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Who owns attention?

March 3, 2006

We are in an age where information is abundant and the time to consume that information is not. Simply put, there’s an abundance of information and a scarcity of attention.

In such an environment a premium is placed on attention and it becomes a currency with a value. This isn’t today’s news, it been that way as long as there has been media. Attention has always had a value and a market price. Media owners have sold it and advertisers and their agents have purchased it.

However, in this old marketspace, sellers were selling the captive attention of a certain audience.

So what happens when the captive bit goes away?

With the Internet and devices like Tivo, there is more power in the hands of the consumer to decide what to give their attention to. They are more discerning and they tend to get what they want without having to sit or browse through an endless stream of sometimes irrelevant advertising. They still have attention, but they have more control over it. This controlled attention has increasing value.

While the consumer has more control over their attention, they don’t account for how they are using that attention. As a consequence, media owners are monetizing the attention of their consumers without the consumer knowing, understanding or even getting paid for it.

This is theory of a new organization called the Attention Trust . Its role is to educate people on the value of their attention, to help them record it and ultimately market that attention to interested parties.

It’s a nice transparent concept that fits with the idea and desire for consumer control, but it has a number of stumbling blocks.

Attention is a two-way thing, or at least it is in media, there is a value placed on the content that is being consumed in return for that attention. So it’s all very well recording a consumer’s attention, but not all attention is equal. Attention has a different value, according to the context of consumption.

The value of a consumer’s attention depends on who they are and the media they are consuming at the time.

Taking the value of the consumed media out of the equation is wrong and a little naive.

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