Now, to be clear, much of the “time spent” argument, while it takes to task previous metrics such as pageviews and impressions, is still based on a similar premise. Readers come to a web page to consume content, and while there, they are exposed to ads. As Jeff says in his blog post from earlier this spring, “Selling Ads by Time, Not Space”
The longer we spend on a page, the longer we see the ad, the more valuable the ad should be, right?
As a journalist himself, Jeff sees the win-win-win value of using time as a metric. First, it rewards publishers (and the journalists) that invest in quality content that merits the time and attention of its readers. Second, it rewards the advertisers, whose ads actually have a decent chance of being seen, and which can still be placed using automated systems. This is important, as scale still matters to advertisers — something the native advertising movement isn’t set up to accommodate. And, presumably, readers win as well, with a lot more good content to read.
At ShopAdvisor, we also believe time spent is a valuable metric, but we look at it from a different perspective that comes from a focus on tablet editions of magazines. On most pages of a magazine, the ads don’t appear alongside the content, the way they do on the web. Instead, the ads are full page displays. The magazines themselves have great content that attracts readers, but just as often, the ads themselves are content. The time spent on the ad itself is the relevant measure, not the time spent near the ad in the hope that it gets noticed.
For tablet magazine publishers, the time-spent metric is not simply a function of compelling content that causes readers to linger on a page. Rather, it is a function of providing greater depth to an ad so that readers linger longer (and dive into) the brand experience. Given the choice between spending time on a page or spending time in the ad, brands clearly will prefer the latter.
This is not unique to the tablet, of course. The IAB has specified a half dozen ad units — the Rising Star ads that expand in both size and depth while keeping the reader on the same web page. For those units, advertisers are keenly interested in how much time a reader spends in the ad, and what features they consume, and, ultimately, what sort of impact the ads have on brand awareness and consideration and purchase intent.
As for publishers of print magazines with tablet editions, the opportunity is a simple. While an IAB Rising Star ad unit requires considerable creative investment on the part of the brand and/or its agency, the attractive full-page ads that appear in the magazine are already appearing in the tablet edition as well. It is much easier and straightforward to deepen an existing ad with an experience than it is to create an altogether new ad specifically designed for the tablet.
And, the way Jeff Jarvis sees it, this trend has the potential to open up new methods of buying and selling. Either way, there are plenty of signs that “time spent” is gaining in awareness and usage as a valuable means of measuring the effectiveness of content and advertising.
Now web publishers can sell time like broadcasters — only this is assured exposure time. Advertisers like buying time. Will this make them more comfortable with buying on the web?
I think this enables publishers to take on some risk for advertisers — guaranteeing them assured exposure time — thus increasing the value of what they sell.
I can only hope that this is another nail in the coffin of the dangerous, old-media-like metrics of unique users and pageviews. Engagement will matter more.
Time will tell.