How To Measure Ghosts

We have never had so much data about the things we like. Every time we watch a film on Netflix, listen to a track on Spotify, or scroll through Facebook we leave behind a trail of data that is captured, aggregated and analysed. This in turn is used to drive decisions about the kind of films, music and stories we see in our culture, and therefore, the kind of society we think we live in.

But it wasn’t always like this. At the start of the twentieth century, the rise of broadcast technologies like Radio and TV created a huge problem for cultural entrepreneurs. For the first time in history, audiences were not coming to theatres, news-stands or book shops to buy culture, but were having it broadcast directly into their homes. The feedback loop between audiences and creators was broken, turning audiences from tangible crowds into dispersed ghosts.

The story of the last 100 years is the race to measure these ghosts, and in doing so, enable the creation of global businesses built on measuring attention. Without these metrics, these broadcast and digital empires would never have emerged, and our global culture would have looked very different.

This newsletter looks at the way we measure attention as an intrinsic part of culture itself, an essential part of a feedback loop that connects artists, audiences and entrepreneurs. This is the story of how we discovered ways to measure ghosts, and in doing so, changed culture forever.

Why a newsletter?

I’ve been writing and talking about ideas linked to audience attention and metrics for over a decade. There’s lots of research that I haven’t published, and there’s lots of questions that I’d like to discuss with other people who are equally curious. I hope you’ll find my research useful enough to subscribe, but I’m hoping being part of an active community will be even more valuable.

Join the conversation

I’ll be sending out newsletters roughly once a fortnight, or more when there are very relevant current events. I’ll mix up my own research with links to contemporary news and articles, and resources shared by all of you lovely subscribers. If you work in or around the media, and want a different way of thinking about the way media shapes our world, then I’d love to invite you to join us!

To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit

Subscribe to How To Measure Ghosts

Culture industries - TV, Film, Games, Music, Radio, Books and more - are defined by one thing - metrics. But who decides what metrics to use? Join me as I trace the odd, hidden histories of the way we measure audiences.


Matt Locke

Director of Storythings, interested in tech/culture/etc for far too many years. Currently writing a book about Arthur C Nielsen and how we measured audiences in the 20th century.