Big Brother Corporation? BBC to use facial coding cameras to study viewers’ emotions

© Carl De Souza
Facial coding technology will be used by the BBC to examine viewers’ subconscious reactions to their shows and discover any “emotional attachment” they have to the broadcaster, after a series of trials yielded positive results.

Using technology from British company CrowdEmotion, cameras will be used to record facial expressions. The movements are then divided up into six different categories: sadness, puzzlement, happiness, fear, rejection and surprise. 

The company will work with the insight division of BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster’s commercial arm, to establish and research how viewers respond to different types of program.

During pilot experiments which examined 5,000 people, individuals were examined on their reactions to marketing campaigns on the BBC website. BBC Worldwide said the pilot was a success and they would be extending the trials.

The BBC said the technology “enabled us to find out the emotional response of each person and how they truly felt about the content they were viewing, rather than just relying on traditional analytics such as dwell time [how long a user spends on a website] and page views.”

One experiment questioned whether audiences responded positively to content which was labelled as coming from a commercial brand.

They found there was a 77 percent increase in “explicit positivity” towards brands, and a 14 percent increase in “subconscious positivity” when content was marked as sponsored by a brand.

Other experiments involved installing webcams in 200 homes across Britain to examine viewer responses to popular shows. The trial faced concerns that the broadcaster might try to spy on audiences, but the BBC says its experiments are about determining the public’s taste in television.

The results would not be used to make more specific programs, but rather to guide viewers towards content they might enjoy more.
On its website, CrowdEmotion states it is “a technology company that unlocks human emotions using smart sensors and devices” and aims to be the biggest facial coding company across the globe.