Data, attention and value for digital media

In popular media outlets there are daily messages about how consumer data is being sold to unscrupulous companies for illicit purposes.

While this may be true in some specific cases involving illegal hacking groups from faraway lands, it has little bearing on the digital media ecosystem and economy.

Here is why…

Data is an asset. It is difficult to acquire and once generally available loses its value. Whether major players like Experian or any of the legion of ad networks running DMP (data management platforms) – the one thing you can bet on is that they won’t sell their data.

Data is a filter. Data companies use their data to sort, filter and direct the flow of data through the massive pipes that make up the advertising ecosystem. An ad is dropped into the top of the machine with a desired target demographic or customer intent and when all works correctly the ad is displayed to the right person at the right time.

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Attention, not data, has the real value. Publishers provide an audience and the audience agrees to share part of their attention with the advertisers who subsidise the media they are consuming.

And what has happened to consumer attention over the past 15 years? According to aMicrosoft study our attention span has reduced from 12 seconds to a paltry eight seconds.

We can think about that in a couple of different ways.

The average consumer’s attention span has diminished because we are consuming far more data and processing it far more quickly, so we don’t need to focus on one thing for so long to assess if it warrants more full and focused attention.

Or to put it another way, consumers have so many external interruptions coming at them from advertising trying to hook their attention that it is virtually impossible to maintain attention on just one thing – no matter how hard they try.

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Trust me, they are trying and the advertising industry has been responding. It’s like an arms race.

Consumers get better at ignoring the ads. The ad industry introduces pop-ups. Browsers learn to block pop-ups. We introduce Flash animations.

Browser plug-ins block Flash. We introduce interstitial ads. Consumers get gamer like hand eye coordination to find and click on the X to make the ad go away. We introduce auto-play video. Consumers turn it off.

The focus has been on hooking the consumer’s attention.;

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