I had a frustrating weekend. I spent the majority of it working on a video recapping the Miami Heat’s road to the NBA Championship, which they accomplished last Thursday. This video would be the second one related to the 2012 Miami Heat/Lebron James/NBA Finals attention wave that I would post to my Youtube Channel. It was vital that these videos be published as close to the end of the NBA season as possible, so as to latch onto the attention the event would receive, before people shifted their focus to other things. Interest in the ‘narrative’ of the Heat, and Lebron James in particular, would spike temporarily. My Lebron/Miami Heat videos – produced partially for fun, and partially for attention – would reach the public consciousness as people searched online content related to the Lebron/Heat feat. I made the videos with this fully in mind. It represents something that I call ‘riding the wave’.
As the name of this blog suggests, in the ‘attention era’ (we’re not yet in an full-blown Attention Economy), the consciousness of the people is like a Sine wave. As my earlier videos show, some events pop up in the zeitgeist (represented by what they search for on Google) , and disappear very quickly. A good example is the death of some celebrity, or public figure. Two examples are the folk singer Doc Watson, whose death on May 29th catapulted searches for his name to the top of the Hot Searches list, and Family Feud host Richard Dawson, who passed three days later on June 2nd.
Both of these figures reached the top of the Hot Searches list days after their deaths. However, people soon shifted their focus elsewhere. In attention wave terms, events like these (celeb deaths, even of popular ones like Whitney Houston) have a very short wavelength. Death is pretty much a one-time thing.
But some events occur, some ‘stories’ pop up that maintain momentum for a much longer time than a day or two. The ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ phenomenon of last month is a good example:
The wave began on Monday, May 28th, with the story of a naked man being killed by police, while he was eating another man’s face. People obviously figured out that a mere search of ‘Miami News’ would show this strange story in the top searches.
Of course, any story this bizarre and rare could be expected to leap into the zeitgeist momentarily, if only because the mainstream media can be relied upon to milk sensational stories of sex, drugs, and stardom for all they’re worth. Stories like this one are train-wrecks: they demand at least a glance.
The face-eating story, however, was more than a train wreck that you pass, glance at, and then move past. The next day, Tuesday, May 29th, ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ was a quickly-rising search on Google, with ‘Miami News’ holding steady in the top 10. By Wednesday, May 30th, ‘Bath Salts’ went as high as number 2 on Trends, when it was revealed to be the drug the ‘cannibal’ (number 19) was high on during the attack. By next Tuesday, June 5th, steps were being taken at Government levels to make ‘Bath Salts’ illegal, and CNN did an investigative report. By Thursday, June 7th, the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ wave had died out. It had lasted 10 days.
There are essentially two types of attention waves: Scheduled and Spontaneous. Sporting events/seasons, as well as Entertainment-related events (Movie releases, Grammys, Oscars, etc) are examples of the former, while ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ or ‘news’ (whatever that is) represents the latter. Any entity that produces media content for public consumption will do so by ‘riding the wave’ of attention that is generated by either of these types of events.
‘Scheduled’ attention waves are most prominent in stable, ‘advanced’ societies (such as the USA), where spontaneous, uncontrollable events (wars, famine, etc) are unlikely to upset the normal rhythm enough to make them irrelevant. Even the most catastrophic spontaneous wave to hit America recently (9/11), only halted the NFL (our most-popular sport) for one week:
Therefore, in a country like America, an attention wave like ‘sports’ is a pretty good one to latch onto for a content-producer ( amateur or professional) since, barring catastrophe, sports-related events can be relied on to resonate in a fairly-consistent pattern with the people. This brings us back to my NBA/Miami Heat videos on Youtube.
On Sunday, 6.17, the Miami Heat beat The Oklahoma City Thunder, to take a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals. This meant they were only two games away from clinching the title, which seemed unlikely two weeks earlier, when they faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals. From that point on, the Heat, in particular their biggest star, Lebron James, seemed to ‘will’ themselves to victory over the Boston Celtics, against the odds, and against public perception. This gave me an idea: ‘Lebron James: Force of will’. I knew that if Lebron and the Heat won, interest in both he and the team would spike sharply. He is easily one of the most recognizable sports figures on the planet. However, I knew that unless Lebron and the Heat won the NBA title, their victory over Boston would be soon-forgotten. So, I waited until they had shown winning the NBA Finals was a real possibility. When they went up 2-1, I sprung into action, and created the ‘Lebron 2012: Force of Will’ Trailer:
The video did well (by my standards) in large part to the timing of its publishing. Leading the series 2-1 was by no means a guarantee of victory (and the attention it would garner) for Lebron and the Heat, but it was concievable. I took a gamble, and basically won. I got a Youtube video to trend well from the start, and if the Heat somehow failed to pull out the victory, I could easily scrap the project, and move on. However, the Heat won the next two games, finishing the series on Thursday, 6.21, with a dominant win over the Thunder. I published ‘Lebron 2012: Force of Will’ the next day, Friday, 6.22.
This video trended just as well as the first, thankfully. There is really no way to guarantee that a video will ‘go viral’ or get x-number of views on Youtube, but it is safe to say that timing plays a big, big part in the equation, especially when it comes to Scheduled attention waves. Once the ‘big dance’ is over, people’s ability to shift focus can be quite stark. Here are the early numbers from the follow-up video (in two parts) I scrambled to release over the weekend, entitled ‘Miami Heat 2012: Road to Glory’:
It was posted yesterday, and has since gotten about 25 views each. That’s not very promising. It makes me wonder whether had I been able it out on Saturday perhaps, it would be compiling views faster. It makes sense. After all, the series and season was over on Thursday. By Friday people were interested in Lebron/Miam Heat/NBA content, but by the weekend, they had moved on it seems. This phenomenon highlights one of the perhaps ‘negative’ realities to expect in the Attention Economy: ‘Memory Loss’. The next post will explore this.