The Future of The Attention Economy

Kevin Kelly shares his view on what the future of the attention economy holds.

Below are my notes.

We are producing more and more things, a world of abundance.

The one thing that is scarce is our attention, limited to a maximum of 24 hours per day (if you were not to sleep).

Currently, a lot of services are paid for by our attention.

Anything that is supported by advertising is paid for by our attention.

We use our attention to watch an ad which in turn enables the service to be provided at no immediate financial cost to us.

Most things you consume on a screen are paid for by your attention.

Ironically, our attention is very valuable but we surrender it for very little.

For example, if someone sends you an email you read it without too much consideration for the cost of doing so.

Kelly believes giving away our most valuable thing for free is not sustainable.

We will move towards charging for our attention.

For instance, if you want me to watch an ad, you will pay me.

At present, television charges about only $2-$3 an hour for people’s attention.

Kelly sees a future where advertisers and brands are much closer to the final consumer.

This implies cutting out the current intermediaries.

It is already partially happening.

Brands go directly to influencers and pay them to bring their product to the attention of consumers.

This cuts out advertising agencies and media companies.

Another potential avenue is for individuals to curate advertisements.

Anyone with a digital platform could choose products that they like, run their ads and earn some revenue in the process.

Kind of like Adsense but with greater control and input into what ads are shown.

The attention scarcity is challenged by an ever increasing content production.

How do we find the good stuff?

With the gradual disappearance of middle people in the ecosystem, critics/curators/reviewers don’t have the same platforms as they used to.

Recommendation algorithms (think Amazon, YouTube or Netflix) are becoming more important in this context but are not sufficient.

These algorithms tend not to surface ‘unexpected’ recommendations, surprises.

One final consideration for the future of attention is the ability to focus it on creating rather than consuming.

YouTube launches Shorts

YouTube has announced the launch of Shorts.

Shorts are videos with a maximum length of 15 seconds.

Sounds familiar?

This product has been likened to TikTok.

Interestingly this feature has been launched in beta in India.

Interesting because India’s government banned TikTok in June following clashes between the Indian and Chinese armies in border regions on the Himalayas.

The ban has left a massive hole in the digital arena in India.

YouTube describes Shorts as “a new short-form video experience right on YouTube for creators and artists who want to shoot short, catchy videos using nothing but their mobile phones.”

The scant details provided make Shorts sound a lot like Musical.ly, the first iteration of TikTok.

Creators will be able to use music clips, string multiple clips together and speed controls to aid creativity.

Less than the current offering from TikTok but it’s a first iteration.

YouTube is selling the idea of creating Shorts thanks to its 2 billion people reach.

TikTok is renowned for its algorithm.

The magic sauce that has contributed to a lot of its success.

YouTube is one of the platforms well placed to replicate these achievements.

It already has a very sophisticated suggestion algorithm built on billions of views by billions of users.

One issue, in my opinion, is that short videos is all that TikTok does.

The user uses the app for one reason.

This is an advantage that YouTube does not have.

How YouTube integrates Shorts into the users’ experience remains to be seen.

Also, will Shorts displace or take away time from other YouTube content?

In the very short term, if TikTok gets banned from the US, YouTube will have a very strong incentive to accelerate the deployment of Shorts in order to capture users suddenly starved of 15 seconds videos.

The power of an engaged audience

AP News reports on the impact that an appearance on ‘The Rachel Maddow Show‘ has on book sales.

The Rachel Maddow Show reaches million of viewers on MSNBC, has over 10 million followers on Twitter and nearly 3 million on Facebook.

In short, it has a big audience.

But what is important for book publishers is that the audience is a book-buying engaged audience.

Other shows may have a larger audience but appearing on them may not generate the same number of book sales.

“There isn’t any show on television that sells more books than Maddow,” says Keith Urbahn of the Javelin literacy agency, where clients include former FBI Director James Comey and former Hillary Clinton aide Jennifer Palmieri. “She has the most engaged, book buying audience bar none. Every time one of our authors has been on, she has shot the book to number one.”

A similar point can be made for Oprah’s or Reese Witherspoon’s book clubs.

They are influential destinations with highly engaged audiences.

The size of the audience is obviously important but it shouldn’t be the most important metric.

There are other shows and influencers that have bigger audiences but that wouldn’t deliver the same results.

Having an author interviewed about her latest book during half time of any major sport is very unlikely to deliver the sales boost that Rachel Maddow delivers.

The audience might be large but unlikely to engage with the topic being discussed.

Similarly, if you sell camping equipment, The Rachel Maddow show is unlikely to help you reach an engaged audience.

The ‘great outdoors’ program showing at 2pm on a Saturday on a secondary digital TV channel on the other hand….

In short, find where your engaged audience is likely to congregate and then put yourself in front of them there.

Twitch benefits from coronavirus lockdown

eMarketer reports that the video viewing platform Twitch has seen traffic rise as people spend more time at home.

Estimates for the US market put the number of users for 2020 at 41.5 million.

This number is considerably higher than eMarketer’s own February prediction of 37.5 million.

YOY growth is predicted to slow down to just above 5% for each of the next 4 years.

This should bring the number of users to close to 52 million in 2024.

Such a prediction is based on things going back to some level of ‘normality’.

The growth is driven by both gaming and non-gaming channels.

According to eMarketer, many first-time users are starting by exploring options such as ‘music’ and ‘just chatting’.

US Twitch Users 2019-2020

(Source: eMarketer; September 2020)

Advertising spend on podcasts to skyrocket

According to eMarketer, advertising spend on podcasts is set to pass the $1M mark next year.

This figure relates to the US market and follows sustained audience growth over the last few years.

The forecast also puts at 20% the level of advertising going to podcasts when compared to digital radio.

The growth predicted by eMarketer in advertising spend for the medium is very impressive.

This year it is forecast to grow by 10.4%, reaching $782M, while next year it should jump by 45% and exceed the $1M threshold.

Shelleen Shum, eMarketer forecasting director at Insider Intelligence, said “The continued growth in podcast advertising is no surprise, as investments have made podcasts accessible to a wider audience. The news genre, a focus of many podcast advertisers, has performed well during the pandemic. While some ad campaigns were paused in H1 due to the uncertainty from COVID-19 lockdowns, we expect a rebound in Q3 and Q4.”

One change highlighted by eMarketer’s analysis is the shift towards more programmatic selling of podcast ad inventory.

At present only 4% is bought programmatically but as the deployment of audience measurement technology increases this figure should rise to 8% by 2022.

Estimates put the US podcast audience at 105.6 million, about half the size of the digital radio audience.

In short, if you are planning to advertise on podcasts today is the day to do it!

All other things being equal, it will become more expensive over the next couple of years.

Alibaba needs world influencers to win war

Alibaba is reportedly recruiting influencers outside of China to grow its share of eCommerce.

Influencers that sell through live-streaming are a massive feature of the Chinese ecommerce landscape.

Alibaba now wants to export and adapt the model internationally.

To do so is looking to hire an army of influencers that can sell through AliExpress, its international retail arm.

The reason behind this goal is the current tiny size, by comparison with Alibaba’s presence in China, of its international segment.

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Alibaba intends to recruit 1 million of such international influencers by 2023.

The key is to find people that can sell in a specific language and to a specific culture.

These salespeople would also help to overcome the current lack of trust towards the quality of a lot of products available on AliExpress.

Live-streaming in China is an established way of selling. According to iiMedia Research, $63 billion of goods were sold through the medium in China in 2019.

The one big advantage for Chinese companies is a big market that, broadly, speaks the same language and has a similar culture.

Many other markets, Europe for instance, present more challenges as they are more fragmented both because of language or geographical differences.

The difference in consumer mindset is also a challenge.

Observers note that the Chinese consumer has a keener eye and interest in bargains and is more willing to sit through a 30 minutes sales pitch.

It is yet to be seen if the European or North American consumer behaves in the same way.

Finally, the time spent on mobile phones is much higher for Chinese users, making the transition to consumers of live-streaming much easier.

Facebook updates policies ahead of 2020 US election

Mark Zuckerberg gave a town hall update during which he tackled the issue of reviewing Facebook’s policies ahead of the 2020 U.S. election.

The objective of the review is, in his words, “to connect people to authoritative information about voting, to crackdown on voter suppression and to fight hate speech.”

The first change aims at providing more authoritative information empowering more people to register to vote. How to register, how and when you can vote, voting by mail, early voting. All these are especially important during a pandemic when some people may be afraid of going out.

The voting information centre will be shown at the top of both Facebook ánd Instagram.

In the 72 hours leading up to election day, Facebook will work with local election authorities to evaluate any claim regarding voting conditions (e.g. large queues ect).

Facebook are also going to ban posts that make false claims.

Plus, they are creating a higher standard for hateful content and ads.

Zuckerberg underlines that, within this context, there already is a more stringent standard for ads when compared to personal posts.

From today Facebook is going to update its policies in order to prohibit claims that people from a specific race, a specific ethnicity, national origin or religious affiliation or caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety or health or survival of other people.

(My comment: shouldn’t have this already be in place?)

Also, ads will be prohibited if they express disgust or contempt at immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers.

Soon Facebook will be labeling content that they leave up because they deem it to be newsworthy (even if some people may find it offensive).

The exception is if Facebook believes that the content will lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote.

All of the above, in the context of many big advertisers pulling their spend from Facebook claiming failure in policing hate speech.

In a first, Google impacted by surprise drop in ad revenue

eMarketer has revealed some fascinating news.

According to its latest forecast, net US digital ad revenues will decline in absolute terms. 

In other words, Google is taking home fewer dollars than the year before.

This has never happened since eMarketer started forecasting such a metric.

In its estimate, eMarketer puts the figure at $39.58 billion for 2020.

This is 5.3% down on the previous year.

This in the context of a slightly increasing triopoly.

The combined U.S. ad revenues of Google, Amazon and Facebook combined is estimated to grow by $1.69 billion, approximately 2%.

This means that Google is losing market share while Facebook and Amazon are growing both in absolute and in % terms.

Nicole Perrin, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, said “Google has been growing its net US ad revenues at a slower rate than the overall digital ad market since 2016, so this year will continue a trend of Google losing digital ad market share in the US.”

The challenges to the digital advertising market are linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economy crisis.

eMarketer has revised sharply downwards its pre-COVID-19 forecasts.

Google has been particularly impacted as it derives a considerable amount of revenue from the travel industry.

Google is Keen for you to share your passion

Google has launched Keen, a competitor to Pinterest.

To be precise, Keen was created by Area 120 and PAIR at Google.

Area 120 is a ‘workshop for Google’s experimental products’. It’s where Googlers famously spend 20% of their time on passion projects.

PAIR is People and AI Research is a team at Google that is concerned with making sure that AI is built with people in mind.

Keen is itself an experiment.

Its aim is to offer users a new way to curate their interests.

A bit like you do on Pinterest.

With the help of Artificial Intelligence, Keen wants to improve on the recommendations it surfaces to users.

By using the Google Search Index (and presumably your Google Search history), Keen aims to expand your interests by showing you personalised recommendations.

Keen is available both via the browser and via an Android app.

A word of warning, the app does not get good reviews in Google Play.

Most of the negative feedback relates to the app crashing.

I have downloaded it and it has worked fine for me.

Once you create a profile, the more convenient option is with your Google profile, you can start building a ‘Keen‘ (a Pinterest board basically) or start following already existing ones.

After creating a ‘Keen‘, you can add collaborators to it and start adding resources that you have found around the web.

If you make the ‘Keen‘ ‘public’, it can be discovered via search and on Keen itself.

My first impression of ‘Keen‘ has been good.

I must admit I am not a Pinterest user and probably not the target user for Keen either.

Having said that I am curious about any machine learning input into the surfacing of interests that I may not come across in my daily browsing.

My main concern regards the longevity of this product.

If Keen does not meet whatever its objectives are in terms of user growth (or other relevant metric) what will happen to my ‘Keens’ if the product is discontinued?

Would I be wasting my time in building a ‘library’ only to lose it once someone in San Francisco pulls the plug?

The power of new media for distributing a message

Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit, recently made the news.

Within the context of protests across the United States, and indeed the world, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Alexis resigned from the Reddit board and suggested a black candidate should replace him.

Alexis Ohanian was asked by many media types for an interview.

Instead he gave an exclusive to Serena Williams on Instagram.

For those who don’t know, Alexis and Serena are married.

The topic of the discussion is obviously the main reason to watch the clip in its entirety.

And I thoroughly recommend you do.

I have found extremely enlightening.

Within the context of this blog, the intersection of digital platforms/marketing/publishing, what caught my eye was Alexis’choice in terms of the distribution of his message.

Serena Williams has, at time of writing, 12.4M followers on Instagram.

The video on IGTV has been viewed, so far,1.4 million times.

IGTV is the long form video offering from Instagram.

Why would Ohanian go to The New York Times (9.4M followers on Instagram), to The Washington Post (3.3M followers) or BBC News (13.5M followers)?

Serena Williams’ reach is comparable or a lot better to that of many of these major players in the news industry.

With Serena, gone are any issues of mistrust in the media and of how some outlets aim for a ‘gotcha’ moment.

The interview can be more constructive as both parties have discussed the issues for a long time before appearing on screen.

Serena offers the perspective of a global personality directly impacted for many, many years by this topic.

As such, the interview strikes a chord that might have been difficult to strike had the interviewer been, with respect, a less known individual.

Additionally, Serena’s followers and fans are likely to be more interested in a conversation between her and her husband than the average NYT or CNN follower.

The final result is, to me, a much more genuine and valuable conversation.

The sort of conversation that we should be having as a society.

Longer term, my belief is that Serena Williams will be a bigger media company than most of the current media companies.