The War For Attention

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POLITICO co-founder, Jim VandeHei, wrote a great post recently called “Escaping the Digital Media ‘Crap Trap’”. He contends that era of mass-produced web content designed to attract clicks has led to a decline in quality, but that the pendulum is swinging back to thoughtful, well-written and produced stories and videos.

This a welcome development, but in the age of unlimited choice, how can quality  content stand out and attract a financially viable audience?

There’s a screen in every pocket, but with an overabundance of things to read, watch and listen to, the struggle for viewers’ attention is fierce. Audiences are trending downwards for every piece of content, and have been for decades. US TV audiences (ex-Superbowl) peaked 30 years ago, when the population was 28% smaller. Now consumers have shifted online, shattering the mass market into a million tiny niches.

There is too much content being produced for anyone to consume it all, even within specific interests and genres. How many blog posts do you read a day? What about NYT articles, news aggregators like Drudge Report, and of course Facebook. Blogs on every topic under the sun. Smart newsletters from Nuzzel, InsideThe Information. Podcasts by the hundred. 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube videos per minute409 original series on network, cable and OTT (streaming) television.

The volume of content has exploded, but the number of minutes in the day to consume it has remain steadfastly fixed. So the age of mass viewership/ readership/listenership is over, and content owners fight over ever-smaller pieces of the audience pie.

For consumers lost on this ocean of choice, VandeHei offers technology as a lighthouse:

“Thanks to technology, all your devices will know what you want, where you are and how to serve up content the way you want to consume it at that very moment.”

Predicting what your audience wants and getting it to them before they know they want it is the Holy Grail in a content-saturated world. What’s the best way to deliver this?

One device that knows lots about your content consumption habits is the smartphone. This is why we see mobile operators developing content strategies, with video as the centerpiece. A scan of recent strategy presentations of major global operators reveals that mobile advertising, analytics and video are expected to take them to the next level of growth.

Operators are making serious plays to become the next generation cable companies, acquiring valuable rights, making original content, and partnering with OTT players like Netflix. It makes sense – they know so much about you – even when you’re not using your device.

The old business models based on content scarcity are going away. In the war for attention, the smartphone will be a valuable weapon in the content distributor’s arsenal. With the right technology, mobile will be the centerpiece of a push-centric distribution strategy, where content and context combine to cut through the clutter at just the right moment.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media, a startup enabling new business models for mobile operators and OEMs. Like this and follow me for regular updates on mobile, media and the video value chain.