more apt to make return trips. There can be other advantages, as well: After launching its Fast Pass ride-reservation system in 1999, for instance, Disney said guest spending in its parks rose as guests spent less time in queues and more in shops and restaurants.


    Jason Garcia can be reached at jrgarcia@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5414.
    This sounds really intriguing to me and I want to see if it will work for Disney.

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    Disney's Tom Staggs talked in detail about the NextGen initiative today. From LaughingPlace:
    In today's Investor Conference Tom Staggs talked about the Company's vision for the future of visiting Disney parks. Much of what he discussed is a part of the NextGen project Disney has been working on for some time (Note: Staggs did not use the term NextGen at all). Below is a summary of what Stagg's said:

    In the coming years there will be a broad, integrated set of systems for a more seamless personalized experience and welcome more and more people while making their vists more satisfying. This will go beyond FastPass in effect developing a version of FastPass for their entire Disney vacation (which starts when they make their reservation). Guests will be able to reserve times for attractions and character interactions, seats for shows, dining reservations, etc booking many of these experiences before leaving their house. A simplified check-in will allow guests to arrive at their resort with room key in hand and go directly to their room or a park. There will also be new ways to pull guests into stories. For example, a tool will allow princesses to greet and interact with guests in an immersive and personalized way. Queues will continue to innovate to become a part of the show (Winnie the Pooh at Disney World being one example). They also will be creating means to better manage flow of guests in the parks as well as get better information into the hands of Cast. Disney is well into development on all of these with a number of patents pending.

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    This sounds God awful. Kills almost all spontaneous fun on your trip.

    This is all the bad things about the Disney Dining Plan spread across the entire resort and all facets of it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JungleSkip View Post
    This sounds God awful. Kills almost all spontaneous fun on your trip.

    This is all the bad things about the Disney Dining Plan spread across the entire resort and all facets of it.
    I agree.

    What about the locals who come for day trips and what not. I don't want to plan every single detail of my day.

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    Space Mountain: 10:00. Jungle Cruise: 10:30. Hurry kids we have to make our ride appointment!

    If that's the way things are progressing, then I don't want progress.

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    Horrible idea, what ever happened to first come first served?
    Planning for the resort is fine but not the parks.

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    I've said it from day 1 that Fastpass, although kind of cool if you get a respectable time to come back, is killing the theme park experience. And this would make it worse. It will basically SCREW the annual passholders from getting ANY fastpasses and force people to stay on site from the sounds of it.

    I don't like this at all, I don't give a crap if in the middle of its a small world I hear my name, or in Fantasmic Donald screams "help me Marc, help me"..... <multiply that 1000
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    RFID chips are... sketchy... Mythbusters did an episode about them... but they weren't aloud to air it... O_O

    --- Update ---

    BUT... unpopular opinion of the day: I think this is a good idea. Not everyone is a theme park expert. Far from it. I mean, we have a freaking stupid guest quotes thread on this forum. Some people really could use this, because they don't know anything about vacationing at Disney World.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheDecemberists View Post
    BUT... unpopular opinion of the day: I think this is a good idea. Not everyone is a theme park expert. Far from it. I mean, we have a freaking stupid guest quotes thread on this forum. Some people really could use this, because they don't know anything about vacationing at Disney World.
    I really don't see how this benefits them though. If anything this will hurt them. The don't know what's good. they won't know how to make good reservations.

    Theme parks are about having fun. This seriously drains a lot of fun.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheDecemberists View Post
    RFID chips are... sketchy... Mythbusters did an episode about them... but they weren't aloud to air it... O_O

    --- Update ---

    BUT... unpopular opinion of the day: I think this is a good idea. Not everyone is a theme park expert. Far from it. I mean, we have a freaking stupid guest quotes thread on this forum. Some people really could use this, because they don't know anything about vacationing at Disney World.
    Disney already has a service that will create a DVD for you to help with a Disney trip.
    A vacation, or a day trip to a theme park, should never be so regimented that it takes the fun out of everything. If you can't stop the smell the roses they might as well be fake.

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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Octobers Fade View Post
    If you can't stop the smell the roses they might as well be fake.
    Quote of the day.

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    I think Disney needs to take a chill pill on new technology and just sit back and let the money roll in some more while they enjoy the projection tech they just debuted.


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    I agree with (almost) everyone that this is a horrible idea. It takes all the fun out of a trip.

    Ten minutes? We'll be Shark bait in ten minutes!!

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    Here's my problem with it. One that's not a vacation if you're a slave to ride times. Two theme parks make their money off of souvenir purchases. That is the main reason they try to cut down on ride wait times because otherwise that is time guests are waiting in line rather than shopping. Now I ask when you have your whole day planned to a T where do the spontaneous and multiple visits to the park's gift shops go? I'm certainly not going to pencil in a 10:10 shop at the Emporium into my busy day at Disney.

  15. #15
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    Disney can't please you guys. This isn't for us, I would put money on the spontaneousness still being there because honestly thats fun and they know that. Besides it says "This tech will be available" which means it'll A. be an option and B. they are going to charge $$ for it. This is for the tourist whose never been to Disney and already has a rigid schedule planned on their trip like so many 'rents on the DisBoards do.

    The ques sound awesome. I'll be thrilled if more rides have ques like Space Mountain, and Mummy to a lesser extent. I'd be happy if more rides had text based adventures in tandem to their themed ques.


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