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Deep Dive 4 Apr 2022 - 7 min read

Nine reveals first media attention data from Prof. Karen Nelson-Field: Mobile beats Connected TV which beats broadcast for active attention; YouTube feels heat for viewer 'skip ad button' focus, not ads

By Paul McIntyre and Sam Buckingham-Jones
Nine Attention Study

“There's also some nuances and some variances that for me as a sort of media math junkie are actually manna from heaven," Hatched's Andrew Pascoe says.

The first detailed attention data from a major media group is out with Nine releasing findings of its attention study with Professor Karen Nelson-Field’s Amplified Intelligence. It's all in the chart below but for a 30-second spot on linear television, the average person pays just 11 seconds of “Active Attention”, or 37 per cent of the ad. BVOD on connected TVs and mobile phones score higher on active attention but when added to “Passive Attention”, linear television vastly outperforms most of its rivals, say Nine’s Liana Dubois and Jonathan Fox. So what to do with this conundrum? Hatched Media's Head of Planning, Andrew Pascoe, who has gone all in on attention, says the opportunity is nuanced but massive. To boot, "attention CPMs", currently being used by many agency groups, are deeply troubled, the trio warn.     

What you need to know:

  • Nine has given Mi3 an early look at the results of its audience attention study, carried out by Amplified Intelligence, for BVOD on mobile, BVOD on CTV, and Linear TV.
  • The results show mobile BVOD had the highest “Active Attention”, followed by CTV BVOD, and Linear TV. Adding “Passive Attention”, all forms of TV scored 71 per cent in attention paid to ads – as opposed to “Non Attention”.
  • It’s the first major Australian media group to share the results of their attention study although more are expected this year from rival media firms doing likewise.
  • Nine’s Liana Dubois says existing attention CPMs in market are “crude at best” and compromising how advertisers should use advertising attention data.
  • Hatched’s Head of Planning, Andrew Pascoe, says the nuances of these results are “manna from heaven” and that understanding attention and the time required for memory encoding informs short-term retail campaigns and long-term brand building.

If you are buying dirt cheap reach on platforms with little to no effective attention, you are likely wasting your money or that of your clients.

Liana Dubois, Nine, Director of Powered

Attention seekers

A worldwide stampede is underway to find better ways to measure and quantify consumer attention – and Nine has become the first major Australian media group to share their results. Mi3 has had an early look.

The push towards attention is grounded in some underlying, and sometimes inconvenient, truths: Measuring reach, or advertising impressions, is a blunt metric – an ad exposure, or impression, may or may not have had even a nanosecond of consideration by a viewer or user, but as an industry audience currency it's assumed good enough as a quantitative measure. The rapidly emerging field of attention measurement attempts to add a qualitative layer addressing how attentive people are to ads rather than a simple "opportunity to see" (OTS). Some are also linking levels of consumer ad exposure to business results.

Nine’s early data will prove interesting in how blue chip advertisers and media agencies respond: Nine's 9Now broadcaster video on demand (BVOD) platform on mobile scored highest in “Active Attention”, followed by its BVOD app on connected TVs (CTV), and finally, linear TV. The network says it’s a case of “good, better, best”, rather than a negative result for its cash cow – free-to-air broadcasting.

There are attention metrics already in the local market, selling per 1,000 views, but Nine says these attention CPMs, are “crude at best” and encourage a race to the bottom, rather than a more scientific approach of time, quality attention, and memory encoding ads. Likewise, Nine has fired a salvo across the bow of digital platforms, with Liana Dubois, the company’s Director of Powered, saying: “If you are buying dirt cheap reach on platforms with little to no effective attention, you are likely wasting your money or that of your clients.”

The network partnered with Professor Karen Nelson-Field’s Amplified Intelligence in October and November last year to show thousands of ads across the three broadcast channels and use iPods Touch cameras to measure Active Attention, Passive Attention, and Non-Attention. It also measured how they compare to the length of the ad, and how effective the ads were at influencing purchasing behaviour, known as Short Term Advertising Strength, or STAS. Seven has announced its own, longer study with Amplified Intelligence, but those results will likely be out later this year.

Let’s get into Nine’s results.

Nine Attention Study Slide 1

The Active vs Passive attention results of Nine's attention study with Amplified Intelligence.

Show me the attention

The slide above shows the numbers, but here’s a breakdown: Nine’s study showed most active attention was paid on 9Now on mobile phones, at 11.0 seconds per 15-second ad and 21.1 seconds per 30-second ad. That’s an average of 72 per cent “active seconds to ad length”.

On 9Now on CTV, that figure was 8.1 for 15, and 15.6 for 30 – 53 per cent active attention to ad length.

On Linear TV, the equivalent figure was 40 per cent – 6.2 seconds for a 15-second spot and 11 seconds for a 30-second spot.

It’s important to note that Passive Attention, while not as high a bar as Active Attention, is nonetheless considered a form of attention. Eyeballs may not be on the screen the whole time, but the consumer is believed to be listening or taking in at least some of the information. It is a better result than “Non-Attention”.

Nine says the “Total Attention Seconds to Ad Length”, therefore, is an effective measure. That ranges from 73 per cent Total Attention Seconds on 9Now on mobile to 90 per cent for 9Now on CTV. The STAS score for all three is well over 100, meaning there was between 66 and 79 per cent uplift in viewers choosing to buy advertised products in a virtual store after the test.  

“In terms of why we see those differences (between Mobile, CTV and Linear), I think it really is explained by that user experience. If I think about how I consume 9Now on mobile, it’s very much a one-to-one type experience. It's quite personal. I've chosen the content I want to watch,” Jonathan Fox, Nine’s Director of Effectiveness, said.

“I'm highly engaged for CTV. Again, you've chosen the content, so you get to choose what you're watching and when you watch. But it's in a slightly more distracted environment … When it comes to linear TV, that's content that's been curated for you to enjoy at a particular time and kind of more of a mass viewing occasion, where it's been curated for you and again, is in that more distracted environment.

“Whilst we see that order, I think compared to other platforms, the numbers are really strong and we're really pleased with them.”

There were also slight variations in how much attention was paid depending on the time of day - mornings performed better than evenings, but only marginally. 

If it's a short-term sales promo or we need stuff shifted the next day and so on, that extra second relating to three more days in memory is of a little bit less value.

Andrew Pascoe, Hatched, Head of Planning

One agency’s response

Andrew Pascoe is Melbourne agency Hatched’s Head of Planning. Hatched has gone all-in on attention, becoming one of the first indie agencies to roll out Amplified Intelligence’s AttentionTrace platform to its clients. He says the results mirror what some people believed – but that’s why they’re important to share.

“While that might back up what everyone would intuit, it's nice to have the numbers and have it that's real observed data rather than just defaulting back to personal experience or assumptions,” Pascoe says.

“There's also some nuances and some variances that for me as a sort of media math junkie are actually manna from heaven. It’s in those gaps and in those differences that we can use and we can factor in and get that extra bit of attention and that extra edge and that sort of slightly unfair share compared to the competitors… Even if there's five or ten or 20 or 30 per cent increments in things. It doesn't need to be a wholesale shift from channel X to channel Y.”

Pascoe says Hatched is hoping attention becomes a tradeable metric because it would mean content that people actually engage with is rewarded.

Why Attention CPMs are ‘crude at best’

In the scamble for optics on leadership around the attention economy, agencies are already applying a price-based CPM to attention scores but the critics, including Nine, are pushing back on it gaining wide acceptance. 

“At the risk of being provocative or poking the bear… There is an attention CPM circulating that is, in our view, crude at best,” Nine’s Liana Dubois says.

“Not unlike a reach-based CPM, the attention CPM that is circulating essentially looks at the average attention seconds paid to a platform, it overlays unit price and then it spits out the CPM. Now why is that crude or perhaps even uneducated? Because it doesn't take into account the very purpose of understanding attention, that being that more attention is fundamentally more effective.”

It takes more than two seconds of attention to have any lasting impact on memory, according to research from Professor Nelson-Field. Every second over three adds three days to how long a brand lasts in a person’s memory.

“So unless an attention CPM calculation can take into account the extrapolation of the long form impact by platform, the ad effectiveness point of understanding attention has been missed entirely.”

Pascoe agreed how long attention is paid is important but noted there are short-term campaigns that don’t need weeks of memory.

“Where it's a little bit less cut and dry is if it's a short-term sales promo or we need stuff shifted the next day and so on,” he says.

“That extra second relating to three more days in memory is of a little bit less value.”

Dubois pushed back, saying while a retailer might need to shift stock of bananas the following day, adding time to an ad increases the likelihood of advertiser benefit the following week, when a viewer needs bananas.

“And the attention CPM that is circulating right now is too crude and too blunt to take into account those nuances,” she said.

Fox added: “Not all attention seconds are equal… But to really access long term memory, that should be the goal of most campaigns and most brands, and that should be valued accordingly.”

[YouTube's] attention data incorporates that attention to the skip button. I would be really interested to know what the numbers look like if you were able to strip out the eyes on attention to that skip button.

Jonathan Fox, Nine, Director of Effectiveness

Positioning compared to social platforms

Attention is hard to come by, and TV networks are pushing hard on this point. Research by Dr Duane Varan from MediaScience, shared by ThinkPremiumDigital, found it took five hours of in-feed social video to achieve one minute of ad attention. In contrast, it took just 12 minutes of premium video, meaning the likes of Facebook and Instagram, while used for many hours, delivered poor attention.  

A key element in this discussion is the degree to which creative impacts attention. Is good creative or the platform the driver?

“It is absolutely platform first. Platform is absolutely your opportunity to be paid attention to. But creative is your opportunity to hold it,” Dubois says.

“The best creative in the world cannot fight the good fight against a platform that does not garner any or enough attention to the advertising that's placed on it… those transient platforms are simply not providing the opportunity for you to grab attention.”

Everyone needs to understand attention, Dubois adds, because better attention delivers better business results. “If you are buying dirt cheap reach on platforms with little to no effective attention, you are likely wasting your money or that of your clients,” she says. “Stacking hamsters doesn't make a giraffe.”

Fox says his own experience on YouTube is that he is waiting for the ability to skip the ad.

“I really can't absorb much around the advertising that's on at that time,” he says. “Frustratingly for us as well – the attention data incorporates that attention to the skip button. I would be really interested to know what the numbers look like if you were able to strip out the eyes on attention to that skip button.”

Pandora’s Box

Which leads to a debate described by Pascoe as “Pandora’s box”. Where is the line between an agency or advertiser’s expertise around media buying and the new products, self-service dashboards and capabilities from the major platforms?

“When does it cross a point where there's platforms that are actually making it more beneficial for advertiser and agency? And when do they almost ask to take too much license and do too much optimisation and too much black box activity sort of with a set goal in mind?” Pascoe says. Take Google’s Premier Partner agency list, for example. Three of the four criteria were around ad spend, one search agency exec said. Google benefits while also promoting agencies that spend with Google.

“It becomes an element where there's a reason or an aspect of saying the multi thousands of Google engineers sat in Mountain View will do the decision making for you to some degree,” Pascoe says.

“I think handing over that agency has a place in some context, but it has to be balanced with the craft of media planning and the craft of channel planning.”

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