Video, Baseball and the Arms Race for Attention

What’s the ROI of attention? Your business still exists in 5 years.

My experience (I’m the co-founder of Limbik, an audience measurement company that measures attention millions of times every day for many of the world’s most forward-thinking publishers, brands and agencies), playing college baseball for the late Tony Gwynn, taught me that baseball is not simply about your on-field talent. The best players, and teams, put themselves in a position to be successful. They find advantages in the numbers. An interest in sabermetrics developed into an obsession, which became the foundation of my career. And, while going from baseball to measuring the the world is paying attention to might feel like a stretch, I assure you it’s not. Big data used to be an advantage. As did video. Now, since everyone is using it, you must figure out new ways to get a step ahead. To gain a real competitive advantage, you need to do things no one else is doing.

Back in 2003, Michael Lewis introduced us to sabermetrics, with a book titled ‘Moneyball’ about the Oakland Athletics and their analytical, evidence-based approach to assembling a competitive baseball team. This book (and really, the Brad Pitt movie a few years later) brought the science of sabermetrics into the mainstream. Once reserved for stat geeks and avid baseball fans, the premise behind sabermetrics is actually quite simple… if the goal of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent, and you score runs by getting on base, offensive players (hitters) should be valued not by how many hits they get, but rather by the frequency at which they get on base and score runs.

Despite an entirely new set of metrics that allowed small market, small budget teams, like the Oakland Athletics, to compete with the ‘Evil Empire’ (New York Yankees), and other teams with drastically deeper pockets, as Neil Weinberg detailed in 2015, people comfortable with the status quo are not always the most eager to embrace a different, and seemingly, better perspective…

“Batting average is the most recognizable statistic in the game. It might be the most famous statistic in sports and it’s probably up there with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) among the most popular statistics about anything anywhere on the planet. Even people who don’t like or watch baseball understand what batting average means.

Which is why it’s so difficult to remove it from our vernacular. Batting average is built into the language of the sport, but it’s simply not a useful statistic and if you want to analyze a player properly, it’s something you don’t want to pay close attention to at all.”

Like batting average for baseball people, views are very much engrained in the vernacular used by video people, and society more broadly. The overall rule of law seems to be that the number of views generated determines the success or failure of a video online. We even came up with a word for it: viral, which is a term still best suited to describe the nature of a virus.

But even before we talk about how best to measure the effectiveness of a video, let’s agree on one thing… attention is in short supply. And, it matters more than ever.

The amount of content (and noise) vying for our attention is unfathomable. It would take some 60,000 years of non-stop watching to watch the videos on YouTube alone. According to a 2016 Nielsen Company audience report, adults in the United States spend nearly 11 hours per day consuming media across tablets, smartphones, PCs, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs. The average attention span has fallen to just 7 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000.

There is a direct correlation between attention captured and business outcomes realized. Despite a relative lack of fanfare, attention has quietly become the single most important commodity for anyone in business today.

In this headline-driven, click-happy culture that is today, we find ourselves neck deep in an arms race for attention. And, the truth is, you can’t expect to capture attention if you’re not first measuring it.

There are two questions every business should be asking: “How much attention are we capturing?” and “Are we capturing the right audience’s attention?” Sadly, these are questions few are asking an even fewer can answer.

Video has exploded over the past decade plus, transforming from ‘Me at the zoo’ into the most effective method for capturing attention online; partly because one minute of video is equal to 1.8 million words, and partly because the costs of creating and distributing video, as well as the bandwidth required to consume it, have plummeted.

As a result, 87% of marketers now use video to inform, educate and engage their customers, prospects and other key stakeholders. Certainly over the next couple of years (if we’re not there already) video will become a business requirement, something seen in the same light as a website or a presence across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other relevant social platforms.

Despite the known (or soon-to-be realized) importance of attention, when it comes to measuring video, we continue chasing the biggest numbers we can find, regardless of whether they correlate to success. No matter how much we try to force it, a video played is not the same as attention captured.

Assuming the goal of any business, in its simplest form, is to get someone to do something, and driving action first requires capturing their attention, then video, as a tool for capturing attention, should no longer be measured just by how many views it garners, but rather by the attention it captures. In other words, how much of the video is seen, heard and consumed… down to knowing if someone was playing Solitaire or checking Facebook as the video played.

Just a few years ago, none of this was possible. But as businesses have smartly embraced video, and people have moved from staring at the big screen on their wall to watching video across their various devices, the pieces have finally come together to measure attention and fully understand our digital audiences.

The good news is, you don’t have to be a data scientist to take a big leap forward in measuring and capturing more attention. If you’re using video, in whatever capacity, and are currently measuring total plays, average viewing time and completion rate, you can do better. These aren’t meaningless metrics by any means, but they do leave out critically important information. If you’re going to look at metrics anyway, you might as well be looking at the best ones possible.

Different metrics answer different questions and therefore have different uses. Some questions are simple, such as “Which video generated the most unique views?” while others are more complicated, like “Which video captured the most attention of Millennials in California with a higher than average propensity to purchase pet products?” You can’t figure out which video is most effective solely by looking at the number of views or average viewing time. While generating lots of views might feel good, it actually tells you very little. Average viewing time tells you something, but average viewing time itself answers a very specific and limited question.

We believe the key to determining the effectiveness of any video is to know who’s watching and the degree to which they’re paying attention. And, over the past several months we’ve worked to expand the metrics and tools available to measure video and better understand attention.

To simplify and standardize the more than 30 unique metrics we use to measure attention, we developed the Limbik Rating (LR). Named after the Limbic System, a complex set of nerves and networks housed at the edge of the brain’s cortex that controls emotional response, LR quantifies the overall attention paid to video by looking at attributes such as in-view rate, audibility, exposure time, screen real estate and more… all rolled into a single number for ease of interpretation and benchmarking.

Once you understand what people are paying attention to, you can influence them to do anything. This should be motivation enough for anyone in business today.

Much like we’ve seen in baseball, competing is not simply defined by who spends the most. Attention is not for sale, but it is out there for the taking nonetheless. You can command your share by measuring what matters. Together, we can move the entire industry forward.

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