Considerable effort is going into quantifying the degree of which people paying attention to a medium.

This is a big deal.

Consider how many screens your average Gen Y’er is engaged with, simultaneously, on a Monday night. They could be watching videos on YouTube while watching MTV while tweeting their friends on their iPhone.

There are reinforcing mechanisms here. For instance, getting hit with Stella Artois The Life Legere commercials both on the Comedy Network during a commercial break while getting hit with it on a pre-roll from the Onion News Network. Lately those commercials have been appearing on the fourth screen – the movie theater – during the pre-roll.

Seniors are up to it too: reading the newspaper while listening to the radio while having Wolf Blitzer turned out loudly in the other room. No, seriously, it happens.

Attention is precious. In any given minute, there’s only 30 million minutes worth of attention to be had in Canada: and only 4/5th to 3/4 of the time too (we do sleep). There’s only 290 million or so minutes worth in North America. (I’m discounting infants here…)

What was special during the the 1890’s, before mass live media, was that people could rip out a coupon take action on an offer at a later point. I think something strange happened with measurement during the era of the movie (post 1914?), the radio, and ultimately the TV. For awhile there, during the era of 3 TV networks, advertisers could get the attention of 80% of the people for a full minute. Attribution may have been easier when attention was so concentrated.

Attention is more fragmented not only because of the Internet, but because the more places the Internet is at. At the same time, the Internet medium is more instant than a newspaper or a TV.

It’s the 1890’s on meth.

It’s harder than ever for advertisers to get your attention. And it’s more important than ever to measure whether or not you’re even breaking through the noise in the first place.

Attention is a useful as a predictor for the only dependent variable that really only ever matters: profit.

It’s well worth the effort in trying to quantify and optimize against it.