The BBC is watching you: New face-scanning tech will measure your emotional state

How Auntie is taking pointers from Pixar’s Inside Out.

BBC Broadcasting House
Auntie's watching The Beeb may soon be changing the rules when it comes to iPalyer. Image Picture Carl Court/Getty Images

How are the viewers feeling?

BBC viewers’ emotional state isn’t something in the licence fee remit, but that might soon be about to change thanks to a new project the Beeb has in the works.

The corporation has confirmed plans to implement facial-scanning technology to discover viewers’ subconscious “emotional attachment” to TV programmes and online campaigns.

British start-up firm CrowdEmotion has developed the software with the BBC’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide, using cameras to record expressions and physical responses on a second-by-second basis.

The results are divided into six different emotions: fear, happiness, puzzlement, rejection, sadness and surprise. Researchers can then use the data to measure the “subconscious responses” to programmes and digital content.

This is all eerily reminiscent of Pixar’s recent Oscar-nominated animation Inside Out – a film based around the emotions of joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness.

Animal attraction Watch: CrowdEmotion’s trial to measure a baby’s emotions. Image Movieclips Trailers

A pilot experiment that began last December examined 5,000 people’s responses to content on BBC.com. A separate BBC Worldwide study with CrowdEmotion installed 200 web cams across homes in the UK to measure reactions to shows including the New Year’s Day episode of Sherlock. Presumably, puzzlement scored pretty highly that day.

The BBC says its ultimate goal is to use these conscious and subconscious reactions to steer viewers in the direction of something they might like, rather than directly influence how programmes are made.

“There has been a lot of scepticism around how we measure content marketing and it has proved very challenging,” BBC Worldwide’s Alistair McEwan told Campaign. “We believe that measuring content requires a much more cerebral and emotional understanding, alongside the traditional metrics.”

So next time you’re on Twitter venting about how much you hate the new Top Gear presenters, be wary that the BBC might be fully aware of how you really feel about Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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