Every so often I like to use concepts used to describe the physical universe as a metaphor for explaining what's going on in the media universe, and today I'd like to dwell on the concept of "media entropy."
In physics, entropy is used to explain some complex thermodynamic principles, but generally speaking, it represents the the nature of things declining into disorder.
Substitute the word "fragmentation" for "heat" in thermodynamics, or the word "chaos" in more general terms, and you'll get my drift.
And just like the physical universe, the expansion of the media universe increasingly creates uncertainty for planners and buyers who must work harder, use more data, and better data processing tools in an effort to create some order to effectively generate a return on ad spending.
I've been nurturing this thesis for some time, but was moved to write about it today because of an analysis released this morning by media analytics firm Ampere revealing a new area of media fragmentation: sports media rights holders.
"In major Western markets, the broadcast rights to popular sports competitions are increasingly being split across a growing number of services," the Ampere analysis notes. While that should not be surprising to anyone following the media trades in recent years, it should be an early indicator of increasing fragmentation of media audience reach in the future.
That's because media rights deals aren't just theoretical, but mean coverage of the same sport are now being divided among increasingly more outlets competing for consumer attention, and more often then not, their pocketbooks too.
The fragmentation of rights holders makes economic sense and seems inevitable to continue as the relative value of sports increase for consumers and sponsors alike.
Total annual media rights spending in seven major markets analyzed by Ampere -- the U.S., U.K., France, German, Spain, Italy and Australia -- jumped 68% to $34.9 billion in 2022 from $20.8 billion in 2014.
During the same period of time, the number of broadcast outlets holding rights to top 10 sports franchises jumped 33% to an average of 12 in 2022 from nine in 2014, according to Ampere.
While the sports rights holder fragmentation should not be surprising -- I mean, this is also the first year in which linear TV's share of viewing fell below 50% -- it is yet another manifestation of ongoing media marketplace entropy.
I don't know where we'll ultimately end up in terms of market fragmentation, but I do know it's an ongoing progression that began long before Ted Bates invoked the "5% solution" to deal with the emergence of cable TV viewing, or cable industry pioneer came up with the "500 channel universe" to get our arms around the impact broadband would have on television.
We've long since blown past 500 conceivable channels, and when you factor in all the other ways consumers access content -- including video content -- I truly believe we are now living in an infinite channel universe.
I'm not sure when I first started thinking about the role fragmentation has had on media marketplace entropy, but it was probably when Interpublic's late ad forecasting pioneer Bob Coen shared a spread sheet with me early in my career.
The spread sheet contained his estimates for U.S. ad spending, by medium, going back to 1776.
You might be surprised to learn that Coen had a line item for the media marketplace the same year the U.S. was founded, and in truth, it only contained a smattering of print media.
In fact, some of our founding fathers were also media moguls: Alexander Hamilton founded The New York Post, and Benjamin Franklin founded the first magazines ever published in North America: American Magazine and The General Magazine.
I'm not sure how industry pros should plan for media entropy. I kind of alluded to a need to think about it in my first Planning & Buying Insider column referencing Erwin Eprhon's recency planning solution, and the fact that I think it was a stopgap, half measure that needs to be revisted.
But I do know this: Human attention has always been splintered, disorganized and fragmented across an array of attention-paying options, and its the hubris of the media industry to assert that it has ever properly put dimensions around that.
Sure we have some nifty new tools for measuring people's attention paid to media, but we don't even know how many media options they're actually paying attention to. And by that, I mean both structured (the kind that show up in the known media planning universe), as well as new or previously unmeasured unstructured ones.
And all this is before a new onslaught of hyper media fragmentation accelerates vis a vis the metaverse, the proliferation of AI chatbots, and the impact of synthetic media even truly gets started.
Good luck with that.