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I read, in an article in Psychology Today, the following:

There are pornographers who do constantly seek out "new, harder themes"--Evil Angel has purportedly found great success with anal gaping videos--but this is a way of attracting and temporarily monopolizing the small minority of individuals who are true novelty seekers. PornHub and RedTube aren't losing eyeballs to such sites: novelty seekers never went to the vanilla tube sites to begin with.

and:

If the tube sites are losing eyeballs at all, it's to cam sites.

It's pretty clear that "losing eyeballs" here is referring to a decrease in the amount of viewers; in other words, "eyeballs" is referring to "viewers".

It is the first time that I see this term used. Perhaps this is because I do not regularly read articles under the themes "websites", "television" or any place where "eyeballs" might come in handy for an author.

I would like to know several things: first, whether or not "eyeballs" is (to a certain degree) commonly used to refer to "viewers". Second, if it is common, how is it used? Can one say: "gaining eyeballs", for instance? Third, for what kind of viewable objects is the term used? e.g. is it exclusively used for internet viewers? Last, and most importantly, does the term imply something negative/positive about the viewer themselves, or is it just purely a replacement of the term "viewer"?

  • eyeballs, Informal. people who view or read something: Old TV shows are getting a lot of eyeballs online. (Dictionary.com) – user66974 Aug 22 '16 at 8:54
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It is a simple figure of speech, specifically a synecdoche. It is not a technical term, and the use is a bit colloquial - I wouldn't expect an article in a marketing journal to talk of "eyeballs".

whether or not "eyeballs" is (to a certain degree) commonly used to refer to "viewers"

It is common enough to be recognized without the need for explanation. I would expect people reading this type of literature to have come across now and then. Still, it is by far not as common as "viewers" or maybe other terms such as "customers".

How is it used?

There are no strict rules that I can think of. Rely on your own language sense. If a sentence with "eyeballs" sounds OK to you, use it. I am not aware of any fixed phrase which requires it, and phrases like "gaining eyeballs" sound as good (or bad) as "losing eyeballs".

for what kind of viewable objects is the term used?

I wouldn't say it depends on the object. It will require that the process of gazing is prominent in perceiving the medium though. I wouldn't use it for book readers, for example, as the reading seems somehow more important there than the mere seeing. But web sites, TV shows, museum exhibitions, etc. should all work.

does the term imply something negative/positive about the viewer themselves?

It is mostly neutral about the viewer, but it has a slight connotation of commercialization. A painter producing art wants people to engage with her paintings, to be emotionally moved by it. A producer of mass entertainment, especially ones who make money out of Internet ads (which can pay on page impressions) only cares about exposure, and reduces the consumers of his product to impersonal eyeballs whose only use is to provide income-generating views. Depending on your own philosophical views, this can be positive, negative or neutral. In any case, it says nothing about the viewer, and that says something about the person who provides the medium to be viewed.

  • Good answer. I would add that "eyeballs" is a reductive term - we don't care about any aspect of the viewer other than the fact that they have physically viewed the thing - we don't care whether they liked it, for example: we're just measuring views. It's similar to the concept of "footfall", which refers to the number of people entering a shop or shopping centre - again, that measure doesn't "care" whether they bought anything, it's just measuring their presence. – Max Williams Aug 22 '16 at 9:19
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"Eyeball" in the passage is perhaps harping back to 1970's CB radio slang where it can simple mean a look (noun) or to look (verb) as well as a meeting.

Q: What does "Eyeball" mean?
A: If you hear a truck driver say "Eyeball" on their CB radio, it's just another way to say "Face-to-face meeting with CB'er." Eyeball may also simply mean "to look at something."
http://www.cbslang.com/dictionary/eyeball

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