2022: a year of recovery from the attention deficit

Welcome to the ‘attention recession’, where the sheer volume of media, particularly TV services, has become a liability. So what’s the solution for media brands?

Find ways to add value, and focus on distinctive assets so you’re more than just another time sink, suggests Chris Beer, Trends Manager at GWI…

For anyone controlling a marketing budget, next year’s spending comes with some difficult questions. What kind of media behaviours will stick after lockdowns, and which will fade away?

With some predicting the emergence of ‘attention recession’, measuring how time spent with different media has changed can give some clues to consumer behaviour; but for deeper, more reliable insights this can be backed up by research that seeks to understand how they think and feel.

Ideas work better with solid insight behind them, and spotting trends in consumer sentiment lets you see where those time-spent metrics may be heading next. And if there’s ever been a good time to get to know how people actually think and feel, it’s now. 

Breaking the news cycle

The biggest victim of the transition from pandemic to endemic, from on-off crisis to something resembling normality, is likely to be news.

There is evidence of consistent decreases in concern about COVID-19 in different countries, even during the deadliest waves. Plus, consumers who have switched off from news cite too much negativity and too much COVID-19 content as their main reasons for doing so.

Fresh off the back of COP26, we have to consider how the climate crisis is likely to dominate the news cycle in the coming years as well. If the tone of coverage becomes too severe – and less solution-focused – then it may help solidify this sense of news fatigue.

It pays to watch

TV is a good example of how strict consumption metrics don’t always tell you the full picture.

At first glance, all the data for online TV is very encouraging. It’s been one of the biggest beneficiaries of lockdown, with average time spent watching per day up, and it was one of the most popular activities overall.

But dig deep into how consumers feel and you can see there may be some turbulent waters ahead. There’s been a 26 percent growth in the number of US consumers who say that TV services are too expensive. With the most talked-about shows now distributed across different platforms, all with their own monthly fees, the perception of TV’s cost is changing.

It may be that this spurs consumers to move to more AVOD [Ad-based Video On Demand] platforms, which would benefit anyone who has that in their plans. But we have to keep the attention economy model in mind. Free time is the resource everyone’s after, and it could be that with this increasing cost sensitivity, attention shifts not between different platforms but to different media types altogether. 

The biggest competitor TV platforms have may well be gaming. 

Change AV input

Some clues into the future of media preferences can be found among Gen Zers in the U.S. At the beginning of the pandemic, TV outranked gaming in their list of personal interests. But in recent months gaming has marched up the leaderboard, meaning it now exceeds interest in TV by 12 percentage points. 

At the general population level, gaming continues to make headway with consumers, even as stay-at-home orders lift. In the research of both Core and Gaming there’s evidence that  interest in gaming, as well as time spent on it, has persisted since the peak of lockdown.

Audio is for life, not just the commute

The past few years have seen media firms rush to fill all the spare hours in a consumer’s day. Audio has the great advantage of being the only media type available during certain times – like when driving, or when doing chores at home.

Podcasts and music streaming have had some of the biggest growths of any medium during lockdowns, despite many initial predictions otherwise. 

We predict audio will thrive in 2022 – but not just for the reason many assume, the return of the commute. One reason for its continued growth is that audio has proven very popular in domestic contexts, and in a hybrid office/WFH world it will fit both needs nicely. 

The second comes down to the possible side-effects of the rush for attention. Google traffic for ‘eye strain’ and ‘glare’ reached peaks at the end of 2020 and it could be that staring at screens all day, with few breaks, boosts audio media at the expense of the visual in the coming years. 

Plotting the course for 2022

All things being equal, our forecast for the next 12 months is a difficult year for news and online TV (due to fatigue and cost respectively), while gaming and audio will continue to thrive. 

Unpredictability will still be a byword in 2022, thanks both to the ever-dynamic COVID-19 situation and those lightning-in-a-bottle, breakout pieces of content (look at Squid Game). It will still pay to be agile and responsive to trends as they develop, but understanding your audience and developing reliable insights will be a great anchor as you develop your strategy for next year. 

By Chris Beer

Trends Manager