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?