Mobile Is Eating Global Attention: 10 Graphs on the State of the Internet

Online photo sharing has sextupled in two years. Nigerians are on their phones 30 percent more than Americans. We now spend more time on mobile than on print and radio combined.

Mary Meeker's State of the Internet presentation is a primordial soup for fledgling think pieces about the Future of Digital, and I mean that in a good way, actually. It's a 164-page slideshow of graphs and big-think proclamations about where our attention—and money chasing our attention—is going.

Here are my favorite charts, with some commentary. 

The mother of all attention charts

This is your at-a-glance picture of how America spends her time consuming media, and how ad dollars are divided across the major categories of print, radio, TV, Internet, and mobile. Feast your eyes...

Here are three conclusions you could draw from this graph:

1. TV Still Rules. Compare this attention chart with its 2011 version below and you see something strange: TV's share of our attention has slightly declined, while its share of the American ad market has slightly increased. It's the only category that shares that dubious, dual distinction. Essentially: Advertisers like moving pictures on big screens even more than we do.

2. Print Is Simply Screwed. Over time, you could argue, ad dollars and attention tend to align, because companies simply want to be where the ears and eyeballs are. If that's true, print's structural decline is nowhere near over. Its share of attention fell six percentage points in the last two years, and there's still a cavernous gap between reading time and ad sales.

Not all attention is created equal, a good print publisher will tell you, and she's right. If the typical American looks at his phone 150 times a day for 15 seconds, that's about 40 minutes spent on a mobile device. But what's more valuable: 40 minutes divided into infinitesimally tiny slivers on a three-inch screen, or 40 minutes reading an Atlantic cover story in a beautiful print layout? (The latter, obviously.) But print advertising as a category buys a tiny amount of our attention at a high price. Leading us to the final conclusion...

3. Mobile Is Devouring Attention, but Not Ads (Yet) 

Eyes move faster than ads. It was true for TV: In 1941, when the first television ads appeared with local baseball games, radio and print dominated the media advertising market. Now it's true for mobile, which is practically a glass appendage attached to working Americans and commands more attention than radio and print combined, even though it only commands 1/20th of US ad spending. Google and Facebook own the future of mobile advertising, for now. But the present of mobile monetization isn't ads. It's apps...

Mobile is an app business

The second chart that really struck me from the Meeker report shows the growth of the mobile biz since 2008, which has exploded from $2 billion to $38 billion. I never would have guessed that two-thirds of the mobile business comes from paid apps rather than advertising. It's an interesting reversal from the desktop ecosystem, where just about every Internet property I use is free and supported with third-party advertising. When you combine this graph (basically: Mobile is an app industry, with a side of ads) and the previous graph (basically: The future of attention is mobile), you begin to see just how important it is for media companies to promote high-quality apps for their stuff. 

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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