Five media tech trends from May: AI, VR, Snapchat, Chrome ad-blocker, and subscriptions

1. AI finds its voice

The march of artificial intelligence, particularly as manifested through home assistant software, continued in May. Apple is now reportedly readying its own product to take on Amazon, while the ecommerce and cloud computing giant itself unveiled the Echo Show last month: an Alexa-powered smart speaker that includes a 7” touchscreen and video-calling features. 

eMarketer released its first forecasts for the voice assistant market, highlighting that the sector had grown faster than analysts initially predicted when the Amazon Echo was launched in 2015. It also expects voice to be a strong future growth area. According to the report, the heaviest users of digital assistants in the US are people between the ages of 25 and 34. They represent 26.3 per cent of virtual assistant users, and more than one-third of millennials (33.5 per cent) will use a virtual assistant this year. It’s a trend we know that publishers have been exploring for some time, and you may remember that Hearst announced it was building a dedicated voice team back in December 2016 to create voice led experiences. 

Amazon Echo Show ()

2. Virtual reality loses site

With the figures around the home assistant sector showing strong growth, another report released in May highlighted a less promising view for virtual reality (VR). According to a recent Nielsen study conducted in the US and reported by Business Insider, very few consumers say they’re likely to buy one of the big VR headsets on the market today. The Gear VR and Sony’s PlayStation VR lead the way, but with only 7 per cent of respondents saying they’re interested. Google’s existing Daydream headsets are at 4 per cent.

The slow uptake of VR is a trend that has been reported on for some months. With potentially high production costs for publishers, and equally high hardware costs for consumers, the barriers for entry can be high. Conversely, as FIPP has spoken about before, augmented reality – which can run more simplistically via the smartphones kept in consumer pockets – may still provide the larger opportunity for publishers at this point.  

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3. Snapchat dwindling? 

Snapchat released its first quarterly earnings report as a publicly listed company in May, and the results were not good. Fortune reported that Snap stock was down 23 per cent following the call, citing the words of what it said was a ‘very nervous’ CEO, Evan Spiegel: “At the end of the day, just because Yahoo has a search box, it doesn’t mean they’re Google,” referring to Facebook’s new camera feature with augmented reality. 

The Snap stock has largely rallied back since that dive, but increasingly aggressive competition from Facebook is not going unnoticed in the industry. Instagram CEO, Kevin Systrom, was again forced to defend the app against copycat accusations last month, and such is Facebook’s interest across the entire online video spectrum, the company is even reportedly readying Hollywood producers to help it take on traditional TV and streaming companies. 

Snapchat ()

4. Chrome ad-blocker

FIPP recently interview Adblock Plus about its acquisition of micropayments service, Flattr. What’s interesting about the current ad-blocking landscape is that Adblock Plus could soon be finding itself on the backfoot if the rumours surrounding Google’s impending Chrome extension ad-blocker are to be believed. In mid-May, Google held its annual I/O developers conference, and nothing around ad-blocking was announced, but the rumour mill keeps churning. Based on previous commentary from around the industry this could be something that is announced soon, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on all the latest news and views here on the FIPP website. 

Google Chrome ()

5. Subscription-based models 

In May we attended the UK Professional Publishers Association (PPA) Festival at the Tobacco Dock in London. It was a well-attended event that threw up some interesting topics, not least because online subscription models appeared to be very much the order of the day. Industry revenue patterns have changed significantly over the past ten years. 

When the PPA released its Magazine Media Handbook in 2007, it highlighted a 72 per cent vs. 28 per cent split between print circulation and advertising revenues respectively. In the years that followed, the great global migration of magazine content from print to digital led to an understandable gold rush for online display ad dollars. But now, in an online ecosystem being increasingly dominated by Facebook and Google, further hampered by the growth of online ad blocking, and at a time when the scalability and shareability of social media has not necessarily converted into profitability for many media brands, publishers are again looking at new solutions. 

Here, FIPP looks at the views of five leading experts from Centaur, IHS Markit, Financial Times, Campaign, and Time Inc. who spoke on the subject at the event. 

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