Since the beginning of broadcast television, exposure was the currency of audience measurement. Gradually audience metrics evolved from tuning behavior, to program selection, to page views, to viewable impressions. Interestingly, none of these measures capture the audience’s engagement with media or the advertising. Today’s media companies collect or count on third parties for an abundance of measurement data including page views, expressions of liking and sharing to quantify audience attributes of value to advertisers but again none quantify the audience’s attention.
Jacob L. Nelson and James G. Webster of the International Journal on Media Management at Northwestern University recognized the need to further evolve media measurement. They designed a research study to analyze the relationship between the amount of time visitors spend on sites, news sites in particular, and the number of unique visitors the sites receive.
They used comScore data to analyze 887 news websites in their study “Audience Currencies in the Age of Big Data.” Through then analysis of this data which measured an individual’s time spent on a news site and the average number of minutes spent on a specific page, Nelson and Webster found that these two variables most accurately represented an individual’s level of engagement. In further probing, they also found no significant correlation between the number users a site reaches and the amount of time visitors spend on that site. In other words, the number of visitors to a site does not necessarily correlate to the level of engagement. In fact, unique visitors and attention measures are very different measurements, one identifies the quantify of visitors and the other the quality of visits (engagement).
While publishers and advertisers have begun to adopt an attention based metric, there is still research to be conducted. Specifically, for advertisers, confirming the value and predictability of the halo effect of user engagement on ad recall and effectiveness. In programmatic buying, advertisers need further qualification of a time based audience especially since heavy users are often the easiest for advertisers to reach (and cheaper too). Further, time based metrics should not be a measure of consumption where gimmicks ensure long visits that stimulate engagement. Attention metrics must ensure creative methods to monitor user activity and interest to protect against gaming of this measurement. Being that attention is a core requisite for retention, both publishers and advertiser stand to benefit using it as a media based currency.