Facebook Raising the Bar for Audience Engagement

In a nod to the quickly evolving world of audience measurement – as well as an acknowledgement that metrics need to develop even more quickly to keep up with behaviour – Facebook used its considerable clout to redefine engagement.  It did this the old-fashioned way – tracking how long people spend looking at individual items (in their newsfeed).

Why?  Because a like (or don’t like), a comment, or a share doesn’t necessarily = it wasn’t for them.

22nd-June-2015-Why-Facebook-Is-Tracking-Time-Spent-On-NewsfeedsThat’s right – sometimes people just want to see information without putting their stamp of approval on it.  That’s a good thing, particularly for global content providers who serve audiences across a wide variety of cultures, some of which would frown upon the acts of liking or commenting.

It’s also a smart move because more and more people, especially in younger demos, are using Facebook much more passively than when Facebook first burst onto the scene.  Engagement can mean many things across different media and Facebook has taken a big step in acknowledging audiences can interact with content in many different ways and how we measure needs to account for that.

The week in review: February 21st

Below is a quick summary of the top media stories from the past seven days, as well as new insights on media usage.

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At this rate, no one will regard 2014 as a quiet year for media.

This week,  Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp for a mere $19 billion.  Here’s one explanation as to why Facebook pulled off this surprise and here’s HBR’s perspective, which I think hits the nail on the head when it points out that unless you [Facebook] create an alternative, someone else will do it for you.  The waves created by this acquisition appeared to take some of the media spotlight away from the competitive concerns about Comcast’s plan to purchase Time Warner Cable, which are further magnifying the concerns about a US broadband crisis, something I can testify to myself after this past week on the home-front.

The Sochi Winter Olympics  are reaching their grand finale this weekend, which might be just as well for US audiences as ratings and interest starts to decline.  So far, interest has remained lower than the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.  However, Jimmy Fallon made a strong start as the new host of the iconic Tonight Show.  Mike Bloxham opines that he expects to see the new host perform well at bridging the generation gaps.

If you haven’t seen it already, eMarketer has put out it’s 2014 Key Digital Trends report and PewInternet has identified six types of Twitter conversation with a report to explain it all.  Speaking of Twitter… the most eye-catching stat of the week: half of all tweets about Television are about Sports, yet in the US, Sports makes only 1.2% of all TV programming.

Another top newspaper – the Boston Globe – is moving to a metered pay-wall, which will make their digital traffic, not to mention their future revenues, from this point forward very telling.

For now at least, Brits continue to watch telly on the television.  A new Thinkbox study shows that the average viewer watched only three minutes of TV on mobile devices; it’s hard to envision this number not increasing sharply soon. Meanwhile, the BBC World Service announced plans to launch a teenage news bulletin – similar to BBC Radio 1’s NewsBeat –  to gain younger audiences – they already reach 192 million people globally.

Did I miss any other major stories this week?  I’m sure I did.  If you think so, please do add them in the comments section below.

A vision for a very different news media

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Imagine a news media where the impact of journalism was measured not by how many people who saw the news report or show, but instead by the impact and the outcome on the audience.

This is one of the goals being sought by The Media Impact Project, based out of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  The Media Impact Project aspires to “be the global hub for the best research on measuring the impact of media.”

Such a change could be transformative for all of media.  Instead of today’s mainstream news organizations who get the most ears and eyes reaping the biggest share of advertising revenue, independent and non-profit news organizations who are doing investigative journalism to help create a more informed public might get more fairly rewarded.  These valued sources might also stand a better chance of surviving the current ‘cut-throat’ environment in which organizations live or die by the ratings.

Personally, I think this is one of the most exciting developments in all of media research right now, one that could change the industry’s understanding of its audience and change the content we consume each day.  Here’s why: the method you use to count the number of eyes and ears who see a news report, a documentary, a show, or a film determines what gets produced and what continues to be produced.  When you change the way you count, you can change where the advertising dollars go and you can change the comparative value of genres, demographic segments, stars, hosts, and entire industries.  As Jon Gertner succinctly explains, “change the way you measure [America’s] culture consumption and you change [America’s] culture business, maybe even the culture itself“.

The essence of this project points to the limitations of traditional media measurement – selecting a random sample, tracking their behavior, and then extrapolating that small sample across the entire population within the confines of standard demographic groups.  Media companies that can target their users precisely, such as Pandora which can target ads to specifc groups – such as Hispanic females, aged 25-44, in a US metro – might render the current ratings system obsolete much more quickly than many might realize, but until then, the industry is stuck with a less-than-ideal measurement system.

That’s not to say creating a new system of impact metrics will be easy.  The Media Impact Project will pull together the smartest minds using the power of “big data” generated by the many social media networks.  From this, they seek to create ‘open-source mechanisms and processes to measure the impact of media content – not just in terms of what they say and share about a story or a show, but what actions they take thereafter.  Many news organizations – big or small – likely have an untapped qualitative goldmine of data that is not being fully explored and one that is getting bigger by the day. There is no consensus, yet, on how best to do this, but already several big thinkers are already leading that conversation.

The challenge here will be immense.  Researchers are still only at the beginning of understanding what content is share-able and how different cultures share information differently.  While they will be closely monitoring what we say and share in our social networks, our eyes will be watching them to see how a very different measurement system can create a very different media.