In a break from our usual round-up of the previous month’s trends, we begin 2018 with a look back at five of the key media tech trends that impacted the industry most significantly in 2017.
Undoubtedly the buzz phrase of the year was ‘Fake News’. With a newly-elected US President hell-bent on undermining the traditional media, and a social-ecosphere now fully equipped to meet the growing demand for ‘alternative facts’, the global view of mainstream media changed forever in 2017. Jim Edwards, Founding Editor of Business Insider UK, told FIPP: “It's not simply that some people can't tell the difference between real news and fake news. Rather, some people want fake news. They want ‘alternative facts’. They prefer it to verification and context and balance and detail.”
However, hope increased in the battle for truth over the course of 2017 as some of the leading sources of untrustworthy content came under scrutiny from as far and wide as the legal and political realms. Heading up the Fake News charge was Facebook, which in a new study published in 2018 was found to be the biggest distributor of fake news in the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election. With the social network site coming under wider scrutiny in 2017 surrounding issues including advertising practices, video viewability, and psychological health, and Google content particularly on YouTube causing increasing concern, the responsibility – and opportunity – for traditional publishers operating premium content environments is clear.
It’s no secret that the global advertising industry suffered a tough year in 2017 with WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, IPG, Dentsu Aegis Network and Havas all posting little or no growth for the year. What we saw instead was a recalibration of recent digital advertising trends, where programmatic and retargeting exchanges in particular lost a lot of the allure they had amassed in recent years.
In August, we spoke to Grupo Abril about how the Brazilian publishing giant was achieving revenue increases by decluttering ad inventory. More recently, changes made to Apple’s retargeting regulations led to an open letter from the US advertising industry warning that the updates had the potential to ‘sabotage the economic model of the internet’. With the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into play later on this year, and a Facebook and Google duopoly now itself coming under increased scrutiny, the changing advertising landscape could present further opportunities for traditional publishers.
‘Pivot to video’ is a phrase that became indicative of Tennyson’s Kraken in 2017. Having roared into media consciousness at the beginning of the year, it had quickly died on the surface by the end of 2017, and already become the subject of ridicule somewhere in-between. The trouble is that many publishers, perhaps spurred on by the enviable viewability and click-thru rates reported by Facebook, began to place a heavy emphasis on video content. But as we first asked on FIPP.com in August, when you’re sitting on a train at 7:30 in the morning and struggling to pull out a 3G, let alone an internet signal, is this really the easiest way of consuming the morning’s news?
Considering this trend more recently and more eloquently as part of NiemanLab’s Predictions for Journalism 2018, Susie Banikarim, editorial director of the Gizmodo Media Group, highlights that “even ad buyers are realising video isn’t some panacea”. From a year that saw Mashable sold off for a low price, new media companies like Vice and BuzzFeed undergo significant contraction, and more recently the much-hyped Videology company put up for sale, it’s an important lesson in managing the incorporation of emerging trends without betting the farm on them.
One area that saw tremendous growth in 2017 was voice. Now, you can’t turn on the television without seeing a commercial for the Amazon Echo or Google Home. In May, eMarketer reported that 35.6 million Americans would use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month throughout the course of the year - a jump of 128.9% on 2016. It’s a tangible trend that has sparked the imagination in wider Artificial Intelligence capabilities, and has longsince seen Hearst create a tangible voice team.
However, where the opportunity lies for publishers, is still up for debate. What the home assistant trend does show us is that physical products can still generate revenue in a digital world, and indeed in many ways this is the reason behind their success. In April of last year we wrote about the Nintendo Switch, and how the 127yr old playing card publisher’s new multi-platform device catapulted it into global success. It’s easier said than done, but perhaps the real lesson to be learned from the growth of voice is that creating content around the physical world... be that through events, products, services or experiences, may well be a strong future route to revenue diversification.
A fascinating tweet appeared at the start of this year from Business News Network Anchor, Jon Erlichman. It shows how old media tech companies will be turning in 2018 - from Snapchat to IBM - and this tells us a few things: Firstly, the media tech that we still think of as being cutting edge is not actually that recent. Snapchat will be turning seven years old this year (Instagram eight) and there’s actually only six years between the launch of Google and Facebook. Netflix, which began life in the physical DVD world, is now two decades old and the iPhone, product of 42yr old company Apple, is itself aged ten.
It’s also important to remember that newer media tech companies like Snapchat and Twitter have in no way superseded Facebook and Google in terms of revenues. In 2017 Uber experienced what TechCrunch has described as a “Hellish year” while Disney, a 94yr old cartoon studio, continues to go from strength to strength. It’s a timely reminder that, while it is sometimes tempting to conceptualise things in this way, the real-life trend is not actually one of decay and rebirth. Technological advancement could in some ways be argued to be slowing down, and it is by no means the new kids on the block at the present time that control the future. Quality content, products, and services remain the keys to success.
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