Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How Engagement Can Be Monetized

It’s curious, at least to me, that the dialogue around the concept of “engagement” remains focused primarily on media. Most of the talk you hear today is about how engagement can be enhanced through pod position, time of day, type of program, etc.

And while these are all pertinent to the discussion, it seems to be counterproductive to be talking about engagement while ignoring two equally important components of it.

Viewer intent. And, the creative itself.

On most digital platforms engagement appears to be a sum game, requiring three very distinct components for it to be able to exist at all. These three components are exposure to the message, viewer control of the message, and involvement in the message itself.

Exposure to the message obviously needs to occur first. While a forced exposure—pre-roll or in-stream on digital platforms—will certainly guarantee more eyeballs to the message, whether it delivers engagement or entrapment is open to debate.

For engagement to be measured, it’s the viewer’s intent, not the advertiser’s intent, that’s most important. To measure viewer intent, viewers need the ability to avoid commercials that they don’t want to watch, as well as access those that they do.

Giving the viewer this control allows their intent to become explicit, and therefore, measurable. Disabling the fast-forward button and taking control out of the hands of the viewer also disables our ability to measure viewer intent. And without being able to measure viewer intent, we can't monetize engagement.

Once the viewer is in control, view duration of the message depends on the message itself. How it’s crafted. The selling proposition. What it says. The entertainment value.

Most advertisers, of course, would like viewers to watch the entire message. After all, if an advertiser spends the money to produce say, a sixty-second spot, they must assume that all sixty-seconds are valuable. Otherwise, they would have produced something shorter.

As each second costs the same to produce, the longer that viewers are involved in a commercial, the better the cost/value for the advertiser.

Add up these three components—exposure, intent and involvement—and the equation looks something like this.

Engagement = Exposure + Intent + Involvement

What’s interesting about this equation is that each of the three components is provided by a different entity.

Exposure is provided by the programmer, bought and paid for through a media agency.

Intent is provided through the control that the platform operator gives the viewer.

As for involvement, it will, or will not occur mostly due to the efforts of the creative agency that crafts the commercial.

Separating the responsibility for each of the components also allows us to separate the accountability for each component.

In this equation, programmers are not responsible for involvement, the creative agencies are. Platform operators are not accountable for exposure or impressions. That’s the programmer’s responsibility, to create the type of content that draws viewers.

What platform operators are responsible for is giving control to the viewer so that intent can be measured. Viewer intent becomes the pivot point that triggers the transference of accountability from the programmer to the creative agency.

If accountability can be transferred from programmer to creative agency, then advertisers will be able to pay each for what they are responsible for. And, in turn, pay the platform operators for giving them the ability to achieve this.

Dividing engagement into three separate components allows the responsibility for engagement to be properly assigned. And once responsibility is assigned, the financial models can, and will, follow.

Which offers this new math of engagement a chance to add up in more ways than one.

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