Paying for attention

Paying for attention

August 20, 2013

DT Cochrane

The media company 21st Century Fox has purchased a five percent share of the website Vice for $70 million. The website produces a wide range of content. However, much of what it currently does is rabble rousing investigative reporting, like a recent half hour report on Sarnia’s ‘Chemical Valley’ and the effect of the pollution generated by the area’s chemical plants on the nearby Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

Another investor in Vice is the advertising giant WPP plc. Insiders at Vice still control 75% of the company’s shares, so the outside ownership cannot be turned into editorial control. There must be another reason why a media company and an advertising company both want a piece of Vice. One answer could lie in the importance of accessing youth. As the media landscape fractures and the attention of young people scatters from the relatively narrow confines of television to the wide open terrain of the Internet, those who depend on that attention need to pass through more outlets to reach them. Further, not only has the number of outlets increased, they’ve become more diverse and eclectic.

Young people are not only current purchasers of capitalist products, they will continue to make purchases for decades to come. Capitalists not only want to sell them goods today, they also want to understand them, so marketing efforts can be targetted more effectively tomorrow. Analysis of the Vice viewership will tell 21st Century Fox and WPP something about those viewers. This is valuable information for the sellers of products, who are the purchasers of what 21st Century Fox and WPP sell: access to attention.