Magic or Mischief: A look into Disney’s adaptation of IoT

Magic or Mischief: A look into Disney’s adaptation of IoT

Big Data: Fall Semester 2016, Prof. Dr. Wilhelm

Madeleine Sadler, Daniel Prelipcean, Maik Sowinski, Vladimir Cucu


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MagicBand in Action


The term “Big Data” describes collections of data that are so large or complex that they cannot be handled by traditional processing methods (Pal, 2015).  Challenges in data curation, sharing, storage, analysis and even privacy have arisen out of the Big Data concept (Helbing & Pournanas, 2015).  The idea of these massive data collection through data mining and other methods has become more and more prevalent as different applications are uncovered.  Multinationals, corporations, and even governments have begun to explore the realm of Big Data, and while there are seamlessly endless ways in which to use, curate, and process Big Data, one subconcept derived through the development of Big Data is the so called, Internet of Things.  A newer, more specific, yet just as controversial little brother of Big Data.  The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) describes the extension of the internet to objects in the physical world, or the connection of different sorts of objects, such as cellphones, machines or wearable devices, etc., to the internet and to each other (Morgan, 2014). The internet nowadays is available in many places and more widely accessible than ever before. Different types of objects/devices get connected to the internet in order to facilitate interaction of and with the devices over longer distances and in more complicated forms of interaction that go beyond classical machine-to-machine (M2M) connections.  The concept of IoT itself was invented by Peter T .Lewis, who in 1985 coined the term in a speech he delivered in Washington D.C. (Sharma, 2016).

As the internet becomes more and more prominent in our daily lives, the IoT will also become more feasible as people start to expect the giant technological leaps that they have grown accustomed to over the last several decades to continue to make their lives easier. Already there are many applications of the Internet of Things that will make our daily live more convenient. One such application could be in the field of energy management and smart grids.  The IoT also enables the implementation of in-building management services (Monnier, 2014).  Besides that, basically any technical device; fridges, lamps or even humans (through in-body devices like cardiac pacemakers) could be connected to allow for one device to essentially “talk” to another.  For example, your fridge could tell your smartphone that you are running out of milk and your smartphone would then tell you where the closest and cheapest produce market is.  Also for companies, there will presumably be a lot of possibilities to use the IoT to help reduce the need for human employee, market research data, logistical ease, all leading to the overall goal of increase profit and decreased loss.  The importance of the IoT will continue to grow in the next years and it is forecasted that the revenue generated by IoT products and services will exceed $300 billion by the end of this decade and that by 2025, the market generated by the IoT is expected to have a value of 6.2 trillion US-$ (Freeman, 2014).  In 2016 already, 5.5 million new objects get connected to the internet every day.  According to a study by the Swiss university ETH Zürich, nearly 150 billion things will be connected to the internet by 2050, and at that time, the data volume produced by the internet of things will presumably double every 12 hours, compared to the current time of every 12 months (Freeman, 2014). This shows that the IoT is really a Big Data issue as that much data is considered significantly larger than anything being processed by the traditional data processing applications.  Disney’s MagicBands are a good example of how the Internet of Things can be used by big companies, as the little bracelets are connected to the internet and interact with other objects in the park and also with “classical” internet devices, such as iPhones (The Walt Disney Company).  

The Walt Disney Company is an American company that became famous for cartoons and animated movies, such as Donald Duck, or Mickey Mouse, which is probably the most famous Disney character. The era of Disney started in 1923 with the movie “Alice’s Wonderland” (Polsson, 2015). Today, Disney is one of the world’s biggest companies with over 180,000 employees (2014) and an annual revenue of over 52 billion US-$ in 2015 (Polsson, 2015). The Walt Disney Company produces movies and cartoons, but also owns several TV channels and 14 licensed theme parks around the world. While there is obviously boundless opportunities for IoT in modern society, there are also some major controversies and challenges that will slow the development of a virtually interconnected reality.  It looks as though the Walt Disney Company is prepared to risk these potential problems for the highly attractive gains!


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MagicBand Opportunities:

While one does not necessarily picture the “Magical World of Disney” when they think about highly controversial technological advancements, yet the Walt Disney Company has taken a groundbreaking step in the direction of commercialized IoT use.  On January 7th of 2013, Disney unveiled its latest context-aware innovation, MagicBands; a part of their larger tech collection, MyMagic+ (The Walt Disney Company).  Since the MyMagic+ project’s conception in 2008, Walt Disney World president, Meg Crofton, and a team of five highly skilled engineers have worked tirelessly to use an IoT platform based design to address some of what Disney calls visitors’ “pain points” (Kuang, 2015).  MyMagic+ is a suite of technology that combines several service offerings as well as physical advancements designed to consolidate, track and predict guests’ experiences and information (Kuang, 2015).  Among many of MyMagic+’s various functions are payments and transactions, FastPass access, ticketing services, hotel room access, and tracking of visitors’ locations (Kuang, 2015).  The MagicBand concept has allowed for these assorted features to be integrated into a chic and fun wearable-computer (Mann, 2012).  While wearable-computing is not exactly a new conception, the implementation of these miniature, body-borne data processors has opened up a myriad of opportunities, as well as challenges for Disney.

The MagicBand is based off radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology (Angell & Kietzman, 2006).  RFID uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track “tags” attached to objects automatically (Angell & Kietzman, 2006).  The so called, battery-assisted passive tags embedded in the MagicBand silicon wristband operate using Automatic Data Identification and Capture (AIDC) to collect energy from RFID chip reader’s interrogating radio waves within adequate proximity (Angell & Kietzman, 2006).  The long distance radio included in the wristband can transmit up to 12 meters in every direction, and pick up and send feedback from triangulated receivers in various sites around the park such as ceilings of buildings, specially designed kiosks, under tables, etc. (Kuang, 2015).  These processes permit the incredibly fast transfer of data between distant locations, making it possible for the employees at Disney parks to anticipate and know what the customer wants before they ever arrive at the attraction.  Disney has also installed thousands of access points that are marked with the Mickey Mouse head logo that seamlessly integrate and allow guests to learn how to use their technology through experiences and natural interactions with the tech (Kuang, 2015).  This allows young children and the less technologically literate to participate and enjoy the MagicBands without being burdened by technical jargon or a complicated system that requires time or skill to learn.  The Mickey Mouse head indicates that one can swipe their wrist against the sensor and “check in” to pinpoint their locations (Kuang, 2015).  While the MagicBands are great for localisation, they also offer a data collection feature.  This feature allows Disney to gather tons of individual information on guests and use it to tailor an unique, exciting, and unforgettable adventure.  The MagicBand user’s journey starts as soon as they book their tickets.  They will then be registered to receive wristbands in the color and decoration of their choice.  With their tickets comes a quick survey about the general expectations and preferences of the visitor.  Those with small children will want to avoid the larger, more thrill seeking rides, while pre teens and young adults will be interested in the bigger and more coaster like attractions.  Disney then uses this information to generate a suggested route that is designed to get you to as many of the things you really want to see in the shortest amount of time, while skipping long lines and attractions that are not of particular priority to the individual.  Along with tailoring your experiences within the park, Disney also uses the MagicBand and MyMagic+ project to individualise the guests entire vacation from start to finish.  If one selects the Magic Express package, the custom MagicBands arrive in the mail a few weeks out, and then replace all paperwork and logistical hassle associated with traveling and holiday.  Users can get picked up in a Disney shuttle that will also tag and take the luggage and have it delivered directly to their room in the resort (Kuang, 2015).

Disney not only wanted to create a fun and inspiring way to access their parks and the attractions they hold, but it also aimed to create the sense of magic and wonder that Walt Disney himself devoted his entire life to trying to conceive.  John Padgett, the team’s unofficial leader of project MyMagic+ worked closely with Crofton to achieve a highly stylised version of Disney’s original vision (Kuang, 2015).  The major hindrance to any family vacation is the inevitable friction that comes with it, not to mention the complete lack of allure offered by zig zagging aimlessly through crowded parks looking for the right attraction to stop your child from crying.  By linking the MagicBands to credit cards, eliminating long waiting lines, the need to rent a car, the trouble of losing printed tickets and so much more, the MyMagic+ team has effectively defeated the negative and usually gritty, cringe worthy details of family holiday (Kuang, 2015).  Tom Staggs, chief operating officer at Walt Disney Company was quoted saying, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Kuang, 2015).  While the efficiency not only brings an end to adverse encounters, it transforms them into delightful ones.  The safe and innocuous connotation brought about by the decade long familiarity with Disney as a company allows for the feeling of security while they test out technologies that would, in many other contexts, be considered invasive or malignant (The Walt Disney Company).  The self-contained nature of Disney World parks produces reality out of virtualis.  The integrated IoT platform employed permits what developers have coined “the era of invisible design” (Kuang, 2015).  Hidden cameras throughout the park may snap candid pictures of a family, identifiable by their MagicBands, and create a fun movie to be sent after the visitors have left as a keepsake of their holiday.  This kind of seamless interconnection and fluid exchange and presentation of data is the sort of magic making Staggs was referring to.  “What people call the Internet of Things is just a technological underpinning that misses the point.  This is about the experiential Internet. The guest doesn’t need to know how it happened. It’s about the magic […],” said Nick Franklin, a supervisor the engineers behind MyMagic+ (Kuang, 2015).

Along with all the technical aspects like RFID chips and readers, kiosks and web portals, the design of the physical wristband was also developed to reinforce key values to Disney as a company, namely that everyone is equal and everyone is welcome (Kuang, 2015).  They constructed bands in every size and made sure to include a variety of colors and designs to suit any and every possible guest.  The components of the kiosk like-access points was also critical in conveying important idea at Disney; nothing bad can happen inside the magical world of Disney.  When a user swipes the MagicBand in front of the marked access point, a green light will appear and a charming tone will sound, indicating that they have checked in to that particular location, the purchase has been made, and so forth.  If something was to go wrong however, the marked kiosk would glow blue, never red, as red lights are a sign of something going awry (Kuang, 2015).  The entire sensation derived from the MyMagic+ IoT platform is nothing short of wizardry.


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The outcome of this $1 billion investment comes down to the whole reason the multi billion dollar enterprise exists in the first place, profit.  When it comes to psychology of the average consumer, it was once thought that the more freedom of choice you give a person, the happier they will be, the more satisfied they will feel with their purchase, and ultimately the more likely they will be to continue buying.  This has recently been contested and this contemporary take on consumer behaviour has been adopted wholeheartedly by Disney.  Their motto in regards to MagicBands is to strip away as many options from the guest as possible while still giving them the illusion of free choice.  Their suggested routing feature is based on the presumption that the vastness of Disney World is inherently overwhelming.  There are so many attractions and the possibility to get to them all is literally impossible, therefore, people often feel a sense of dilemma or pressure as they are not sure themselves what they want to spend their time doing.  This has been called the paradox of choice, essentially the idea that you can make people happier by eliminating as many choices as possible rather than allowing them to experience this pressure of freedom (Kuang, 2015).  Disney is aware that many families come to the parks with specific “missions” (Kuang, 2015).  One child has to meet Snow White, while the other must ride Space Mountain.  By dispersing guests throughout the park, ensuring they get to check off everything on their list, overall customer satisfaction increases dramatically.  And when customers are happy, they spend more.  The phenomenon of satisfied customers spending is paired perfectly with the capital gain via the pure efficiency of the suggested routing, easy swipe check ins, and purchases.   When guests spend less time waiting in lines for attractions, for food at restaurants, or to pay in the gift shop, they are free to experience more, do more, spend more.  


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All of the benefits and opportunities discussed so far have not even begun to touch of the subject of uses of the data collected.  The massive amounts of information that MagicBand and MyMagic+ collect is not only useful for the obvious and immediate functionalities such as knowing where the bottlenecks in foot traffic are, monitoring where people spend the most money and time, where to invest more and where to cut within the park itself; but it also can be used to analyze how people interact with Disney as a whole.  By finding out how people navigate through the trip as an entity, Disney can offer better services from start to finish and implement greater procedural changes in not only the park the data is collected in, but to parks and operations all over the world.  Not to mention the additional benefits from the data collected in regards to potential hazards or problems.  Through the RFID, the company can locate any individual guest in case of a lost child or emergency.  As well as make use of the information to prevent possible illegal activities that could help protect not only the company and company stakeholders, but the guests.     

Threats and Challenges:


Although the opportunities presented by MagicBands appear to be boundless, a great deal of debate has arisen around wearables and their related problems, all in order to optimize user`s experience. Explicit processes such as mobile computing, ambient intelligence and ubiquitous computing research communities and implicit methods such as power management,  heat dissipation, software architectures, wireless and personal area networks, and data management are crucial for providing both quality and trust in a product. Here Disney assures us, as customers, of the advantages of using the MagicBand, which “provides an even more immersive, personalized and seamless Walt Disney World Resort experience than ever before” (The Walt Disney Company)

Although the benefits are clear, the way data is analyzed and most importantly which information is collected is a primary concern for any customer. Firstly, any user is providing directly registration information: first name, surname, country of residence, gender, date of birth and email address (The Walt Disney Company).

Secondly, by accepting the policies of the Walt Disney Company and middlemen (e.g. websites), the following are “indirectly” collected: transaction information (postal address, telephone number and payment information), IP address, as well as any information from public forums and applications (including chat), where it is “permitted by law to collect this information” (The Walt Disney Company).

Thirdly, the location information when the customer is on the sites or using the applications is saved. This is the data Disney analyses the most (wait time for rides, restaurants, other attractions; and similar types of information), since based on this user input, an algorithm then creates route recommendations by understanding guest behaviour. This guides them efficiently through the park, so that they save time. When customers are going faster to the attractions they are interested in, they also have more time to visit shops and restaurants where they spend money. Since giving better services assures more visits, this can be easily seen in the increase the company’s profit, see figure one below.


Figure 1

The data thus obtained is used mainly for advertisement purposes and for improving the services and products offered, but also to “detect, investigate and prevent activities that may violate” the policies or be illegal (The Walt Disney Company). The personal information is not shared outside the Walt Disney Family of Companies, except in limited circumstances, which includes cooperating with financial institutions, companies performing services on their behalf and involved third parties.

But how safe is the data accumulated? The company naturally assures the customers that “the security, integrity and confidentiality” are extremely important and that they “have implemented technical, administrative and physical security measures that are designed to protect guest information from unauthorized access, disclosure, use and modification” (Walt Disney Company). But have they done exactly for this? Unfortunately, these security issues are not made public for a good reason: they can be hacked more easily.

What technology is used in Disney`s MagicBands? Well, the information is “delivered using either radio frequency (RF) technology-enabled MagicBands or RF cards (RF Devices (Palmeri, 2016). Each MagicBand contains an HF radio frequency device and a transmitter which sends and receives RF signals through a small antenna inside the MagicBand. Each RF Card contains a passive HF radio frequency chip” (Palmeri, 2016).

Short-range readers are used to allow access on spot to the customer, e.g. for a theme park or hotels. In the same time, long-range readers are scattered in the resort to deliver personalized experiences, such as delivery of photos, videos and other offerings. Note however that the RF devices are not GPS-based, which means that the data is stored locally only in Disney`s system. Intuitively, it is way easier to send the information, then to make the wristband to store the personal information. This also implies that each RF device has its own code (or label) that securely connects it to an encrypted database.

An important aspect is that Disney products are children oriented, whom have to be protected even more, legally and morally. Thus, some features on the site and applications are age-gated. There are additional steps in collecting data from them, including notifying, obtaining consent and limiting the collection and giving parents or the ability to request access of children personal information. Moreover, Disney has announced that it “will not use information collected in connection with MyMagic+ to personalize or target advertising to children under age 13” (The Walt Disney Company.) This is the biggest challenge Disney is confronting? How to improve user experience for an unpredictable user, whose information you should not collect? Here a rather clever trick can be used: trace the parents. It is very likely that if the customers shared that they come as a family, the parents will follow at least partially the children’s desire to go to this particular attraction or food store. So for these customers, the information can be extracted indirectly.

But why invest in a wristband when the era of technology is already here with us? When the smartphones can do everything? This is what Disney tries in the newest and biggest Disney park in Shanghai, where the access is based on smartphones, and not on wristband as in the other parks, especially in Orlando, U.S. Although less expensive, as the company does not have to create the wearables, the main customers still remain the children (Palmeri, 2016). How practical is to let them have smartphones and count on the parents to buy a sufficiently performant phone for their child rather than MagicBands is a niche market Disney should invest more on.

As any software, bugs and system failures are unavoidable. We all know that and somehow accept it, but what matters in the end is what the provider does to remediate the situation. It`s still an emerging high-tech idea, still to be perfected on a technological level, e.g. multiple user identities are not allowed, which is problematic for people using both the old DVC and the new wristband. However, Disney enabled a manual system to cover these malfunctions, but regarding their support: “They also appeared to be pretty uneducated about the program with only have two (yes, TWO) cast members per park that were assigned to help with the bands. I have never seen such long lines out of Guest Services in the life” (Murphy, 2013).

Future Implications of MagicBand and IoT in General:

We can say for sure that development and growth of IoT is the way to go in the future. Everything today tends to be digitised, starting from the way people interact between each other up until the point that one needs connection to internet when going to the grocery store as their list of products is saved on the “Cloud”. As far as the reach of the Internet of Things, there are more than 12 billion devices that can currently connect to the Internet, and researchers at IDC estimate that by 2020 there will be 26 times more connected things than people (WebOpedia, 2016). Interested readers can view the estimated numbers of IoT Units in figure 2 shown below:


Figure 2

At the current time, IoT is not able to show it’s full potential mostly because society has not arrived at that particular point in technology development yet. As Gartner’s vice president and distinguished analyst Nick Jones said, “A recurring theme in the IoT space is the immaturity of technologies and services and of the vendors providing them” (Banafa, 2016).

Moreover in particular technology areas (especially in the newly established once), the lack of skills will also pose significant challenges. But taking ito consideration that IoT is a relatively newly established market, it can assured that in the following years it will look completely different than it looks today.  New players, with new business models, approaches, and solutions, can appear out of nowhere in the future that could lead to IoT’s prosperity.  Here are some arguments to back-up the idea that IoT has a great future ahead. As the past has shown, technology tend to become less expensive and more affordable for the population, thus following the same trend the “things” will get increasingly inexpensive, applications will multiply, and connectivity will cost pennies.  This will also allow IoT to raise in popularity in developing countries as in present it is poorly implemented there. Another important factor is the human mentality and the way the mass reacts to a particular product. Human beings are known to be incompatible with drastic overnight changes, as they are more comfortable with gradual changes over years. Some of us have come to the point realising that IoT is the future, but the vast majority of population is still skeptical about it (mostly due to privacy concerns), however, in time people will eventually realise its convenience and reliability, thus being accepted by the majority of mankind.

MyMagic+ is an interesting concept with a vast area of usability, but it is not yet perfect. It allows families to be more time efficient while going through a specific predefined route, but at the same time it kills the joy of finding new attractions. It doesn’t matter how large the database can get, it still cannot decide the best route for you as everyone is unique with his unique preferences that cannot be ideally found from a database or algorithm. Moreover, the Disney park authorities should implement the choice to the customer of wearing a MagicBand or not. People have different views concerning the way privacy works, and wearing a MagicBand could potentially be a deal breaker for some visitors. On the other hand parents will no longer worry for their child to be lost as they can always track their location, the visitors will no longer tend to stay in large lines as their journey will be thoroughly planned in order to increase their comfortability and moreover the Disney park will be able to manage their money more efficiently due to the large database gathered about which attractions are used the most and are lightly used.  MyMagic+ has a bright future and most probably similar gadgets will be implemented in all amusement parks around the world.


Angell, I., Kietzmann, J. (2006). “RFID and the end of cash?”(PDF). Communications of the ACM. 49 (12): 90–96. doi:10.1145/1183236.1183237. Retrieved 20 November 2016.

Banfa, A. (2016). “10 predictions for the future of IoT”. OpenMind. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:

Freeman, D. (2014). “The problem with the internet of things and why it’s still good to be connected”.  Wired. Retrieved 20 November 2016 from:

Helbing & Pournanas (2015). “Society: Build digital democracy”. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:

Hellerstein, J. (2008). “Parallel Programming in the Age of Big Data”. Gigaom Blog. Retrieved 16 November 2016.

Kuang, C. (2015). “Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband”. Wired. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:

Mann, S. (2012).  Wearable Computing. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.).

Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. Aarhus, Denmark: The Foundation. Retrieved 22 November 2016.

Monnier, O. (2014). “A smarter grid with the Internet of Things”. Texas Instruments. Retrieved 17 November 2016 from:

Morgan, J. (2014). “A simple explanation of the Internet of Things”. Forbes. Retrieved 18 November 2016 from:

Murphy, A. (2013). “The good, the bad, and the ugly of Diseny’s MagicBands”. ThemePark Insider. Retrieved 25 November 2016 from:

Pal, C. (2015): The impact of the Internet of Things on Big Data. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:

Palmeri, C. (2016). “Why Disney won’t be taking magic wristbands to its Chinese park. Bloomberg.

Retrieved 25 November 2016 from:

Polsson, K. (2015). “The chronology of the Walt Disney Company”. Kpollson. Com. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:

Sharma, C. (2016). “Correcting the IoT”. Chetan Sharma: Technology & Strategy Consulting. Retrieved 17 November 2016 from:

The Walt Disney Company. Retrieved 16 November 2016 from:

WebOpedia. (2016). “What is Internet of Things- IoT”. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:

References for Graphics

Figure 1 Graph:

Figure 2 Chart:

Image 0, holding hands:

Image 1, Walt Disney Logo:

Image 2, MagicBand swipe:

Image 3, Custom MagicBand:


3 thoughts on “Magic or Mischief: A look into Disney’s adaptation of IoT

  1. Interesting article, but do you think that with the ever-decreasing age at which people acquire their first phone, these will be ultimately better than just using your smartphone? All the features of this band can be implemented via a smartphone app, and most young children, especially of the age that you would leave unsupervised, have a phone with them. The phone also comes with the added benefit of the child being able to call their parents in case of emergency, so I was just wondering if you know of any benefits of the Magic Band over an app?


    1. I think the wristbands are more practical for young children and they have a battery life of 2 years. They don’t need to be charged and are more like a souvenir of your time which I think young children (think 4 to 10) will really appreciate more than a phone. They may also be more user friendly for the elderly. I know I went to Disney World a lot with my Grandma when I was small and neither of us would have been able to operate a phone app at that time, and the easy, self-explanatory design is really genius as it is shown that when older people perceive the difficulty to learn higher than the perceived usefulness, they are much less likely to adopt the technology.


  2. Nevertheless, you have a point, but that is more as a general view of where the society is heading to. Your vision seems to point towards the idea of making everything accessible through a device, i.e. our smartphones. Is this the direction of our technology? Most probable, but creating an app usable by all smartphones operation systems and relying on their specifications to efficiently track their location is more demanding than having an inside system for this.

    Consider as well the customers not having a smartphone (very few, that`s true). What would they do then?


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