Recently in Media Category

I just watched Clay Shirky's presentation from Web 2.0. Jake calls it the most significant thing you’ll read/watch this year, and I'm inclined to agree. If you do just one thing with this post, watch the video. Afterward, I'll toss Clay's thoughts up in the air with the attention crash to see what happens.

Crash, or gear shift?
It's interesting to consider Clay's view in light of the attention crash/attention economy conversations that pop up so much these days. Information overload is easy to find (the chocolate factory), but when you consider how much time goes into television consumption, is it really fair to say that we're running low on attention?

Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.

And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement.

Dad always used to say that watching television would "rot your brain." Clay's suggesting that, on a societal level, it was really keeping our brains out of trouble. If we collectively were to get serious about getting our brains out of the TV and into gear, I wonder what we would accomplish?

Attention and media companies
Economics is about allocating scarce resources, and of course we're all individually limited in the amount of attention we have. The challenge is for the businesses that are built on the cognitive heat sink. As the attention economy reallocates resources in the media market from consumption to production and sharing, is your company selling buggy whips or transportation?

Measuring engagement directly

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I follow discussions of web analytics only peripherally, but it's hard to miss the continuing discussions of how to define engagement, including equations with a lot of terms or a few. Meanwhile, I'm constantly checking out new (to me) companies that may be doing something I need to know about. This week, I discovered a company with a more, um, direct method for measuring audience engagement.

Forget the analytics definitions and think about what engagement really means. Focus. Attention. Tunnel vision. Racing pulse. Sweaty palms. You know when you're engaged in something. And the analytics discussions generally start from a definition close to the plain-English meaning before setting off to discover a method to determine engagement based on observable web behavior.

Innerscope Research goes back to the original definition by observing physiological responses to media. They connect test audiences to biometric sensors that measure respiration, motion, heart rate and skin conductance, with eye-tracking to track attention.

Once the test subject is suited up, Innerscope can observe what the subject is watching and the subject's response. Physiological reponses are faster and more accurate than conscious answers, and the metering supports an analysis across the duration of the media exposure. The basic logic is simple: if the content makes you sweat or raises your pulse, you're engaged.

Attention + Intensity = Engagement
Innerscope has run experiments with both TV ads and viral videos. While the engagement vest isn't going to become standard attire for media consumers, it does suggest a possible test for competing definitions based on more convenient data sources.

Who chooses the news?

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In the last few days, I've read two interesting articles about news and its audience. In very different ways, the articles look at how traditional media favor the predictable stories. Today, as I watched the Scoble/Facebook/Plaxo mini-maelstrom spin up before turning into an interesting discussion of privacy / data portability / contracts (pick a theme, any theme), I thought about what becomes the lead story online. Celebrity scandal, it seems, sells online, too.

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
- Henry Mencken

John Hockenberry confirms low opinions of network television news in the January/February issue of Technology Review. Among the many indictments, he describes the network's fixation on a chosen narrative and stories that provoke an emotional response. If it bleeds, it leads, unless it contradicts the approved story line. It's interesting to consider the same mindset planning local TV stations' murder-and-mayhem hour (aka the 11 o'clock news).

They misunderestimated me.
- George W. Bush

Moving from screen to print, Michael Hirschorn dissected front page story selection in the December issue of The Atlantic. Comparing most-emailed lists from major newspapers to their front pages, he discovered that readers' interests are not framed by the media-driven narrative:

The most-e-mailed lists… were a rich stew of global affairs, provocative insight, hot-button issues, pop culture, compelling narrative, and enlightened localism. In short, they were interesting.

So, basically, quality writing captures people's interest. Shocking. Hirschorn sees newspaper readers choosing interesting stories over important stories, but in combination with Hockenberry's stories, I wonder if that's a reaction to the drumbeat of the narrative.

The notion of a user-selected front page is an interesting thought, but we know from Digg and Techmeme that the democratized approach has its own issues. Imagine the fun if "optimizers" found a way to game the front page of the New York Times...

No, I'd rather see editors and producers get serious with the journalism stuff. Compete with YouTube on the celebrity noise if you must, but remember the audience that is attracted to quality content and that will share what it finds interesting.

Social media headlines
So, anyway, I'm indulging my Twitter habit today, and suddenly everyone in the bubble is talking about Scoble and his little tiff with Facebook. Eventually, everyone blogged their opinions, and it took over Techmeme. The Wall Street Journal has $100 oil; we get a screen-scraping scandal.

Once the story hit the blogs, it got picked up by the memetrackers, but if you really wanted to keep up, you had to follow Twitter—a huge time sink, and impossible to read it all. What if someone were to build a memetracker that summarized Twitter discussions in near-real time? Not just stats, popularity or visualization, but an actual summary? Then everyone could be in on the 30-second news cycle that is the social media echosphere.

Yeah, I know, it has all sorts of challenges. If it were easy, I'd do it myself.

Update: Enter Tweetmeme. Will this do the trick?

Fear and loathing in media land

I have no intention of turning this into a media blog, but the symbiotic—or is it codependent—relationship between the media and advertising businesses provided the day's best reading, again. Friday, it was the IBM paper on media strategies, predicting divergent strategies for content and media distribution. Today, Bob Garfield lit up the advertising world with Chaos Scenario 2.0, an Ad Age cover article on how mass media and mass marketing are threatened by the same trends.

Print it now, before the article goes behind the subscribers-only wall.

Online distribution appears to be the future of entertainment video, from the open distribution of YouTube or the paid download of iTunes. Garfield paints a challenging, but ultimately positive, picture for marketers, while advertisers will need to get on their interactive game if they want to be part of the emerging system. The biggest challenge appears to confront traditional media outlets.

You can hardly turn around without bumping into a prediction (observation?) of the death of the newspaper. The current environment is equally threatening to TV and radio. Garfield lists examples of media companies losing value and otherwise experiencing pain as he leads to a conclusion that the advertiser-supported model is failing. The IBM model suggests a movement toward very low-cost content and micro niche targeting, but what if the revenue model has to change?

Garfield mentions The Digital Consumer: Examining Trends in Digital Media, the January 2007 Oppenheimer report on trends in media and related industries. That one requires a bit more commitment, coming in at 92 pages. Garfield pulls a quote that summarizes the challenge for media companies: content "is not likely to be ad-supported."

If that's not the starting point for a very interesting strategy session, I don't know what is.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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