Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Media Audiences and the concept of 'engagement'

This month I have had the chance to spend some time in the USA interviewing media executives and exchanging thoughts with a leading academic researcher in the field of ´Media Audience Measurement´. Philip M. Napoli is the Professor of Communication and Media Management at the Fordham Schools of Business. He has published a good number of research papers and has written five books, most recently "Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences", published in 2011. Philip takes an active interest in movies and even considered becoming a screenwriter before he became actively involved with research in this field. Although knowledgeable in new technologies and information systems Professor Napoli states that he is a multi platform user himself and reads most of his academic books in print.

I enjoyed my day at the Fordham University campus located in the Bronx, New York. I had the privilege to attend classes with young students of computer sciences and media, and truly enjoyed the active dialog that took place in the morning class, discussing former WIRED editor Chris Anderson's book "Free" (published in 2009). The discussion evolved around different business models for content, for instance the "Freemium" model of e.g. ESPN (sports), Hulu Plus (Movies & TV shows) and Finnish gaming company Supercell (the game Clash of Clans is a high-grossing game, available on App Store for free, but you can buy tools and troops to help you win). The interesting finding was that in the morning class only one person was an advocate of free access to content, most of the others commented that they do subscribe to various media and tech services with a monthly payment. A few years ago the attitude towards paid content was quite different in class, according to Professor Napoli. In the afternoon we had a bigger class with focus on audience measurement.

I will now take the opportunity to discuss some of the key terminology used in the book "Audience Evolution". For those interested in the media behavior of consumers and audience measurement I recommend that you read the whole book: it's available on Amazon as a Kindle edition and in print. The book deals with the changing media environment, where new technologies have provided audiences more choice and control in terms of when, where and how they consume their media. The new technologies and social media platforms have provided consumers with multiple opportunities to interact with their media, to provide feedback and to influence outcomes. And today user-generated content is a large part of the media content as consumers have become producers and distributors of content as well.

"Audience autonomy refers to the extent to which the contemporary media environment provides audiences with unprecedented levels of control over not only what media they consume, but also when, where, and how they consume it; and also, increasingly, the extent to which audiences have the power to more than mere media consumers, becoming contributors to the media environment as well."

The term "media fragmentation" refers to the technological processes that increase the range of content options available to media consumers". The notion fragmentation can be broken down further: "inter-media fragmentation" involves the growth of new delivery platforms e.g. for a magazine new mobile platforms including the tablet and the smartphone (look at for example Sports Illustrated and the way they have built mobile applications for their iconic magazine and its special editions). The New York Times is published as a printed newspaper, online content can be read at NYTimes.com and on Amazon's Kindle, on Flipboard and on any tablet or smartphone.

"Intra-media fragmentation refers to the processes that subdivide choices within particular media technologies." In practice this means that consumers have more choice within e.g. TV media including multiple cable channels, satellite and onlinte content. Content is also to a certain extent disaggregating from the advertisements that have traditionally been embedded within it e.g. classified ads used to be part of a newspaper, now on they have emerged to Craigslist. Or if you subscribe to Netflix, you do not need to bother about advertising interrupting your viewing of House of Cards (a novel concept of producing a TV drama series for a subscription service only).

In his book Professor Napoli also discusses the abundance of content in the universe: "Audience attention can now be dispersed across an unprecedented array of content options." This implies an increased "Audience fragmentation". Reference is made to the 
The Long Tail article and book by WIRED's former editor Chris Anderson. Anderson wrote: "Forget squeezing millions from a few megabits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream." Or in Napoli's words: "The dynamics of the new media environment enhance the importance, and even the revenue potential, of niche content relative to hits". In this context I could mention a new media concept launched this year in Finland. LongPlay is a platform for long form journalism, a start-up set up by Finnish journalists, where the business model is based on selling one single story each month at the cost of approx. 4 euros ($5). It remains to be seen how this business model will work, but the concept is novel.

One argument that Professor Napoli states regarding business models is that the increased fragmentation of media content and the growing long tail puts pressure on monetization of new platforms: "As audiences for any individual piece of content migrate into newer delivery platforms, the ability of content providers to monetize them has been diminishing."
The concept of engagement is not new. "For years this notion has hovered at the margins of media and advertising communities, taking its strongest hold within the context of the print media, as magazines and newspapers emphasized the engagement of their audiences in an effort to convince advertisers in the unique value of their readers. Today, however, the concept of engagement has moved from the periphery to the center of how media organizations and advertisers are thinking about audiences."

"Traditional audience information systems is generating substantial convent and discontent among advertisers, media buyers, and content providers. Many within the industry remain pessimistic that such efforts can successfully counter the forces working against traditional exposure metrics" e.g. number of "eyeballs", readers, viewers etc. "The time when ignorance was bliss has passed. If there is one term that recurs more than any other throughout the industry trade press, conferences, and conventions today, that term is accountability."

Audience appreciation of the content they consume can today be expressed through a variety of means, such as the ratings and recommendations systems that audiences participate in via online content providers such as Amazon and Netflix, or community review and ratings sites such as RottenTomatoes.com and IMDb.com. (e.g. for movies and TV series).

FIGURE above: AUDIENCE DIMENSIONS from the book chapter 

"In order to effectively address these emerging audience information systems, it is first important to thoroughly deconstruct the notion of audience behavior". Each of the elements above are explained in detail in chapter 3. of the book. The elements of engagement came about looking at what was happening in the media industries, the different elements are byproducts of exposure.

What is more interesting is the metrics associated with engagement and behavioral responses to content. Attitude and emotions are part of behavioral responses, complementing more traditional exposure based metrics. 

Monetization requires improved measurement of audience engagement and for example tablet engagement will be measured by the members of MPA - The Association of Magazine Media in the U.S. MPA has published guidelines for measurement of engagement. Ref: Measuring Magazine Tablet Issues, MPA (interview with Chris Kevorkian, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer).

MPA has recommended five initial metrics for use by magazine publishers, agencies and advertisers. These metrics are for exposure-driven engagement only, even if it could be argued that the frequency of reading an issue is telling something about emotional engagement to the magazine content. Chris Kevorkian comments that MPA research shows that magazine readers continue to engage with their tablet editions as long as a month after the on-sale date of the publication:  
  1. total consumer paid digital issues (subscriptions and digital paid issues)
  2. total number of readers per issue (issues opened by individual devices)
  3. total number of sessions per issue (aggregate number of times an issue was accessed)
  4. total amount of time spent per reader per issue (time spent on average with an issue across the total audience)
  5. average number of sessions per reader per issue (the average number of times each reader accessed the issue)
It's still early days in research of the measurement of engagement ("stickiness") and there needs to be a better understanding of what this means to advertisers. There are many definitions of the concept of engagement, but it is still open to multiple interpretations. Measurement of engagement has been too much about "outdated silo models" specific for exposure on one delivery channel only e.g. Radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, online. Today content is consumed on a multiple of media platforms.

Multitasking is a challenge, as set-top boxes do not measure what people do while they are watching a TV show or movie. Panels are required to find out what people really think of the content, and whether they are engaged with advertising of just "fast forwarding" to skip ads on their DVRs.

Measurement systems are not keeping up with the rapid development of new platforms and mobile technology. Professor Napoli thinks this is a real challenge, although both comScore and Nielsen are working on new measurement systems. In Scandinavia we have a forward-looking firm named Enreach specializing in audience targeting and audience engagement reporting (Enreach is located in Helsinki and Stockholm).

The problem according to Professor Napoli is that some of the new software is looking like "spyware" getting into individual's activities and even transactional behavior. The research firms are unwilling to give data to academic researchers, they have their own experts and are cautious about giving out any amount of data. There is more interest from commercial firms concerning methodological research in order to improve methods.

Are magazines better placed to target audiences than newspapers? Magazines are a much more fragmented media by definition. Also more international, when you compare with a regional newspaper like Boston Globe. Magazines have a long history of content based targeting and their online content has potential for global reach, depending on the demographics of their particular content e.g. movie magazines and magazine content dealing with global sports like snowboarding. Philip likes the movie magazine Empire both in print and in his Facebook feed. That is a targeted magazine for movie lovers with an online service and social media platforms to support it. Movies can be equally engaging in magazine format.

I thank Philip Napoli warmly for the interview and the opportunity to attend classes at Fordham University. I will be coming back to the subject of measurement of engagement and behavioral responses to content in further blog posts.

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