Attention: a case of 'less is more'?
Optimising for attention can create better outcomes for media owners and advertisers. But changing attitudes over audience numbers means challenging the status quo.
For attention metrics to succeed, we have to overcome the first rule of audience measurement.
Very early in my media research career, I was taken to one side and reminded by my boss that I had forgotten this rule. It says that even though a particular methodology may be more accurate and provide more granularity, there is one overarching principle that every researcher will appreciate.
That is: “Big numbers are better than small”.
Why TV has been slower to adopt ‘attention’
It might sound contrary, but in practice this means that ‘less is more’ when it comes to attention measurement.
I know this because, over the last three years, I have become more involved in the use and application of attention metrics via my role with The Attention Council. For attention metrics to hold sway across media then we have to overcome this basic rule of audience measurement.
Let’s see why, starting with video.
Whilst we have seen rapid adoption of attention metrics in the digital domain, there has seen a somewhat slower adoption in TV. When discussing this with TV executives, the objections tend to range from: “we can’t control for creative quality” (I am not sure you can totally with a GRP/Impression count), through to: “attention cannot be factored into an annual agency deal” (perhaps a more valid complaint in a market like the UK).
Although one of the key reasons the buy side is using attention metrics is because they see a strong and consistent correlation with outcomes, we need to be mindful of specific concerns over attention and audience measurement.
Namely, it appears to risk breaking the first rule.
The big change in incorporating ‘attention’ into audience measurement is that we move from a gross opportunity to see (OTS) to a net OTS. Route, the UK outdoor currency, already does this; Route nets its audience to take account of the visibility of billboards and other sites.
In a TV context, that means we are going beyond presence in the room, to eyes on screen.
In principle this means we reduce the broad quantum of the audience. Although our friends at Thinkbox will show you an ethnographic study conducted by Gorilla in the Room that shows that commercial messages can be consumed and retained by consumers not watching the screen.*
The question from an audience measurement perspective is whether, in order to create a common planning metric, we should then focus on visual attentive seconds, which is the metric that the majority of users are aligning around for video applications.
I have yet to see an audience measurement system that does not involve some form of compromise.
Challenging the status quo
If we look at the adoption of attention metrics across the sell-side of the video market (TV and premium video), we see significantly higher levels of adoption on the “digital” side of the business when compared to “TV”.
What are the reasons for this?
1. The trading system in the UK market
I recently took a call from a leading TV network, who had been approached by three agency holdcos, all wanting to do their annual contract negotiation on attention metrics. The question he put to me was quite simple: how can I manage a deal on that basis as there is no continuous independent measurement benchmark** that would allow a neutral evaluation of a deal based on attention?
It is difficult at this point in time to see a UK agency TV deal being transacted entirely on attention (and price).
We should not underestimate the power of the existing modus operandi. It is arguable that TV trading (due to the limits of contracts rights renewal) has not really moved on in 20 years in the UK.
3. Inventory supply
In the digital domain, it has become a truism to say there is an excess of advertising inventory and of highly disparate quality. This has enabled significant changes to the measurement ecosystem, such as the introduction of verification services like Moat and IAS.
For most premium publishers, they see themselves as being the “wheat separated from chaff” and have upwardly adjusted their CPTs to reflect this. The wider usage of attention metrics in the digital market has seen a further premiumisation of the market.
However, feedback from the US market would suggest that the recent, softer upfront left the major networks having to work a little harder to sell their less-demanded inventory. This, in turn, stimulated a greater level of investment in attention measurement than previously seen.
With the growth in streaming options from both traditional broadcasters and newer players, will we see attention being used as a common denominator to evaluate what might be low audience channels with more highly engaged audiences?
So how have attention metrics changed the industry (albeit more significantly in digital media)?
It boils down to this: we have seen a further separation of premium publisher’s inventory from poorer quality offers.
These publishers, in many cases, have adapted their ad formats, decluttered their websites, and, in several cases, reduced their ad load. They see this as a virtuous circle, serving fewer ads in more attention-grabbing formats (at a higher CPT), creating a more effective solution for advertisers across the effectiveness funnel. Some digital publishers are now selling attention-guaranteed inventory solutions.
We’re seeing the first rule of attention measurement being challenged. Because, almost by definition, those solutions are being achieved with lower audience counts.
In other words, less can truly be more!
Andy Brown is CEO of The Attention Council
*My (only slightly) tongue-in-cheek response to this study: as an advertiser, why I am paying for an audio-visual cost per thousand and getting an audio delivery? To be fair to Thinkbox, and the UK TV industry in general, there is undoubtedly some impact of audio branding.
** TVision runs a 300-home continuous panel reporting attention metrics in the UK. At this juncture, it is in a pilot phase and would be unlikely to be robust enough for trading.