Media future will be driven by data, not demographics, says Johanna Blakley

Demographics around age, gender and income used to dominate the world of media ad sales. Yet in the world of new media, said Johanna Blakley, the Deputy Director of the Norman Lear Center at USC, those easy categories no longer apply.

“When you look online at the way people aggregate, they don’t aggregate around age, gender and income,” Blakley said in TED talk posted in Feb. 2011. “They aggregate around the things they love, the things that they like, and if you think about it, shared interests and values are a far more powerful aggregator of human beings than demographic categories. I’d much rather know whether you like Buffy the Vampire Slayerrather than how old you are. That would tell me something more substantial about you,” she said.

While the shift from demographically-based advertising to advertising based on the things you enjoy (think the pop-up ads on Facebook) can be mildly unnerving, Blakley suggests there is an upside to having your interests tracked by media companies. “Suddenly, our taste is being respected in a way that it hasn’t been before,” she said. Under the old model it was simply presumed.

What’s surprising about the social media revolution, said Blakley, is that contrary to presumptions, women are in the driver’s seat. ”If you look at the statistics — these are worldwide statistics — in every single age category, women actually outnumber men in their use of social networking technologies. And then if you look at the amount of time that they spend on these sites, they truly dominate the social media space,” she said.
Blakley is far from alone in her conclusion. According to a Jan. 13, 2011, report by Deloitte, “women constitute the largest emerging market the world has ever seen.” In aMarch 8, 2011, article for the Harvard Business Review, Slyvia Ann Hewlitt agreed. “Globally, women control nearly $12 trillion of the $18 trillion total overall consumer spending, a figure predicted to rise to $15 trillion by 2014,” she wrote.

Addressing the needs of these audiences doesn’t mean more chick flicks or Eat Pray Love imitations. ”The future entertainment media that we’re going to see is going to be very data-driven,” said Blakley, “and it’s going to be based on the information that we ascertain from taste communities online, where women are really driving the action.”


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