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Changing Attention Span and What it Means for Content in 2021

What is the price we pay to order donuts at 3am, Facetime a mate in France and learn about 40s fashion simultaneously? A recent study by Microsoft concluded that the human attention span has dropped to eight seconds – shrinking nearly 25% in just a few years. Are we damaging our brains, or is it a question of producing the right content to get people to stop, collaborate and listen?


That nifty device in your pocket - friend or foe? Whilst your smartphone can help you connect with friends and family, plan your social life, stay informed on current affairs plus motivate and track your exercise, it can also distract you from your work, make you feel inadequate and encourage reckless spending. One study from the American Psychological Association found that nearly one-fifth of people say technology is a source of stress. Then there are the potential physical effects of being "always on," from neck pain (and wrinkles) to elevated blood pressure. How can we make sure we are getting the most from our devices and keeping our brain focussed?



1. Quality over Quantity

We may be jumping between apps, but we also love a good binge. On average, Netflix viewers watched 3.2 hours of streaming video per day in 2020. A recent study from Edison shows that Australians are listening to an average of six podcast episodes a week (around 4.3 hours). Our attention spans may be getting shorter, but content that is highly relevant or entertaining will always hold its audience. 93% of podcast listeners stay tuned for “all, or the majority” of each episode, displaying the medium’s ability to hold attention.


Studies have shown that bingeing content is a welcome refuge from our busy lives. Instead of dealing with the day's stresses by zoning out, we'd rather become engrossed in an entirely different world. In a world of text messages, tweets and app notifications, immersive content can feel like a welcome break, especially when it is screenless like a podcast.


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2. Content Shock


As recently as 3-5 years ago, brands were seeing awesome organic reach on Facebook and YouTube by creating great quality video content. Of course, it didn’t take long for more and more marketers to realize this, and so content creation increased at a rapid rate. Additionally, it became the norm for brands to have a social media presence and digital content strategy.

This means that there is now so much information available online that users can’t keep up with it all, and even great quality content can quickly become buried. The field is highly saturated. It was predicted a couple of years ago that the rate of content production would eventually eclipse our ability to consume it, and many people now believe we have reached this point, known as ‘content shock’.

This doesn’t mean that there is no point in creating content - you just have to adapt your strategy and embrace new, untapped markets such as podcasting.


3. Multitasking

There are some schools of thought that believe the time on our phone sharpens our multitasking skills and allows us to get more done, or can enhance a boring task. Have you ever played a game on your phone whilst watching TV? Chances are you will barely remember what happened in the show, and perform below your usual standard in the game.

However, podcasts tend to multitask better than other media as they are screenless. A recent study showed that while 49% of podcast listening happens at home, 22% happens while driving, 11% at work, and 8% while exercising. Going deep on Paris Hilton’s life story can get you through that cardio. A podcast lets you multitask whilst learning, entertaining or challenging your brain. And that’s hot.




4. Trending Topics

Sharing content that you love with mates has never been easier or quicker, but interest fades fast. Seconds later there is a different viral meme, or news story vying for our attention. Global attention spans are narrowing and trends don’t last as long. For example, a 2013 Twitter global trend would last for an average of 17.5 hours, contrasted with a 2016 Twitter trend, which would last for only 11.9 hours. The latest data shows that in 2020, trending topics have a shelf-life of 11 minutes.

Podcasts enable listeners to explore their existing interests further or learn something new in a focused manner.

They create a lasting impact on the audience because they provide a deep, personal connection. Whilst you probably can’t remember the last ad that popped up on your Insta feed, a Spotify study found that 81% of listeners have taken action as a result of listening to audio ads during a podcast.



5. Screen Fatigue

With the pandemic forcing us to spend more time than ever in front of our screens, many are considering a digital detox as a form of self-care. The most common reasons for this pull back from technology are feeling overwhelmed by sales messages and an overall distrust in social media platforms.

Other findings show that most people will only read up to 28 percent of the text on a web page, and more commonly only manage around 20 percent.

Tips for taking control of your technology use include turning off notifications, turning your screen to black and white (apparently it makes content less appealing), designating phone-free hours and deleting social media apps.

This is where audio can provide a respite. 92% of people that listen to podcasts do so alone, creating an intimate and personal environment. Spotify found that one in three respondents said that the reason that they tune into podcasts is because they are screenless.


Whether or not you believe in content shock and a drop in attention span, it's clear that audiences are crying out for alternative options to the mindless scroll. The opportunity for cut through in podcast advertising is bigger than ever before. Want to learn more? Drop us a line.