2016 is upon us, which means that many tech and media sites are publishing their predictions for what the next year will bring. Since TheMediaBriefng exists at the intersection of the two disciplines, those developments will affect us as much as they affects the larger publishers, platforms and tech developers we tend to report upon. 

As a result, we thought it an appropriate time to scour the internet for the predictions we believe are most likely to come true in the new year. We’ll be revisiting this article at the halfway point and finish line of 2016 to see exactly how off base we – and the experts whose predictions we’ve curated – really were.

Additionally, our editor-at-large Peter Houston will be publishing his own predictions on Tuesday, so be sure to stick around for TheMediaBriefing’s personal take on how 2016 is likely to shake out.

Publishers will become even more distributed

Over the course of 2015 we saw publishers pour huge amount of resources into expanding their presence across platforms other than their own print products and websites. While there’s still debate over whether there’s as much benefit to the publisher’s brand in doing so, we’ve seen that the allure of new audiences was enough to tempt producers over that barrier.

Mark Frankel, social media editor at BBC News, says:

“Consistently, a large volume of breaking news stories that come to us, in terms of eyewitness pictures, videos and comments, will come from WhatsApp, rather than email or Twitter. It’s become a big social news gatherer for us. I think that as those apps mature, that will present news organisations with further opportunities for reaching out to audiences in different ways.”

Writing for Nieman Lab’s ‘Predictions for Journalism 2016’ section, Mic’s new chief strategy officer Cory Haik argues:

“Homepage value is inflated. Of course it’s valuable as an organizing principle and as a v.1 product for the web. It’s valuable for direct audiences, and it’s very valuable for big display advertising dollars. But it’s not valuable as a precious obsession for publishers and brands. Because the more we focus on resourcing them, the less we focus on building out other experiences within native environments.” 

And the body of evidence supporting the idea that native products on third party platforms provide greater engagement – and therefore stronger revenue propositions – has been piling up and up over 2015. It’s likely that trend will continue, especially as companies such Snapchat continue to make changes to platforms like Discover to benefit the publishers who partner with them. 

Nor is broadening reach across platforms the only way that publishers can become distributed, as Medium engineer Katie Zhu points out:

“The splinter site is a way of increasing journalistic surface area. And despite the name, the word “site” is being used rather loosely here — a splinter site doesn’t necessarily mean it has to live on a website or be an entirely sectioned-off space. Some of these “splinter sites” will be entirely distributed, exist only in apps or social products.” 

Likelihood: Certain

…and publishers will lose control as a result

Fortune’s Mathew Ingram doesn’t mince words…

“Facebook and Snapchat and Instagram are the platforms that matter for distribution now, and there are becoming more powerful rather than less—Facebook already accounts for a huge proportion of the web traffic to major media sites. And publishers are rushing even further into its embrace because they have no choice and can’t think of a better option. The long-term repercussions of this surrender are unclear.”

And in a talk earlier this year Emily Bell first made the oft-repeated claim that the reintermediation of the web has ultimately ensured that “2015 is the year publishers truly lost control of distrubution”. 

In fact we’ve previously argued the same, saying of the Washington Post’s decision to put all their content on Facebook:

“In a lot of ways, it’s the natural endpoint to what Emily Bell and many others have been predicting. Publishers are largely dependent on third parties like Facebook to distribute their content now, at least if they want to chase huge audiences as the Post evidently does. There’s no retreating from that position now.”

Dheerja Kaur, head of product at the Skimm, believes we’ll see the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat assume more of the editorial mantle as a result:

“With great power comes the great responsibility of verifying information, delivering diverse content that keeps users informed, managing coverage at a global and local level, and hiring an editorial staff prepared to make tough decisions. All while maintaining a relationship with the very companies they’re starting to cannibalize.”

So yes, it’s hugely likely that 2016 will see most publishers cede more control to third party patforms in exchange for access to audiences. But with Facebook’s seeming amenability to publishers’ suggestions for the partnership, that needn’t necessarily be a bad thing…

Likelihood: Very Likely

Podcasting and radio will become indistinguishable

In a short-but-sweet addition to the Nieman Lab predictions Jesse Brown, founder of the Canadaland podcast, argues that:

“Podcasts won’t kill radio in 2016, but the two will absorb each other and become some new kind of hybrid.” 

…which TheMediaBriefing reported hints of back in August:

“Radio content has enjoyed a slight advantage in that the environments in which it is consumed is protected (examples provided by Nielsen include ‘the daily commute, at-work listening, lunch break tune-in’), the increasing availability of 4G, wi-fi and mobile devices could mean that radio content will now be competing with text and video for audiences’ attention.

Despite that, [Bauer Media commercial director Simon Kilby] sees that as opportunity for Bauer’s brands:

“From a RAJAR perspective overall one of the reasons that radio listening has remained really resilient, it’s because there are now more and more opportunities for people to listen. The rise of things like 4G, wi-fi penetration, are all opportunities for radio to compete in that time-listening.” 

But there’s still quite a way to go until the infrastructure, audience habits and advertising budget on podcasts is enough to match the penetration and viability of radio.

Likelihood: Eventually certain – but maybe not next year