Viewpoints

The Attention Economy and the War Over Measurement


December 8, 2015 – The Attention Economy and the War Over Measurement

Content that gets delivered digitally should be measured digitally. This sounds obvious, but it’s not that easy: Ad blockers, infinite scroll design and auto-load/auto-play videos all make it harder than ever to determine what has actually been viewed and what has successfully captured the consumer’s attention.

We’re in a new era of content, with an ever-increasing amount of content created by more and more sources (professionals, amateurs and corporations). All of it is fighting for our attention. Ultimately, our “spend” of attention and engagement needs to be measurable, with a consistent and transparent methodology across multiple platforms.

This should be a foundational core of today’s attention economy. More than ever, control belongs to the consumer, who is now armed with more diversity of choice, anytime/anywhere accessibility, a variety of pricing options and, yes, an ability to use tech to skip ads. But for content creators, publishers and advertisers, confusion reigns over how to determine who is viewing what, on which platforms and for how long. These questions lead directly to uncertainty about monetary value.

We see this every time new technologies drive wide-scale shifts in media. Not everything happens at once, but whenever a new platform for content is enabled through technology, experimentation follows (both with content and with business models), leading eventually to a degree of standardization so that all the players — the content creators, advertisers and consumers — can communicate and do business together consistently.

Take radio, for example: The first public broadcast via radio took place in 1910, the first ad was broadcast in 1922 and Nielsen launched its first audience measurement index for radio in 1942. Television followed a similar, albeit compressed trajectory: The first regularly scheduled TV show began in 1928, commercial licenses were granted in 1941 and Bulova aired the first ad shortly thereafter, the first show was sponsored in 1946 and Nielsen launched its first TV index in 1950.

In the subsequent decades, content producers and advertisers came to rely on Nielsen as the independent currency standard for determining the value of airtime on both radio and TV. Buyers and sellers could understand the numbers, how they were arrived at and the value that could be attached to them.

The issues are the same today, except with far more complexity and with a new set of players.

Content is more diverse, across more locations and is being produced by more people. But we’re still dealing with marketplace dynamics, and one way to view this is in terms of efficiency: Any time there’s inefficiency in a market, such as when two sides can’t agree on what to measure, there is greater risk that the assets will not be priced correctly.

The history of all marketplaces bears out the benefits of transparency and some level of cooperation between key players — in this case, between content creators, platform providers, advertisers and content consumers. There are signs that change is coming.

The three biggest content platforms today are Facebook, Twitter and Google (YouTube), and they’ve been rightly protective of their intellectual property (IP). They have traditionally held back from independent measurement/verification of viewing stats, but the massive amount of money at stake is creating unstoppable pressure toward change in this direction. Facebook and Twitter have announced viewability measurement partnerships with Moat, an analytics and measurement company (disclosure: Moat is a Mayfield investment).

We’ve seen activity from others in this area, too. Mixpanel is an analytics platform focused on actions for mobile and web, and has raised $77 million in the past six years. Chartbeat provides real-time analytics to websites and blogs; the New York-based company raised $15.5 million earlier this year. Parse.ly, which has raised $6 million, partners with digital publishers on analytics focused on how readers are responding to content. And Contently, which has raised $12 million, helps creators manage and understand their premium content.

The issue here is frequently cast as a battle between tech platforms and advertisers. In reality, it’s a much bigger and broader matter. Ad blocking, for example, is not as widespread as commonly portrayed (we estimate in the 10-15 percent range), but we view it as a user experience issue and not an advertiser-fear issue.

The “genie is out of the bottle” so to speak, as control has fundamentally shifted to the consumer of content, and everyone now needs to adapt to this new reality. Advertisers and content producers deserve clarity about what’s being blocked and when — at that point, they’ll focus on the real matter at hand, which is creating better content and advertising experiences for consumers.

We’re working toward true accountability of knowing what was viewed, what was engaged with and what the real measure is of what a reader is paying attention to. Just as we’ve seen with the evolution of health and wellness toward Quantified Self, we’re well into an age of Quantified Content — and now it’s time for a clearer view of what exactly we’re quantifying. As with Quantified Self, we’ve got enough instrumentation to provide real-time data feeds at the most granular levels — now it’s time to measure, make sense of and act upon those signals.

In doing so, we just might finally solve the age-old marketer’s conundrum of not knowing which half of all advertising gets wasted or unseen.

Image: Pixabay

This post originally appeared on TechCrunch