All industries now compete in a post-peak attention economy. That was the message at the heart of a Midia Research keynote given to representatives of various entertainment sectors last month.
Delivered by the firm's senior analyst and product manager Karol Severin, the talk discussed how, thanks largely to smartphones, not only are there no untapped periods of free time that companies can use to reach new audiences and grab their attention, there is also too much content for consumers to choose from.
This can be the case even within a single service. In the past, the two hours a consumer set aside to use Netflix, for example, would be enough for a full two-hour film. But with so much available through digital libraries like this, a consumer can lose ten minutes just browsing or choosing what to watch. In this way, consumers are "receiving less entertainment value for their money."
"It will be important to go for quality instead of quantity. Everyone's already got quantity."
This is also "creating negative feelings" -- just because a consumer is browsing through your service does not mean they are happy about it.
"It will be crucially important to measure consumer sentiment," Severin warned. "Winning and measuring attention as such is no longer enough. It is becoming increasingly important to measure what sentiment you're creating along with the session.
"If you are not doing that, without those benchmarks around consumer sentiment towards your services, product features or media assets, you don't know whether your company's actions are actually going to translate into loyalty or disloyalty as the times get tougher. And times will get tougher."
Severin gave two reasons for his ominous warning. For one thing, the games market is about to be flooded with another wave of content services, including Google Stadia, Xbox's Project xCloud and the recently launched Apple Arcade.
Then there are new TV services like Apple TV+, Disney+ and HBO Max -- "and of course you can't forget all the ones you already engage with." This flood, he warned, means consumers will start to feel "antagonised as the age of the information overload grows."
The second reason is, "The recession is coming."
"As the disposable income of consumers decreases, all of the effects we're talking about will be catalysed because they will be pressured into making that choice even sooner."
The next recession is also likely to impact companies in digital media and entertainment "very strongly." One reason is that millennials -- which Severin described as "the key audience of digital services" -- are going to be hit the hardest, due to where they are in their lives, careers and financial situations.
"If you are not [measuring sentiment], you don't know whether your company's actions are going to translate into loyalty or disloyalty as times get tougher. And times will get tougher"
"Digital subscriptions [in particular] are very vulnerable because they are not tying consumers into contracts," he said. "There can be all these unforeseen spikes in churn without any warning. Companies will be trying to figure out why the churn suddenly occurred -- it's because there has been some sort of sentiment that has been building up and has gone on throughout, under the radar."
On a side note, he suggested that multi-format subscriptions and bundles are set to thrive in this environment -- products that are affordable and appealing across households. Amazon, for example, is set to do particularly well here.
Severin shifted away from the "glass half-empty" outlook by observing that the very economy of delivering entertainment has fundamentally changed and continues to do so. Everything from film to TV to music is transitioning from a focus on ownership to access, and services like Xbox Game Pass mean video games are likely to follow.
This has created the "age of information overload," with large amounts of content that consumers need help to make sense of, and requires publishers and platform holders to rethink their strategy.
"If the attention economy pre-peak was about grabbing consumers' attention, giving them lots of content, post-peak will be about earning it," said Severin. "But to do that, companies will need to adjust how they compete. For now, they're still throwing in more content. They're playing by the attention economy playbook, despite us already being in the post-attention era.
"The longer that companies do that and actually neglect sentiment, the larger the disconnect will grow between what your engagement metrics tell you and how the consumers really actually feel. We need to find a new way to look at engagement."
Finally, Severin predicted that, given the glut of content available to consumers of any entertainment, the world could be approaching an "age of decluttering."
"Discovery will come back to the forefront," he said. "But most importantly it will be important to go for quality instead of quantity. I don't say that just because I'm the type of guy who likes quality over quantity, I say that because everyone's already got quantity.
"The post-peak attention has arrived. Growth is becoming a lot more challenging because it's coming at the expense of others, and companies are fighting back. We used to compete for attention with more content, but it turns out that may no longer be the most effective and elegant way if we want to keep positive sentiment within our consumers. Building, fostering and measuring positive sentiment will be more important that even before."