Dec 13, 2005

Disney patents multi-visit movie downloads at fast food restaurants

Disney has filed a patent for technology that lets customers download a piece of a movie at each visit. Could this be the next generation of McDonald's Happy Meal toys?

The plan could work something like this: A customer buys a meal and receives an electronic code that authorizes a partial download of a movie, video or other media file, which can be downloaded while in the restaurant. If the file is in five parts there is a strong incentive to come back for four more meals.

Of course, the vast majority of patents don’t actually result in successful products. Or they take a long time to get there. I filed Welcome’s main patents ten years ago, in January 1996, and the technology is just now becoming mainstream. Still, the Disney fast-food patent is very interesting to me because it illustrates several issues that are highly relevant to our business.

This patent is about the customer’s experience in the restaurant. McDonald’s has already deployed Wi-Fi services in more than 6,200 restaurants worldwide. The Disney patent is an excellent way to take advantage of that infrastructure in a way that ties the Wi-Fi service directly into the McDonald’s experience. It is not simply Wi-Fi service to surf the web and do e-mail while having lunch. It becomes Wi-Fi service tied much more closely to the McDonald’s universe.

The patent is also about solving a problem. The Disney/McDonald’s partnership goes back many years now and is obviously profitable to both companies. But how many more of the same types of movie-meal tie-ins can you do before they become dull? The patent makes it apparent that there is a need to expand on that relationship and to offer something more than Disney figurines bundled into a Happy Meal. But here is the problem: the value of a Disney movie is too big to give away with each Happy Meal. And so there is a need to break the movie apart and bundle a small portion with each meal. Of course, this fits nicely with McDonald’s objective to get customers to come back frequently.

Enhance the customer’s experience at McDonald’s, bundle new Disney content into meals, and require the customer to eat several times at McDonald’s before getting the full Disney video. That’s the way I read the spirit of the Disney fast-food patent. While waiting for the partial download technology and the related device to be available, McDonald’s and Disney can already partner with banks to address the problems at the heart of the Disney patent. Why not offer a full movie download by printing an electronic code on the bottom of the customer’s credit or debit card receipt after the customer’s fifth visit? Or even throw in a DVD with the fifth visit. Readers of my blog all know how to do that right now, using the payment technology they have already deployed.

Read the Disney fast-food patent here.

Invention: The McDownload
Would You Like Some Fries With That Download?

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