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The Watch Media Ecosystem: a Two Year Review.

Last week, I finished user onboarding with a service called CrowdTangle, a startup that launched in 2012. In 2016, Facebook acquired CrowdTangle. In 2019, it opened a service for academic researchers. I recently applied to participate and I was accepted. CrowdTangle provides a wide array of analytic data for activity on Facebook and Instagram. I'm only beginning to familiarize myself with it. Out of curiosity, I decided to get my bearings by looking through the platform's data on watch media. The insights I'm posting here are the result.

CrowdTangle's engine reports a wide range of information on public posts and accounts, including followers, reactions (likes, etc), shares and commenting. I began by building a list of the major watch media outlets which have been operating for a fair number of years. I requested feedback on Instagram for my initial list and updated it accordingly (thank you to everyone who commented, acknowledgements below).

I ended up with a list of 16 outlets (see figure).
The brands forming the sample.
If you are an industry professional or enthusiast, I think the group will be familiar. I acknowledge that there are also many "new new media" outlets that are extremely important voices (podcasters, newsletters and the like). I will probably publish a second piece discussing that ecosystem in the very near future.

I decided to pull analytic data for Instagram. Conveniently, the watch community is quite active on this particular platform, so it is fair to say that evidence from Instagram activity is important. However, since watch media rely upon a wide array of platforms (including websites, RSS, podcasts and now potentially even Clubhouse) I've decided to report results without attaching the name of an outlet to any particular piece of data. I think this will help avoid inferences like, "watch publication X is ranked Y in audience size." There are limitations to the data I have available. They don't present a complete picture of audience and attention.

With those caveats in place, let's begin.
Two year timeline of watch media IG interactions.
I'm going to rely on "interactions" as a proxy for attention to an outlet's Instagram account. CrowdTangle defines interactions as a weighted sum of responses after an account makes a post (responses are reactions, comments and shares). I pulled the interactions data for two years across these 16 outlets. Let's first discuss the "forest," i. e. the overall picture for watch media. Monthly total IG interactions for the industry between May, 2019 and April, 2021 are presented in the attached figure. The average across these 24 months was approximately 774,000. I ran the numbers and there is no statistically significant trend, positive or negative, to the volume of attention paid to these watch media on Instagram. I believe this is an important first result. It suggests that watch media are not benefitting from more intense attention from Instagram users and / or an expansion of the number of Instagram users paying attention to watch media. I'll return to this result below.

Let's next consider the lore surrounding the pandemic and the watch industry. I've read commentary by many individuals suggesting that interest in watches was on an upswing through the pandemic, perhaps due to the fact that household entertainment budgets could not be spent on travel, restaurants, or other public leisure activities. I do not find evidence supporting this claim in the Instagram data. From March, 2020 through the end of the year, there was no statistically significant increase in interactions with watch media on Instagram (perhaps not a surprise given that I also can not find evidence of an overall positive trend in the data).

There was an upswing in interest at the immediate onset of the pandemic: peak interactions took place in April, 2020.
Monthly interaction totals, descreasing sort.
What the data shows, though, is that this bump was short-run in nature. There may be a historical explanation for this uptick. Typically, the Baselworld trade fair took place in the March / April timeframe. Increased attention in these months might simple reflect a habit on the part of the watch community. The fact that April, 2021 registered the second-highest level of Instagram interaction with watch media is also consistent with the "trade show" hypothesis. The virtual watch trade show "Watches and Wonders" took place April 7-13, 2021.

Now let's peek at the trees populating the watch media forest.
The distribution of watch media interaction on IG.
What is the distribution of interactions across outlets? Here, I present a histogram of interactions. It does not follow a normal distribution. Instead, it skews right and has a "long tail" with one outlet, in particular, gaining a lot of Instagram attention. That outlet has 5X the total interactions of the average for the 16 outlets. It's two nearest competitors for attention attract roughly 40% of its interactions. There is also a collection of 12 outlets clustered closely together in close proximity to the median of the attention distribution.

Overall, it would be fair to describe the watch media industry as competitive when it comes to Instagram user interactions. In the Industrial Organization economics literature, there is a commonly used measure of competition called the HHI (Herfindahl-Hirschman Index). It is computed from market share figures. Ideally, I would calculate a revenue HHI for these outlets but since almost all of them are private enterprises, this isn't possible. I calculated an Instagram attention HHI, instead, which yields a value of 1,616. According to the Antitrust Division of the U. S. Department of Justice, HHI values between the range of 1,500 and 5,000 suggests an industry which is "moderately concentrated" although watch media interactions are at the very low end of such concentration. If we included "new new media," it is quite likely the HHI would indicate a competitive industry.

A second indicator of competitiveness is "convergence." Do the outlets with lower levels of IG interactions show any indication that they might "catch up" with the top tier of outlets? The answer to this question is yes.
Trend in individual outlet IG interactions, each line is an account.
The figure here is a "spaghetti diagram" of monthly IG interactions as a percent of interactions at the start of the sample. For example, the outlet with the highest total number of interactions ended the sample at 1.04 on the chart. This implies that their interactions in that month were 4% higher than they were at the outset of the sample. The chart shows that there were 8 outlets that expanded their IG interactions at the end of the sample by more than 4%. If this pattern persisted, these eight lower ranked outlets would continue to catch up with the top ranked outlet. There is, therefore, a second indicator that the watch media industry is highly competitive.

Conclusion

In summary, CrowdTangle data on Instagram interactions suggests the following regarding watch media and the watch industry:
  • There is no evidence that the pandemic increased watch media attention on Instagram.
  • There is no evidence that attention to watch media on Instagram is trending (neither positively nor negatively).
  • There is evidence suggesting that trade shows drive greater attention to watch media.
  • Watch media are weakly concentrated and show signs of convergence among outlets.
These results have a few implications for watch media and the watch industry. Generally speaking, if a "pie" of some sort is not growing, one person's slice can only expand at the cost of a smaller slice for someone else. Instagram interaction statistics suggest this is the kind of "business stealing" competition we see at play in watch media. Further, static attention to watch media on Instagram is likely not the ideal situation for brands. Other things equal, the watch industry would no doubt prefer that watch media enhance understanding and interest in watch collecting. The results presented here suggest trade shows may be one method to increase attention.

Generally speaking, collectors should be encouraged by these results. Consumers usually benefit from intense competition, although such competition can make it far more difficult for watch media outlets to thrive. I plan to explore alternatives which might address this challenge in coming posts.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Instagram accounts thewatchregulator, horology_ancienne, zkazan, cbradleytucker, biaoist, and redbar_bombay for feedback on my initial list of watch media outlets.

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