A few days ago I was asked by a friend to come up with some smart suggestions about the future of digital media, or at least an outlook for 2016. I was in a hurry and just answered in a few sentences. But I think I should elaborate on that a bit more.
Part of my job at Next Media Accelerator in Hamburg is to boldly try to predict what will be important in the next few years. We do this by looking at different developments and talking to different stakeholders. First, we ask our investors, which are German media companies, ranging from regional publishers to global power houses, what they are interested in at the moment, where their pain points are and what they think will be important next. We also talk to our mentors a lot, to use the wisdom of that crowd of about a 100 media professionals. Second, we look at all the applications we are getting to find out a pattern. Startup founders oftentimes have a reason for starting their company and ideally it is some sort of market opportunity that they are seeing. Since we just started the accelerator program this summer, we don’t have too much data from the past, but we are building up more and more data in the future. Third, we look at global developments that we need to take into account. Mary Meeker’s state of the internet address is helpful for that, as are the Akamai bandwidth reports and others. Fourth, I talk to my kids about their digital toolbox and how they are using different devices and apps. I have my own little digital lab at home, a very costly endeavor if I may say… Fifth, we look at Product Hunt and Angellist very closely to get a better feeling of what is happening right now.
So, without much further ado, the topic for 2016 will be:
Mobile, Mobile, Mobile. 360° Video. And social.
I know, yawn, that has been said so many times before. We all know that the demand for mobile data rises and that voice calls remain more or less flat. And we know this first hand by looking at our data plans and the increasingly intense data usage. I am on a 10 GB data plan, something I wouldn’t have needed just a few years ago.
For media companies, mobile is an interesting challenge. In Germany, most publishers still make their money with printed newspapers and magazines. The web is hardly profitable and if so, the margins are a lot smaller when compared with print. So without having really mastered the monetarization of the desktop, media companies now have to develop mobile first strategies. Gone are the days where they could just somehow adapt the old newspaper layout and logic to the web and be fine with it. Mobile requires a different set of UI/UX and needs different forms of content and advertising, too. That’s easy to write, but very hard to implement, especially if you have a newsroom full of experienced people who have learned their trade with a different paradigm in mind. Media startups like vox.com, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and others, who don’t have the legacy of print or desktop on their backs adapted much easier to the challenges of going from a SEO-dominated world to one that is social and mobile at its core.
We will see new ways of presenting content due to the form factor of the mobile and the restraints deriving from the usage on the go. Mobile CMS will display different types of content based on the current setting the user is in. While it used to be common sense for a long time that long reads won’t work on mobile, we now see bigger handsets that allow for easier and better reading, thus making longreads well suited for mobile as well. The mix between news content and content targeted primarily to social audiences who share and discuss the content will be key to further growth, as the Washington Post has shown in 2015.
Instant Articles / Accelerated Mobile Pages
The faster a page loads, the more people read it and share & discuss the content. This basic assumption led to two different developments: facebook partnered with media companies to deliver content faster within facebook through facebook Instant Articles and Google started an open source initiative called Accelerated Mobile Pages which will make mobile pages faster and therefore more attractive in a search context. Both developments will trigger more innovation and pose new challenges for publishers at the same time. A wonderful opportunity for startups dealing with mobile content.
I was very sceptical about video on mobile and 360° video in particular. But last year showed that there is growing demand for immersive video on mobile. Google Cardboard helped certainly in making this format popular, not to neglect the efforts led by Samsung VR, Oculus Rift (acquired by facebook) and others. What really changed my mind, though, was the moment when I handed my 9-year old son my iPhone with Google Cardboard and the Star Wars app. He was so fascinated by the immersive video, he turned around his head all the time to get a better view of BB-8 and other Star Wars characters. Also there are more and more cameras hitting the market that make production easy. The Ricoh Theta s for instance, or the new Nikon KeyMission 360. If you look at the most popular 360° videos on youtube in 2015, then you get a pretty good impression of what’s possible right now.
Social will transform yet again, basically we will see the shift from more or less public timelines to more private forms of communication. The rise of messengers as the new ecosystems is one example of this development. We have seen this develop for a few years in Asia with Wechat and others, now this shift is taking place in the western world as well. Slack is a great example how messaging can evolve into an ecosystem with its own set of apps and other add-ons. The Slack App Directory shows the great potential for new forms of apps within slack. And of course facebook will push its Messenger further and develop this into a messaging ecosystem as well. Spectrm, a startup from the first batch of the next media accelerator, is making use of this development by providing a service that delivers relevant info via messenger based on their curated content mechanism.
This will lead to much more distributed social landscape which will lead to new challenges for the advertiser to reach the right target group. This will lead to a redefinition of influencer marketing that takes into account that the public visibility of a person doesn’t necessarily correlate with the overall reach that person has. Messenger, Whatsapp, Snapchat and other platforms will become more important for influencer marketing. This is the challenge Nqyer (also part of batch 1 at NMA) tries to address and we strongly believe that this portion of the influencer marketing market will grow tremendously in the next months.
Blockchain has the potential to disrupt the way content is distributed and provide proper attribution to content types. This will lead to advances in both copyright protection and micropayments. The challenge will be to provide tools that make use of Blockchain as a public ledger without exposing the users to too many unfamiliar concepts. Whoever comes up with a solution that is both easy for the enduser and differentiated enough for enterprise customers will change the media industry forever. Ideally, that person fills out the application at nma.vc first…
2016 will be an interesting year for digital media. After this year, we won’t be talking about mobile first anymore, we’ll much rather start talking about the few use-cases that remain for the traditional desktop-based web.
The opportunities for innovation in digital media are huge, just make it happen!
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