Just when large media companies thought they were starting to get a handle on the internet and new business models, it feels as if everything has completely changed again in the last couple of years.
I don't need to list mobile as a trend below because it's gone far beyond that – we live in the mobile age. The bigger changes come in the business models around media and how they intersect with the large social networks, as well as Google and Apple.
Some of these trends are already very much in motion and have passed early-adopter stage while some are more nascent.
Things are moving very fast in 2016 and here is where I think they might be headed.
1. The Commoditisation Of Breaking News
In the past when you woke up in the morning, you opened a newspaper or switched on a television or radio to get your breaking news – either way, you went directly to a publisher. You now fire up Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or whatever your social network of choice is and algorithms do the rest of the work.
With broadcasters, magazines, newspapers, online start ups, apps and every media company in the world competing for the space at the top of that feed, the news is becoming commoditised. You'll still have favourite news brands but the need to go to their websites or apps (especially home pages) will no longer be as profound.
This commoditisation of news will have huge implications for publishers selling straight advertising on their own sites, and new business models will have to be sought.
2. Native Social Network Content
Facebook have their instant articles. Twitter are moving from 140 characters to 10,000. Google have AMP coming in the next couple of months. Snapchat and Instagram started to show the way by never having any links out to third parties from day one.
What we can clearly see is that the social networks have taken aim at publishers. Part of this is merited as third-party links and apps are slow and hurt the user experience. Why wait 20 seconds for an app to open when you can have a more beautiful experience within the feed itself?
Publishers might not like it, but they'll have to find a way to make money within the feeds and share a percentage with the large networks.
The web and how we receive our content is being rewired. The entire plumping of content delivery is being reorganised. You can either live within those pipes and take a cut, or you can sit outside them and watch your audience fade away.
3. Messaging Apps As Distribution Platforms
This has been the norm in the East with the likes of WeChat for some years and we're about to see that explode into life in 2016 in the West.
Huge amounts of media are already shared and consumed via messaging apps but it has been done in a very ad hoc way up until now. There are only three platforms that matter for publishers...
- Whatsapp (800 Million + users)
- Facebook messenger (850 Million + users)
- Snapchat (600 Million + users)
The tools these networks provide right now are primitive as they all focus on grabbing users but over the course of the year they'll improve and allow for richer media, more sharing and better measurement.
The one to keep an eye on in a big way this year is Facebook messenger, as that looks set to become a huge standalone platform, leveraging the deep connections and rich data from parent Facebook.
4. Facebook Video To Dominate
Every time you log into Facebook it feels like there is video there in front of you. The perfect storm of better mobile connections, smartphone proliferation and bigger screens is accelerating this trend.
The world is now finally ready for Facebook video and boy are they capitalising on the trend.
Just like the early days of YouTube the video is often low quality, 'borrowed' and short but that will change over the course of 2016. As soon as the big publishers (sports, music, movie, TV shows etc) see the huge reach and engagement on Facebook video they'll pile in just like they have on YouTube.
A new suite of apps specifically targeting video are en route and Facebook are dabbling in live video with celebrities as well. If you thought 2015 was a big year for Facebook video wait until you see what happens in 2016.
5. Death Of The Link
Instagram have no links. Neither do Snapchat. Facebook and Twitter are, as described above, trying to phase them out to improve the user experience.
The first 20 odd years of the web everything was pretty much based on links. The more you had coming to your site the higher you ranked on Google. Links were how people found stuff.
Links are slow now, though, and mean jumping between browsers, apps and user experiences. They won't die overnight of course, but with the vast majority of media being consumed on mobile devices you'll find that swipes, double taps or scans are way more important than links.
6. Snapchat's Breakout Year
You don't really need to be a genius to spot this one coming. The wildly popular app is where Facebook was in about 2009 in terms of mass adoption and spilling into the mainstream.
The last 12 months have seen it move from the teen, techie and early-adopter market to a broader appeal. With small businesses, celebrities and bloggers now actively pushing it the users keep pouring in which means the potential audience grows.
They've already dabbled with publishing, with all the major global players sharing content within the app on custom channels. There will be some tinkering with that format but their live stories are already a roaring success. Ironically unlike the movement towards algorithms it is human edited stories that are having the biggest impact on Snapchat.
The interesting thing for 2016 will be to see how much of the experience gets contained within the app, or if they try to spill into the more conventional web or additional apps in the way Facebook has. My guess is they'll stay rigidly within the one app that has served them so well to date – although this does, of course, leave them vulnerable to change.
7. Brands Going Head-To-Head With Publishers In Content Marketing
As if all of the threats outlined to publishers above didn't seem bad enough we have now reached the stage where every business, brand, celebrity, musician and sports star is fast becoming their own publisher.
The smart brands have been publishing their own content for a couple of years now either through hiring their own content producers or through agencies or partnerships.
The logic that brands have here is why pay large fees to media companies for an audience when they can produce their own and activate it via social networks or other channels they have at their disposal.
Companies not producing content in 2016 will be at a distinct disadvantage to their competitors.