In these hours Sony has unveiled some of its most interesting projects that could shape or change the future of research and pop culture. The occasion is the STEF, or Sony Technology Exchange Fair, an event that until last year was an internal event to tell the whole company about some of the innovations of the Research & Development departments, but which on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary opens the its doors to the world audience.
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Two were the most important themes that emerged from the technologies presented: on the one hand, the creation of the so-called “digital twins”, i.e. the creation of digital models ever closer to reality that can be used in the most diverse fields: from the creation of three-dimensional replays of a goal for city models, passing through digital organs that respond like real ones with which to train the surgeons of tomorrow.On the other hand, the increasingly widespread ability to measure the emotions of the public to develop ever more precise campaigns and products that meet the taste of a large audience.
In particular, the VX project, an abbreviation that stands for Viewing eXperience, aims to be the definitive tool for the analysis of film focus groups with a fascinating, if ambitious (but at times also disturbing) mission: to identify and accurately catalog the emotions of the viewer to understand, beyond the questionnaires, what are the audience’s reactions to watching a film.
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With VX it is possible to have a real-time perspective of the experience lived by the audience in the theater, obviously we are talking about the audience that attends special screenings created specifically to understand if the film can be liked, if the ending is satisfactory, if it makes one laugh, if it fear and so on, according to the type of product. In short, it is placed in that middle ground between post-production and the marketing campaigns that precede the release. It’s not a technology designed for classic cinemas, in which case it’s the box office that speaks.
The system relies on three main sources: video cameras mounted in the hall, to capture facial expressions, heartbeat detectors and microphones, with which to capture any indicators such as laughter, applause or cries of fear. These data are then fed to an application that returns a complete analysis, synchronizing them with the film, so as to understand minute by minute what is happening in the theater. Obviously the data is anonymous, so as to keep the privacy of the public intact.
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The heart of the system is represented by a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the former is trained to understand human emotions, the latter takes care of calculating the values of the film minute by minute, so as to develop a graph showing the scenes in where the public was more involved, where it was more distracted and important moments.
Elements that for centuries have been linked to the ability and sensitivity of authors and authors and their ability to calibrate emotions, action, drama and comedy, but which today can be transformed, according to Sony, into a graph.
And of course this data can be broken down by age, gender and even ethnicity.
Obviously a system like this doesn’t come out of nowhere, as much as we like the idea of a film that is born and arrives in theaters without too many changes, the history of cinema is made up of cuts, adaptations, changes and decisions that are sometimes made at upstream from producers, directors and editors, but who can also arrive in the last stages of processing, reading the reactions of the public, especially when we talk about endings. Pretty Woman’s was for her to be alone and was changed as it was deemed too depressing. Initially in Via col Vento the iconic phrase “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn” was not used due to censorship problems, but the public wanted to hear it because it was present in the book and the producer David O.Selznick paid 5000 dollars of fine to enter it.
Sony’s goal with the VX project, which apparently is already in an advanced stage of testing, is to offer a further level of analysis that is linked to all those reactions that the public cannot control and often cannot even communicate in the way correct. A sort of X-ray analysis that overcomes prejudices, forgetfulness and distractions. We can all say that we liked or disappointed us with an ending, but maybe not everyone remembers that moment in the second act when they got distracted because a dialogue went too long.
And that’s not all, because Sony aims to expand the analysis capabilities of VX in other areas very familiar to it, such as music and video games. The same sensors can be used to read the emotions of a gamer, or perhaps of someone who is listening to a song for the first time, or even at a concert.
Of course, it may seem strange, even dry, to those who perhaps see products based above all on human ingenuity and writing ability in films, music and video games, but for large productions, the million-dollar ones, by now the margin of error is so subtle that no one is willing to risk that much and therefore we have always looked for tools that remind us of Boris’s infamous “algorithm”.
Let’s look at it like this: with such refined tools there are no more excuses for a bad film.