Much of the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit was focused on restoring trust; from fake news to viewability and ad fraud. 

But there was still time set aside for looking forward at some of the opportunities and challenges that will face media over the next couple of years. Tom Goodwin, the executive vice president of innovation, Zenith USA talked about the ten themes that will move us forward in 2017, if only we are brave enough to approach them with boldness and creativity. 

“Things are never going to be as slow, simple and straightforward as they are today,” said Goodwin, opening his talk. “But not everything is changing. If you go to a remote village, things remain much the same. If you go to a pub this afternoon, you don’t order a pint through a chat app, it doesn’t arrive in a 3D printed glass; in amongst all of this talk of change we need to be mindful of what is and what isn’t changing.”

1 – Abundance 

Goodwin’s first point was a warning about the content machine, and its inevitable consequences:

“We need to be mindful of the incredible amount of content that’s available, but also the complete lack of attention most people pay to it; the amount of content in the world is paralysing us all. Our phones have created media moments, and increasingly phones can create them wherever we are.

“This is not a particularly sustainable future. We’re always designing adverts with the assumption that people have spare capacity and time.”

This assumption that people have spare time to read, watch and listen to what media owners have created is one which will result in an increasingly aggressive competition for eyeballs.

“The current breakneck rate of media means that we’re saturated and our attention is limited. Grabbing meaningful attention is the greatest challenge,” he added. 

2 – Digital disappears

Many people have critiqued the industry’s obsession with the term ‘digital’. Goodwin pointed out that much of this is because we didn’t grow up with the technology, and can still estimate how much of our time we spend ‘online’. But that’s no longer a concrete concept.

“The younger you are, the less the concept of ‘time spent online’ makes any sense. For 14-year-olds, for there to be an ‘online’, there would have to be an ‘offline’. We talk about social media as if it’s an activity that people do rather than just the way things are.”

This is especially true with smartphones; it could easily be argued that we are constantly online.

“This obsession with digital being an ‘activity’ is laughable. There are devices like Google Home which will bring these ideas forward and blur the lines further – as an internet connected device, it doesn’t look how we think it should – it has no screen!”

Goodwin argued that we need to stop thinking about ‘online’ and ‘digital’ as things we do, and instead as an unspoken part of our everyday lives: 

“Digital is like oxygen. It’s there all the time and surrounds us every moment of every day. We can’t base our businesses on the ‘digital’ concept, it has to be an integral part.”

3 – The horizontalisation of media

Another age-related issue which is affecting the industry’s ability to innovate is our need to put things neatly into verticals. Facebook, Youtube and Netflix creeping into the TV space is a long-overdue wake-up call to how we perceive media channels going forwards, Goodwin reasoned.

“We still have media ‘channels’ which are vertical siloes, but it doesn’t really work like that any more. Phones can do everything in the world, TV’s are almost there…the industry isn’t segmented vertically but horizontally. There’s no reason why Facebook can’t control TV’s and the media, or why Spotify can’t launch a video channel.”

“We’re going to have screens everywhere. Probably the most important screen will continue to be our phone; many people talk about what comes next, but maybe we’ve reached the best thing for us already.”

4 – Lines blur

It’s not just media channels that are blurring. The very devices which we reach people on are defying categorisation:

“What is TV? Is it a screen we watch? A context for consumption? A delivery mechanism? A show length? If it’s delivered through the internet is it still TV – is Netflix TV? Is watching a highlights reel on my phone TV?

“We never spend time defining what we actually mean by TV any more. We need to get better at understanding that the notion of TV doesn’t matter any more – it’s about video; making world-class content that’s right for the context.”

But it’s not all challenging. Goodwin reminded the audience that this could well one day be seen as the golden age of video:

“If you work in video and content you have never had it so good. You can reach so many people now; anyone in the world, and it’s both personal and interactive.

5 – More intimate screens and data

Personalisation is becoming more and more…well…personal with the amount of data organisations can gather and wield at scale. But Goodwin believes with much of the content that’s available, the opportunities have been wasted to really make the most of the format.

“Screens have gone from massive cinema screens, to family TV’s, to laptops, to phones. The phone is the singular most personal screen – you usually watch it alone. It knows what you’re planning on doing later that day. It has all of your browsing history, it knows what the weather is like where you are…it’s the richest, most personal, most immersive device we’ve ever known. And we’ve just taken what we had previously and sort of made it fit.

“We really need to get to grips with the amazing opportunities phones present; less ‘Big Data’ and more intimate data.”

6 – New realities

VR and ‘new realities’ frontiers are undoubtably the hottest topic in media right now, and Goodwin drew the comparison to what books were able to do when they were first released.

“VR is about taking you away from everything you’re around, to a more interesting place.

“What these new realities represent is an entirely new way to think about advertising. We always assumed the screens were the canvas, and there’s a frame around what we’re doing. But AR and VR transform all that. 

“The worst thing we could possibly do with them is take our current way of thinking about advertising and shoehorn it in. We need a whole new approach.”

7 – The predictive web

Another trend which will be hugely disruptive to the industry but will be a barely perceptible change to the way people use the internet will be an increasingly sophisticated predictive web. 

“We’ve only ever known an internet that we went to. We went to the search bar – it was always about us and what we wanted to find out.

“We’re now able to predict what we want to do. The internet is less something that we go to and more this pervasive interface that tells us what we want to do and where we want to go. The new internet will give us the right message at the right time at the right place.” 

8 – The ecommerce separation

Separating ‘buying’ and ‘shopping’ may not seem like the most obvious trend to pick up on, but Goodwin made the case for the acts themselves being very different:

“We tend to have actions and reactions, and we’re going to see the act of buying separating from the act of shopping, buying will be the world of the search bar, subscriptions, dash buttons, and the purchase funnel will be a simple swipe.Shopping will be created around themes, content marketing, experiences, and adding more joy into the purchase process.”

To adapt to this trend, Goodwin had one simple piece of advice:

“Make things easy or beautiful – if it’s neither, it has no place in the future.”

9 – Vanishing interfaces, new inputs

Chatbots and personal interactions were a recurring theme of the conference as organisations figure out what place these have in their customer and audience relationships. Part of this is the ‘vanishing interface’; the concept that our primary interactions with brands may not be through screens at all:

“There has never been a better time to talk to people – the mobile interface how allows companies to have a one-to-one conversation with its customers. There are so many rich ways to interact – there are lots of exciting opportunities in voice recognition and conversation.

“There’s also a movement away from screens – Alexa, wearables, and we could be navigating a world where information comes to you without a screen.”  

10 – AI

Goodwin’s final trend was unsurprisingly AI, but his argument focused on putting its potential at the centre of future strategies, and not making the same mistakes some companies made with the internet:

“Really profound technologies need to be applied to the centre of our business – we’ve done a lot of things wrong by applying them at the edge. Uber exists because of the mobile phone, not because of the app, but because they knew once they knew your location, it could all work.

“It’s possible that the next wave of big, innovative companies are ones who have built themselves around AI.”

Goodwin concluded by imploring businesses to stop basing their future strategies on what they had done in the past.

“We need to learn from the past, but look forward, not back. ‘I’d love us to start with a blank sheet of paper – amazing new possibilities with technology. Don’t look at what you did last year.”

So there are some big lessons for media organisations to take away from his predictions. Be forward-thinking; the vertical ‘channel’ ways of thinking are long gone. The innovators are the ones who have ‘digital’ not at their heart, but as the lifeblood – essential, fluid, and touching every corner of the business.