Is Time Spent With A Brand's Messaging Becoming As Important As The Number That See It?

Recently, over a glass of bourbon with an online publisher, a question was raised that I found quite intriguing: Is an analog impression the same as a digital impression?

Obviously, my first reaction was "But of course." After all, an impression is an impression, isn't it?

"Well, consider," said the online publisher, "on my site, I can tell you how much time a viewer spends with a commercial message. True, the advertiser might be buying a 30-second impression, but what if the viewer only watches five of those 30 seconds?"

"Now let's say another advertiser buys a 30-second impression, of which, on average, 25 seconds are viewed? Are both impressions, the five-second impression and the 25-second impression, of equal value to the advertiser?"

My response was, "Of course not. The 25-second impression is much more valuable."

"So," said the online publisher, "should I be able to charge more for that?"

In the past, an impression was just that -- a metric that indicated "how many" might be watching something. In the digital marketplace, we can actually tell "how long" the impression lasts.

In other words, an impression now has an added value based on the amount of time spent with the message.

For example, if an advertiser runs a 30-second spot in front of one million people and discovers that, on average, only five of the 30 seconds are viewed, the total time-spent with the brand is 5 million seconds.

Now let's say another advertiser runs a 30-second spot in front of only half as many viewers-500,000-but average time-spent with the message is 25 seconds per viewer. Total time-spent with the brand in this case would be 12.5 million seconds.

In other words, a 150% increase in time-spent with the brand for approximately half the media cost.

"I'm definitely offering a service with this data," said the online publisher, "saving the advertiser a huge amount of money. How do I get compensated for not only saving them money, but improving their brand's performance?"

"Well, first off, you didn't improve the brand's performance," I countered. "The agency that created the message did. Involvement in a message is not the responsibility of the media agency, or, of you, the publisher. Involvement is the responsibility of the creative agency."

He asked, "So do you think I can continue to sell impressions on a CPM basis to media agencies and start to sell involvement on a time-spent basis to creative agencies?"

Perhaps it was the bourbon, but I found this to be quite a provocative question. As viewing audiences continue to fragment and the long tail grows ever longer, online publishers will need to find additional revenue streams to augment CPM.

Is time-spent the answer? It certainly is a measurement metric that online publishers have at their disposal.

"But rather than creative agencies, what if you sold the time-spent data directly to advertisers?" I asked him. "They're the ones that are paying for the creative to be developed. You would think they would want to know if, indeed, they are getting their money's worth. And, down the road, perhaps even paying their agencies for creative based on how well it involves people in the message."

He liked the idea of selling both CPM and Time-Spent. And together, we thought of a few advertisers who might be open to such thinking.

Because it seems fairly obvious that as viewing audiences continue to fragment and increasingly control shifts to the viewer, time spent with a brand's messaging is becoming as valuable as the number that see it.

As he got up to leave, I thanked the online publisher for his time. "You know," he said, "the way I look at it, time-spent is nothing more than an impression in the control of the viewer."

And, with that, he was gone.

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