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Big data invades Hollywood

20th Century Fox used biometric wristbands with test audiences to ensure ‘heart-pounding’ scenes in The Revenant will actually make your heart rate jump. Here’s a look at other creative uses for wearable tech and big data in the entertainment industry.

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It’s Oscar season and posters for multiple nominee The Revenant tout the movie as “an immersive, heart-pounding, stunning marvel.”

Um, really? Will the film actually make your heart pound as you watch Leonardo DiCaprio pant and bleed his way through the wilderness? Yes, according to data generated by wearable technology.

20th Century Fox had about 100 people wear biometric wristbands from Lightwave Inc. during test screenings of the film. The wearables tracked their heart rates, movements, perspiration and even “audible gasps” (there’s a metric you won’t find in big data analytics). Lightwave declared 14 scenes in the movie “heart-pounding” because they made test viewers’ heart rates jump sizably.

A Fox studio exec said the data is a “pure way” to measure audience response compared to traditional surveys or focus groups, where results can be influenced by other test viewers or the mere presence of surveyors.

Test screenings have famously prompted studios to drastically re-cut movies, drop characters or change entire endings. But Fox said it plans to use the biometric data mainly for marketing purposes, like picking scenes that pack the most punch for trailers and ad campaigns.

With the Oscars just weeks away, here’s a look at other creative uses for wearable tech in various leisure and entertainment sectors.


Wearable tech is also being used to gauge viewers’ biometric responses to television shows and commercials. In 2014 Innerscope Research Inc. tracked the biometric responses of 80 viewers to more than 20 live Super Bowl commercials. Besides monitoring the participants’ heart rates, breathing and skin, the wearables also collected data from parts of the brain related to memory, reward and what Innerscope called “emotional relevance.”

Data that deep makes last year’s acquisition of Innerscope by Nielsen (yep, the TV ratings company) seem like a no-brainer.


Somehow, in between winning a Grammy and co-producing Taylor Swift’s last album, singer/songwriter Imogen Heap found time to help the Massachusetts Institute of Technology invent a glove that makes music.

When you wear the glove, each hand or finger gesture produces a different sound corresponding to whatever “real” sound – piano, drums, etc. – you program into it with special software. A new way to compose and perform music that The Gloved One possibly would have tried on for size.

Another type of wearable brings new meaning to the term “mood music.” At 2013’s South By Southwest, Japan-based Neurowear demoed its Mico headphones, which select music for you based on the emotional state indicated by your brain waves. Sadly, although Mico is still featured on Neurowear’s website, all we’ve heard about it since 2013 is radio silence.

Sports events

The Alert Shirt lets regular Joes feel like pros – literally. Data from live action on the field is transmitted to electrodes in a fan’s Alert Shirt that use vibrations and other sensations to simulate what the players are experiencing, from a body tackle to the excitement of scoring a goal.


There’s plenty of buzz about the Here earbuds. Slipping the tiny processors into your ears gives you control over how you hear live sounds around you. Ever wish you could boost the bass levels or lower the crowd noise at a concert? Then this (ear)bud’s for you.

Let’s wrap by pointing out that the first company we mentioned, Lightwave, isn’t the only one making biometric wristbands aimed at the entertainment and marketing worlds. The XOX Sensory wristband analyzes an audience’s emotional state and projects it as colours onto a screen. The website for its designer, Studio XO, says the device can help “tailor content based on (the wearer’s) emotional state.”

Studio XO is part of Lady Gaga’s creative team, Haus of Gaga. Perhaps they should make a wearable for Leonardo DiCaprio, to alert him before Gaga brushes past his chair at the next awards show.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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