“…Our editor-at-large Peter Houston will be publishing his own predictions on Tuesday…” wrote my esteemed colleague Chris Sutcliffe in his own looking-forward piece last week.
2016 Predictions? Whose bloody idea was that?
End-of-term predictions for the year to come… If we’re honest, we all hate them. Vague excursions into a future no one can actually forecast with any certainty based on the fuzzy understanding of a recent past we haven’t had time to decode.
And yet, everybody reads them. That’s why there are so many.
We read them because if there’s one thing we could all really use right now it’s a solid heads up on what will be coming up in the lift (elevator) next year.
The problem is, prediction pieces are inevitably, indescribably, irredeemably broad-brush. I’m sorry but I just don’t know enough about your business to predict in any detail what your next 12 months are going to be like.
So how about this? Let’s ditch the predictions tag and go with, a rundown of the things that, if you’re smart, you’ll be paying attention to next year within the detailed context of your own business.
That feels more real… I can definitely write that.
Next year, publishers will need to work harder to be with their audiences more places, more often, as media convergence and cross-device content consumption continues to grow.
I spoke at Google’s Think Publishing 2015 event in Dublin in October when the title of Scott Sheffer’s keynote was ‘Make Moments Matter’. If we were shortlisting three-word manifestos for 2016 that would have been very near the top of my list… at least before Twitter hijacked the Moments moniker.
The Tweety bird’s lightning-bolts are actually just the latest proof that we’ve moved on from a publishing M.O. where monthly, weekly or daily ‘moments’ were the norm, to an always-on ecosystem with thousands of potential media ‘moments’ every day… 86,400 if we restrict it to one a second.
And in a world where, every single second, more than 7000 tweets are sent, almost 500 Instagram pictures posted, and 115,000 YouTube videos watched, publishers have little choice but to climb aboard the third-party platform bandwagon.
In terms of things smart publishers really should be paying attention to next year… getting your content on to the third-party platforms that your audience cares about is probably a very good place to start.
Just a quick heads up, those third-party platforms will most likely be on mobile, where you will need to work hard need to make sure people notice your content and where you will need to make it massively shareable.
2016 will be the year of mobile, just like 2015, 2014, 2013 and every year since 2010. We are moving into the second half of the Decade-of-Mobile with growth set to continue at a staggering pace. In 2015, more than a third of web traffic was mobile with mobile-dominated social media consumption driving growth, as ABC multiplatform statistics show.
Although mobile ad revenues are still tough to come by for most publishers, momentum is building: In the first half of 2015, according to the IAB UK Digital Adspend report conducted by PwC, mobile ad spend in the UK increased 51% to £1.08 billion. The actual increase of £370 million year-on-year accounted for almost 80% of the rise in digital ad revenues.
An additional boost for the mobile web next year will be that it actually might start to work better for readers and publishers.
With Facebook’s Instant Articles and Snapchat’s Discover already adding value to the mobile content experience, the February launch of its AMP project, will see Google begin directing traffic to mobile-optimised AMP pages from Google Search. Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest will begin linking to AMP content around the same time.
If we accept, as Mathew Ingram suggests we should in his 2016 predictions piece for Fortune, that third-party social platforms are the future for content distribution, the big question left unanswered is where’s the money going to come from?
There are long-term hopes for revenue sharing from third-party platforms and this may become the cash-cow publishers have been longing for. But right now, and probably through 2016, publisher revenues from third-party distribution remain unquantifiable and largely restricted to a relatively small number of premium publishers.
So, make sure you pay attention to your own revenue generation teams next year. The Sun might have given up on the paywall around its general news content to concentrate of building traffic, but there are paid content models that can work; The Economist has proved it.
Momentum for micropayments is also building. After some success in European markets, Blendle’s US launch should give us a decent idea how article-level charging can work in predominantly English peaking media markets.
Of course, the big revenue stream through 2016 will still be advertising and although I’d love to believe that 2016 will go down in history as the year the Ad-Blocking Wars ended, that it will be all over by Christmas, but it won’t.
However, if you’ll forgive an abrupt switch of metaphor, 2015 was digital advertising’s Turkey Twizzlers moment. The year the publishing industry finally realised that it really needs to stop serving up mechanically reclaimed cruft with almost zero nutritional value for the audience or the advertiser.
Programmatic volumes will continue to build, but hopefully we’ll see some of the worst ‘whack-a-mole’ excesses of digital display start to subside as publishers and advertisers start to think a little harder about user experience. Ad viewability and engagement will get more and more important.
Healthier alternative formats like native, video and audio will continue to be an opportunity and publishers should get better at producing branded content in these formats, at scale, on behalf of their advertising clients and agencies.
Data will continue to elbow its way into every serious media conversation that takes place in 2016. And while that might be a fairly tedious thought for the spread-sheet impaired among you, publishers will, for ever more, need to take data seriously.
Data capture, management and analytics tools and talent are no longer a rarity. Reacting to the insights gained is still a developing art, but will be crucial as better targeting through personalisation of content and collateral become a prerequisite for audience engagement and, ultimately, revenue generation.
As audiences move from platform to platform and device to device, cross-device tracking and profiling will be essential. Customer journeys will no longer be from home page to subs form, but from desktop to phone to tablet and back again. Real audience insight will become increasingly harder to get, but also increasingly valuable for publishers that can access that data on behalf of their advertisers.
So what does all that mean for 2016… quite simply ‘MORE’
More off-platform publishing, more mobile, more ad-blocking, more alternative advertising formats, more data, more for your publishing teams to get their heads around.
The drive for more quality and efficiency will continue, and the pressure to improve the speed of decision making and new product development will increase. Choosing the right platform and technology partners and figuring out how to work with them will be more important than ever. More innovation and entrepreneurship will be required.
Basically, 2016 will be just like 2015, only more so.