Media Fragmentation Means Ad World's Future Based On Audience, Not Content

Content may be king, but the future of media buying in a digital world will be based on audience, not content.

In the historic world of analog media, driven by printing presses, broadcast licenses and cables on poles, media distribution was scarce and audience attention plentiful. In that world, content of just decent quality was virtually certain to deliver a lot of audience attention because the true leverage point in media was the control of scarce mass distribution. However, in the digital world of media emerging today, which is driven by digital bits and Internet Protocol delivery, distribution is plentiful. It is audience attention that is scarce.

The most extraordinary content today can’t predictably deliver the kind of share of total consumers delivered by newspapers, magazines, radio or TV over decades past. Even the broadband Internet, with its massive reach, isn’t even available in one-third of U.S. homes; that’s about a hundred million consumers it can’t reach. People in the U.S consume much more media today than ever -- but it's ever-more-fractured and granular bits of content across ever more fragmented devices and channels.

In this world of audience fragmentation, the foundation of marketers’ media strategies will have to be built first on finding, aggregating and communicating with specific people, not funding specific content. Without the attention certainty that monopoly distribution played in analog media, it won’t be good enough in the digital world to base the foundation of a media strategy around picking great content. Media buying will look more like requests for very specific types of consumers, and the content or context will become much more secondary. In fact, as has happened in search and online display, media buying overall may become much more about looking for specific types of audiences and specific desired results, and content and context might fall entirely out of the order.

Yes, many say that this method is how good media planning and buying has always been done. However, those of us who live and do business in this world day in and day out know that there is an enormous chasm between what some people say they do and what they actually do.

Does a future like this mean that content will no longer matter? Of course it doesn’t. For companies who want to sell valuable audiences to marketers, content will matter even more. That’s why television and video content companies are delivering such great financial results these days. In this attention-scarce media world, those who can deliver audiences at scale are in a great spot.

However, as fragmentation continues, content will become less and less critical to marketers, seen more clearly as a means to an end in the ad media world, not so much the end itself -- the role it largely enjoys today.

What do you think? Will the future of media be founded -- and defined -- primarily by audience, not content?

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11 comments about "Media Fragmentation Means Ad World's Future Based On Audience, Not Content ".
  1. Stephanie Rogers from PARTNERS+simons , August 28, 2014 at 7:34 p.m.
    Thanks, Dave - great topic. We've been buying audiences in the digital realm for quite some time now, ever since the rise of ad networks that use their own and 3rd party (e.g., BlueKai, Exelate) data to allow us to target specific segments. But we don't do that exclusively - we round out the plan with contextual/behavioral placements as well. I do think audience buying will become more prominent thanks to the rise of programmatic in other channels, like TV (thanks to Clypd) and radio (thanks to Jelli), but I can't imagine contextual or content-based based will go away entirely any time soon. All the changes keep things interesting for us, though!
  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia , August 28, 2014 at 8:02 p.m.
    Great points Stephanie. I agree. Content/context buying in media won't go away, but I think that it will be more complimentary to audience buying in the future rather than primary. And yes; it will certainly keep things interesting.
  3. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff , August 29, 2014 at 8:05 a.m.
    Arguably, the strongest evidence that supports this argument is that the companies best able to create strong content are rarely the most capable of monetizing it. Digital makes it easy to leverage great content produced elsewhere (think HuffPo etc) and win by doing a better job of attracting an audience for it. The process won't be identical for TV (lots of rights issues, some walled gardens, etc.), but it's hard to imagine that it won't be similar. In the end, consumers want seamless access to the content they want and don't care much who created it -- or whose pipe it comes through.
  4. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia , August 29, 2014 at 8:15 a.m.
    Agree Tom. Content and audience owners in TV are going to have to develop new capabilities in audience monetizaion to complement their content based selling to capture the full value of their businesses in the future.
  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing, LLC , August 29, 2014 at 11:31 a.m.
    This column, like all of your arguments, always makes me question mine so thank you. Audience based buying allows for inferior content to generate revenue which results in so many "odd" placements of brands. How do you counter that?
  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia , August 29, 2014 at 11:36 a.m.
    Thanks Ari. You're right. Audience-based ads can and will result in some "odd" placements, but if they are effective in creating customers, are they truly "odd"? For example, when I was at TACODA, using eye-scanning research, we found that relevant, but "out of context" ad placements - car ad within general news to folks who recently looked at car content - drew more and longer views than car ads within car content.
  7. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff , August 29, 2014 at 11:38 a.m.
    Ari, IMO what was once "odd" is already commonplace. Banal slideshows of "celebrities riding blue bicycles" abound. I believe the future of media is mediocre, because whether we intend to or not, that is *exactly* what we are optimizing for. More here: http://tomcunniff.com/2014/08/big-data-media-everything-ok/
  8. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia , August 29, 2014 at 11:48 a.m.
    Tom, I hope that in the media world of the future, the person will truly be placed at the center, and delivering true relevance to them will be the most important driver of media placements. Of course, this will mean rejecting the direct response-driven sensibilities and algorithms that drive most data-driven placements online today, which only pay attention to the 0.1% who click and try to raise it to 0.2% while not registering (and spamming the other 99.8%) with terrible, irrelevant click-baiting creatives.
  9. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff , August 29, 2014 at 11:56 a.m.
    Dave, I think people *will* be placed at the center. But as ever, people won't pick the content we wish they would. In the old media world, we had "Gilligan's Island". In the future, we will have its equivalent. IMO, the real consumer need media mostly delivers against is entertainment (aka "non-demanding distraction"). Occasionally, we're deeply interested in a product or service and are researching it. But if we're honest, most of the time we'd rather just have a quick laugh. TV became a "vast wasteland" in large part because that's what people wanted it to be.
  10. Rodney Mayers from Proximic , August 29, 2014 at 12:22 p.m.
    The future will be about audience with content adding meaningful insight about those audiences. “Newsies” or “Entertainment Junkies” or “Urban Hip” or whatever the audience definition, all have content profiles. This "content profile" also means mobile apps and content they access via mobile web as well. How and what they consume and what type of ad they convert on while consuming content will be part of the future definition of context. At the end of the day, brands need to reach audiences with a marketing message. The better they can tailor that message given a certain context, the more effective the marketers messaging will be in the future.
  11. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent , August 31, 2014 at 10:36 a.m.
    From what I can see in our system, most people consume a vast array of content, ranging from what we would consider 'Premium' to what we also call 'remnant' or 'subprime'. The funny thing is that we still weigh the content more heavily than the person reading it. Ads are always endemic if they reach the right audience. The concept that Content is Proxy for audience is a vestige of the past, when we didnt have programmatic buying based on audience identity. The technology exists to make this happen today. But Agencies are still stuck using cookie-based targeting with all of its limitations. As identity-based placements reach the market, look for marketers and agencies to with to a combination of programmatic buying and 1st party data. It's not an if, it's a when. And it's soon! As in it is already happening...