Stand aside, Imax: Bristol set to get cinema that measures audience reactions

1st September 2023
Kristian McCann

A cinema in Bristol is set to receive new technology to measure audience reactions in a world’s first. The Instrumented Auditorium is one of the biggest leaps for cinema technology since Imax or 4D and is scheduled to make its debut in May 2024.

The revolutionary 36-seat 150m2 auditorium will introduce the realm of biometric monitoring into theatres and will record the audience's physiological responses, encompassing heart rate, eye movements, and even brain activity, all in real-time as they immerse themselves in the on-screen content. In addition to monitoring physiological metrics, researchers will delve into the electrical properties of the skin to discern the audience's subconscious emotional and sympathetic reactions.

Neuropsychology professor Iain Gilchrist at the University of Bristol exclaimed that this cinema will offer "unique insights" that can potentially reshape the landscape of content creation. This cinema experience can record data that can pinpoint audience activity in key moments: an on-screen kiss, a joke, or even an advert.

Film studios and producers often use audience feedback, ascertained via pre-screening releases, to edit, cut, or reshoot many a movie in the hopes to receive a better reception. This new world-first facility in Bristol will allow film-makers to get this raw information without even needing to ask. Yet it won’t be just films tested at the cinema for reaction, it stands to be used for anything from TV adverts to therapy videos.

Professor Gilchrist explained the significance of this pioneering facility, stating: "If we want to understand whether a new experience or new technology is working, we have to ask the audience. The Instrumented Auditorium will allow us to stream data that captures audience responses moment by moment, providing unique insights that take us way beyond current questionnaire-based methods."

The Instrumented Auditorium has been made possible through a £400,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, and it will take residence at the MyWorld creative hub within The Coal Shed in St Phillips, Bristol. MyWorld is a dynamic creative technology research and innovation hub led by the University of Bristol in collaboration with 12 other organisations, including Bristol Old Vic, Watershed, Aardman Animations, the BBC, and BT. This project is set to redefine the way we understand and engage with cinematic experiences, promising a future where audience reactions are quantified with unparalleled precision.

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