New video boards feeding valuable data back to tracks

ISM video monitors can feed data back to racetracks about the demographics of who is watching them, as well as other information. John Crouch/Icon Sportswire

Those video boards set up around NASCAR racetracks can give vital information about the race, weather and other updates and entertainment for fans.

They also can give vital information to the racetracks and advertisers. They are watching you. Kind of.

Ingenuity Sun Media (ISM) has deals with all NASCAR Cup tracks except Indianapolis to handle the video boards around the track. When they announced the deals, the technology promoted was that the software inside the boards could determine how long people watch -- a key for advertisers.

But it also provides an additional benefit to the tracks.

"Through the deployment of video screens around the property, it's an opportunity to enhance the guest experience with content, but also it drives real-time analytics for us, through facial recognition and identifying demographics," International Speedway Corp. president John Saunders said in a conference call with financial analysts last week.

Facial recognition software is nothing new at sports facilities and venues, especially at entrances where they can try to get a better idea of the demographics of the audience.

But the video boards? Are they logging photos of everyone that looks at them?

ISM president Jeff Hutchins said that is not the case. He said it is facial analytics software rather than facial recognition. The cameras inside the boards scan a person's face to determine an age range and gender and that data is logged. He said no photographs of people are actually taken.

"We don't in any way, shape or form collect autonomously or automatically people's personal identifiable information, including images or videos from it," Hutchins said in a phone interview last week.

While the technology can also determine race and potentially the mood of the spectator, Hutchins said they are not cataloging that information.

"At no point are we capturing images, capturing video or transmitting that video anywhere in the system or outside of the system," Hutchins said. "The facial analytics are basically doing mapping on predicted points to try and determine one of four age categories, gender. Beyond that we're pulling ... how long people are within range of the [video board]."

ISC deferred all questions to ISM. Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith said he wasn't aware of the data being gathered.

"When the device sees a person, it boxes the body and it says, 'There is a body here' and it starts timing it," Hutchins said. "When it identifies that there is a face, it begins to map the face. It's not mapping your face as much as just pulling metadata and data points around the structure of the face.

"What's sent back to us from the unit is just the metadata from the analytical software. All the software is self-contained inside the enclosure."

In addition to the fan demographic data, the video boards can estimate how many people are in a certain area during a period of time, possibly letting them know where their highest and least spectator traffic is during a weekend.

"If a trend emerges that is beneficial to the venue in terms of managing traffic or enhancing certain things that people are hanging around, there is benefit to that," Hutchins said.

The data has shown promising information about the crowds at NASCAR races, he said. ISM recently bought the racetrack naming rights to Phoenix Raceway.

"We've learned the age demographic is more diverse than we thought it would be," Hutchins said. "We're seeing a very balanced male-female [ratio], we're seeing a very balanced adult-young adult [ratio], and we're seeing a bigger crowd than they told us we would see."