From MIT’s Media Lab to Time Warner’s: Innerscope’s Biometric Tech

3/5/12Follow @xconomy

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know that the past two New England Patriots vs. New York Giants Super Bowl games have been emotionally charged for fans.

But it might take one to measure the more under-the-surface emotional responses to advertising throughout the games. That’s where Boston-based Innerscope Research comes in.

Founded in 2006, Innerscope is building its business around the notion that the traditional market research method of asking consumers questions doesn’t paint the full picture of their engagement with media.

“We believe that emotions direct attention and enhance memory, and drive behaviors,” says Carl Marci, Innerscope’s co-founder, CEO, and chief science officer. “We’re measuring the amount of relevance and connection a target audience has to communication.”

Innerscope has developed a biometric sensor system that measures heart rate, skin sweat, respiration, and motion. Worn as a belt, the device wirelessly sends the wearer’s data to Innerscope’s back-end system and patent-pending algorithms for analysis on how emotionally engaged viewers are with the media they watch.

“It allows us to use the body’s preparation for action as an indication of the emotional response,” Marci says of the technology, which has its roots at the MIT Media Lab. Marci, an MD, is also currently director of social neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital.

This isn’t the first startup we’ve covered that is looking to make market research more high tech. Waltham, MA-based Affectiva, also with MIT Media Lab roots, measures heart rate, motion, and facial expressions to measure emotional reaction to Web content. But Marci says his startup’s technology is focusing on a consumer’s connection with a medium, more so than a reaction to it.

“We collect data as people experience advertising in a passive way,” says Marci, noting the belt is designed to feel barely there.

Innerscope’s studies often combine that biometric technology with eye tracking, to determine which aspects of a commercial or other media a viewer is reacting to, and drill down further with focus-group questions on those specific elements. Ultimately, Innerscope uses the information to make recommendations to its clients on how to better engage the audience they’re seeking.

Which brings us back to the Super Bowl. Innerscope has evolved into a host of sorts for the big game, bringing consumers in and getting them belted, since 2008. The company had a new venue for this year’s Super Bowl party: the newly opened Time Warner Media Lab in New York, where Innerscope is a partner and corporate sponsor.

The lab is designed to measure consumer engagement and media habits, using Innerscope’s biometrics technology, in settings like a theater, a living room, a mock shopping area, and eye-tracking stations. During this year’s party, Innerscope’s system helped detect the nostalgia viewers felt with Matthew Broderick’s tribute to Ferris Bueller in a Honda commercial, or their connection with the eye candy Dannon put on display for its ad starring John Stamos and a model, for example.

I didn’t catch the football party, but I did stop in recently for a weekday visit to the Innerscope Media Lab near Boston’s North Station, where I saw a media montage put together by Marci and his team. After the viewing, graphs with my biometric stats showed how my breathing spiked as I sighed during an autism public service announcement, and as I quietly giggled during one of my favorite laughing baby videos on YouTube. The eye-tracking component caught my eyes staring at the gross imagery in the opening credit reel of the TV show Dexter—and not at the actual credits. I’m pretty sure the sensors on my fingers picked up elevated sweat at that point, too.

For its part, Innerscope is expanding its focus in a few ways, particularly in tracking consumer engagement on mobile platforms as well using the biometrics to measure website usability. Last September the company secured the final $2 million tranche of its $9.4 million Series A funding round. Innerscope said it had seen its revenues double over the previous two years, and planned to use the money to expand its technology throughout the U.S. and report information quicker for clients. Part of that is building out the cloud infrastructure that captures the biometric data and analyzes it for clients, Marci tells me.

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