Media companies are trying to select ads by studying the neurological and biological reactions of the audience.


    One of the largest US media companies, Comcast Corporation begins its experiments on reading the preferences of viewers using modern methods - from tracking eye movements and recognizing facial expressions to taking an EEG and measuring other biometric indicators. All these efforts are aimed at increasing the impact of advertising on the viewer. Other media companies have long been trying to benefit from such research.

    For years, clarifying the interests of viewers has been limited to conducting surveys. “The problem is that when you ask a person about his reaction to something, he begins to think about it and does not produce a natural result,” says Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBCUniversal, a division of Comcast Corporation. “Our technology has come closest to reading minds.”

    The technologies used in two Comcast laboratories do not ask questions, but read the direct reaction of the audience. The audience is volunteers located in the laboratory in a room as close as possible to a real living room. Walls, furniture, and other surroundings replicate an ordinary living room, and appliances are watching the reaction of the audience.

    In an age of highly targeted online advertising, cable television, still among the most popular entertainment, is trying to keep up. In laboratories, the emotional reaction of viewers to various scenes is studied, so that they can then be used to create effective commercials.

    In the laboratory, Viacom Inc, another division of the corporation, is looking for the best time to display ads. They find out whether it is possible to insert diapers advertisements after the scene with babies, and pizza delivery advertisements after the scene with food.

    But quite expensive tests do not always guarantee a reliable result. “Just because brain cells are activated during the commercial does not mean that a person will necessarily buy the advertised product,” says Beth Rockwood, senior vice president and marketing researcher at Discovery Communications.

    Hershey Co has been engaged in neurological and biometric research for several years, and is not yet sure that useful data can be extracted from their results. “I don’t think anyone can say for sure that all this will increase our sales,” said Andy Smith, director of consumer research.

    For three years, Time Warner Inc has been researching preferences and studying how people react to eye tracking and biometrics. Their experts, in particular, note that eye tracking is not a measurement of emotional response, but a definition of the center of attention. In this case, often, even if a person focuses on something his attention, this does not mean the presence of emotional involvement.

    Companies are trying not to cross the thin line between the maximum involvement of viewers and their direct use. As a researcher at Comcast Corporation said, “We should feel a little paranoia and the presence of an easy manipulative component in such practices. "This is a matter of trust, and if everything is done correctly, we will only provide viewers with information and content that will be valuable to them."

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