The Era of Peak Attention? Try Peak Distraction – Event Rundown

Photo of Hanna Kahlert
by Hanna Kahlert

This past Wednesday, November 20th, MIDiA brought together media heavyweights from the Economist, Spotify, and the British Gaming Institute to talk about changing aspects of consumer behaviour and demand in a climate of attention saturation. The Attention Economy: How to Survive and Thrive in the Peak?

While we in the office may now have a swear jar for the words “post” “peak” and “attention”, the night was all about dealing with the realities of a changing digital landscape and what the big companies are doing to keep up. Here are some of the highlights:

  • An era of Peak Distraction. Marina Haydn, EVP and managing director of circulation for the Economist, highlighted some of the struggles a long-successful news outlet has to deal with in the modern digital climate. When there is so much content available all the time grabbing for our attention, it’s not so much an attention economy we live in as a distraction economy – there’s always something else tugging us away. For a news outlet with the foundational tenet of strong, insightful reporting and a tendency to long pieces which require thought and digestion, it’s hard to find a niche amongst consumers and remain relevant – yet the Economist has managed to do so. Over 150 years of the publication, it is only in the last eight that the Economist has noticed “content overwhelm” in its readers. With such a state, it is becoming “harder and harder to discern what even is valuable to consumers”.
  • Marina explained that the Economist has very high pricing power, which has enabled it to raise its subscription prices without losing audience; by maintaining integrity and value of proposition, it attracts those who want to both signal they read it (mentioning there is a popularity for paper copies) and those who know they can come back to and trust the reporting. Will Page, current author and former chief economist at Spotify, mentioned that the behavioural context for him reading the Economist is a Saturday morning to digest; by not pushing its content all the time, it maintains value held by the consumer, rather than trying to force artificial value. Devoted readers allocate time from their days to read the publication – and, yes, that may sometimes happen on the loo.
  •  “Consumers are feeling overwhelmed by content…so the strategy is to feed them more content? Something has to give.” Will Page pointed out that “more content” does not solve problems in a climate of excessive choice, following on from MIDiA’s own Karol Severin’s keynote wherein he discussed that the more content there is, the more time is being spent browsing instead of watching which is perceived negatively by the consumer as “work”. Consumers are still paying the same amount of money, but get entertained less as content catalogues grow. Meanwhile, companies like Netflix will see browsing time as “discovery”, keeping people on the platform. The balance between enabling consumers’ demand for free choice, but also decluttering their digital experiences to make the time spent more useful and enjoyable, is a difficult one. More content is no longer the most effective way to compete for attention. Discovery, decluttering and helping consumers get entertained in an as efficient, effective and enjoyable manner as possible, will become more important than ever before. A crucial part of this is that simply measuring engagement itself is no longer enough. Additionally, companies need to start looking more closely at the positivity or negativity of  sentiment which their features, services and media assets are building with consumers during their digital sessions.
  • Does gaming have it all figured out? Rick Gibson, CEO of the British Gaming Institute, is from the opposite end of the propositional spectrum than the Economist. As MIDiA’s MD and panel moderator Mark Mulligan put it, “fundamentally news and music are ubiquitous, and gaming is scarce”. How, he then posed, do all of these propositions build themselves out in ways that make consumers want to pay more? Gaming is an interesting example in that its consumer base, Gibson pointed out, is a fickle one; “if they don’t like it, they will disappear”. As tech-savvy younger consumers, they are the forefront of the digital trend in which choice is something created by the self. To meet this demand, games monetise through super-serving the 10% of high-spending players; when given what they want, those willing to spend will happily pay for it. Those who don’t, on the other hand, aren’t considered “free loaders” in the same way they are for music and video streaming propositions; for these industries, because their dominant metrics are still based on views and ad revenue, a consumer who is not monetised is a useless one, unless they have the potential to be ushered further down the funnel. However, in an era of choice and growing importance of sentiment as a differentiator, perhaps the gaming model more closely resembles the monetisation of fandom used in the models of many Asian music streaming services: the content is ‘free’ because access is easy, but the adjacent purchases which can be made to signal fandom are high-revenue and some consumers can easily make up the difference of many others.

There is so much more to unpack from the night – but the presentation and panel were on the ball, hitting the hard questions of what growth means when there’s already too much to handle. You can download the keynote presentation here, watch the keynote for the event here, and watch the panel discussion here.

Finally, if you’d like to explore more around the concepts of the post-peak attention economy, sentiment measurement and competitive strategies across entertainment, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at – let’s have lunch!

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