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MouseStation 55 - Disney's new Fastpass patent

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Featured Topic

In this week's feature, Mike and Mark discuss the new patent application filed by Disney on August 30, which would expand on their existing Fastpass patents. News of the patent was first broken by Jim Hill of jimhillmedia.com last week.


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Mark gave an overview of some of the new features described in the patent, including the ability for you to:

  • Set up all of your Fastpass tickets for the next day from the comfort of your hotel room;
  • Get your next Fastpass from the other side of the park via mobile phone or other wireless device;
  • Get a reminder message on your phone 15 minutes before your Fastpass window opens;
  • Trade in your Fastpass for a different attraction completely if you change your mind about riding; and
  • Have your mobile phone or wireless device tracked as you move around the park and make recommendations to you regarding your alternatives if the attraction that you have a Fastpass for breaks down.

After Monday's Park Update was published, Mark received an email from Todd Swanson, a former employee of two different major U.S. cell carriers, who noted that it's not really possible to determine precise locations using cell phone tracking, partly due to the technology and partly due to FCC regulations and privacy laws. He suggested that Disney might instead give a guest a GPS unit or other proprietary device to track them with.

Mark noted that he thought that Disney might try to track people fairly closely using their cell phones by using other related technology with cell phones (iR, Bluetooth, etc.) to track people's movements, similar to what it could do with Pal Mickeys and other devices. It's possible that Disney will also give people PDAs (most likely iPAQs through their HP partnership, or maybe devices similar to the handheld closed-captioning devices that they've rolled out) to carry around the parks with them.

Mike noted that people who register with a certain service and walk around the Mall of America can have special offers sent to their cell phones via Bluetooth as they walk past participating stores.

Another interesting features would be the ability for Disney to send you related promotional information or discount coupons related to the attraction that you've got a Fastpass for.

The feature that has generated the most outcry on the discussion forums across the Internet, though, is the ability for Disney to create a hierarchy of priority and functionality based on several different types of segmentation. For example, Disney has indentified several methods of segmentation in the patent application. The spending per guest at hotels, those staying at Disney resorts than other resorts and seasonal differences can be factored.

Mark noted that the text in some of the diagrams make it seem as if the first implementation of the new features might be at the Tokyo Disney Resort. (Diagrams use the Indiana Jones Adventure and Journey to the Center of the Earth attractions as examples.) This doesn't surprise Mark, since advanced cell phone features are still much more popular in Japan that in the United States.

Some quotes from the patent application:

  • "For example, in one embodiment a person who is planning a vacation or trip to the entertainment venue is sent notification that they can reserve access to attractions ahead of their visit. The person uses a computer that is connected to the Internet to visit a website in order to make a request for a priority reservation in accordance with the present disclosure. In another embodiment, the entertainment venue may offer a service to hotels or other surrounding venues whereby a person may make priority requests prior to their visit to the entertainment venue. For example, a person would use the television and remote control in their hotel room to make reservations for one or more attractions the day before their visit to the venue. In the preferred implementation there already needs to be a valid pass or ticket for the entertainment venue prior to being able to purchase or obtain the reservation for the attraction. Preferably there can be a validation of the pass or ticket by the computer system before issuing the reservation." [Related Application #0023]
  • "There is a next determined whether the resort has rooms with a digital TV ("DTV") in the room. If yes, the guest is directed to use the DTV in their room of occupancy. This availability to use Fastpass can be provided on the night before or the day of the park visit. If the guest has already made a schedule, then the guest is asked whether or not they want to start over and add to their schedule. The guest can then be asked a series of questions related to Fastpass. If the guest does not have a schedule, then the guest is asked a series of different questions. These can relate to which park is being attended and what time they intend to arrive at the park. The guest then chooses the appropriate Fastpass tickets that are desired. Having effected that, the return time window is displayed based on a distribution algorithm around the attendance and historical demand profiles. The guest can be given a time slot to use the Fastpass and different rules can be applied to Fastpass allocation as required. If the guest is satisfied with the return time, the guest is given the option of choosing whether the attraction is for all guests or for selected guests in the party. The Fastpass ticket would then be stored in the system and can later be activated by each guest's KTTW ("Key To The World" card or pass is a trademark of Disney Enterprises, Inc). The guest can be asked whether another Fastpass is required at the current park on the same day for other attractions and different numbers of tickets can be issued. The guest can be provided with on-screen confirmation for each member of the party. Return time windows and height restrictions can be made available to the guest so that the guest has full information necessary to enable them to be informed and make appropriate decisions on whether or not to accept this schedule. Ultimately, the guest can receive a final on-screen confirmation and be directed to any Fastpass location in the park to receive the multiple Fastpasses." [Related Applications #0103-0108]

Mike talked about the schemes that Universal uses to segmenting the usage of their Express Pass.

Some description of the hierarchical segmentation from the Disney patent application [Related Applications #0143-0165]:

  • Segmentation
  • Different hierarchal models can be established for the ability and right to obtain and use the Fastpass according to different priorities.
    • 1. Guest
      • a. Spending per guest at hotels can determine different hierarchies of access to Fastpass. Thus, the more that is spent by a patron, the higher the priority can be for Fastpass.
      • b. Hotel accommodation in related resorts and environments associated with the entertainment center are allocated different priorities. Where a patron is in a related hotel, a higher priority can be given.
      • c. Different levels and hierarchies can be applicable at different hotels. Thus, more luxurious hotels can have higher priorities.
    • 2. Seasonal differences can be factored into the grant of different privileges. Accordingly, special promotions for Fastpass can be provided according to the season.
  • Guest Value Features
  • By providing remote access at different early times, there can be different advantages and benefits.
  • 1. Early Fastpass Access
    • a. There is the ability to offer guests early access to Fastpass via their in-room TV, (DTV or hotel kiosk), to select the attractions for a Fastpass is required.
      • i. The ability to access this access may be variable, such as the night before, day of prior to entertainment park open, and day of after park opens.
    • b. Pre-Arrival
      • i. The Fastpass may be obtainable via the WEB from a remote location such as a home computer
        • I. The Fastpass may be supplied as printed paper tickets
        • II. the Fastpass may be supplied electronically and wirelessly through a download to a PDA or cellular telephone
  • 2. Multiple Fastpass accesses for Resort guests is possible
    • a. Each Guest per room is able to select same or separate Fastpass as others in the room. As each attraction is selected Guest can select which Guests want that selection.
    • b. The ability to offer different numbers (i.e. more than 3, could be variable) of Fastpass based on segmentation.
  • 3. There is the ability to offer premium return times based on segmentation.
  • 4. There is the ability to let segmented guests have first chance to certain inventory.
  • 5. There is the ability to allow guests with parkhopper entitlements to choose a Fastpass for a second park on the same day.
  • 6. There is the ability to issue a concurrent Fastpass for the day guest (with long virtual waits).

Mike suggested that Disney might try to use segmentation to provide benefits for frequent guests to Walt Disney World ("Worldphiles" in Disney marketing-speak). They've been trying to come up with ways to extend extra benefits to regular visitors for a while, and this might be one way to do it.

Mark suggested that they might use the "premium return times" feature to allow Annual Passholders to get premium access to attractions shortly after they open, or people on special packages to get exclusive access during certain times of day. According to the application Disney could also use the system to allocate access to dining and show reservations, which could allow them to limit dining at premium time slots to certain groups of people.

Mike wondered whether this could make getting a Fastpass even more complicated. Mark noted that some posters on our MousePad discussion forums have noted that this could make it easier for people to get Fastpasses because there can be plenty of on-screen help and people wouldn't be backing up the line at the Fastpass machines while they figure out what they're doing.

Mike was concerned that the need to plan all Fastpasses in advance could make planning a Walt Disney World vacation even more complicated than ever, with Fastpasses joining Advance Dining Reservations in having a crush with people grabbing all available slots as soon as they become available and those who go to the park without having made all of their plans in advance will be left out in the cold as nothing will be left available.

Mark noted that the learning curve for planning a Disney vacation has been getting steeper, and this will just help that trend continue. It was noted that it would be good for guidebooks and trip planning sites.

Mike noted that he wanted online dining reservations before advance Fastpasses. Mark pointed out that this is being piloted at the Contemporary Resort right now, and if the pilot is successful, it could be rolled out to everyone via the Internet once the proper back-end infrastructure is built.

Mark is torn over whether or not this is a good thing. The increasing focus on the need to plan everything in advance is causing the spontaneity of a theme park visit to die a horrible death. For those who need to have everything planned out in advance and follow set touring plans, this will be a big help. For those who enjoy having spontaneous adventures and wandering the park and making decisions on the same day, it could mean the end of all choice.

Mike envisioned Disney geeks sitting by their computers and phones as reservation windows open, making their Fastpass reservations and trying to get through to the Dining reservation line (for that Cinderella's Royal Table reservation) simultaneously.

Mark also pointed out that "A goal of this disclosure is to improve the desired functionality needed to derive increased guest satisfaction, additional revenue opportunities and resort differentiation." [Related Application #0036] and discussed all of the possible implications of that goal.

Mike thinks that Disney will use the promotional messages to help to push whichever merchandise is not selling well or which dining location has available capacity.

Mark noted that the various options would decrease the number of no-shows and optimize the throughput of the attraction.

Mark explained that, while it's too late to keep Disney simple, it's now a question of how complicated can it get. He noted that the new system could make things easier for those who can plan ahead, and that it will increase Disney's flexibility to handle attraction breakdowns.

So now the question becomes "Will Disney implement any of the ideas in this patent, and if so, how?"

Mike and Mark also noted the number of typos, errors and inconsistencies in the patent application, which seemed a bit sloppy for a company like Disney.

Mark tried to figure out how Disney would use the tracking feature, which is described [Related Application #0255] as:

Other examples of the use of the disclosure include the ability to have a patron's or user's cellular telephone or wireless device be tracked as that person moves around the facility, or defined area. For instance, this provides for locating guests or patrons and for the central facility computer to track the location of guests and patrons, and make recommendations as necessary to those persons. In an entertainment environment, when a particular attraction is non-functional for instance as a priority system or at all, the recommendations can suggest alternative attractions or activities to the patrons. Such alternatives can be accepted on a priority basis in lieu of the unavailable priority services for the non-available attraction."

So what do you think about this new patent? Do you think that Disney is likely to implement any of these features in the near future? Do you think that they would be beneficial features, or would it make things even harder? Let us know by sending an email or calling our toll-free feedback line (1-866-939-2278) and let us know what your favorites are!

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The MouseStation crew (@MouseStation) currently consists of Mark Goldhaber (@MPMark) and Mike Demopoulos (@MPMike).