Digital Publishing
8 mins read

In charts: 9 trends that will define media in 2020

As we begin a new digital decade, what are the key developments that will shape publishing in the next 12 months? 

Here are nine trends and issues that will influence publishers, content creators, media companies and brands in 2020 and beyond.

1: The Streaming Wars Commence

Are these the SVOD Services you are looking for?

In 2019, both Apple and Disney+ entered into the Subscription VOD (SVOD) services arena. They did so with substantial budgets. 

The Hollywood Reporter stated that Disney’s Chairman, Bob Iger,  “invested $2.6 billion to acquire the necessary technology, shuffled his executive ranks to create a new direct-to-consumer division, forgone $150 million in annual income by ending the studio’s output deal with Netflix and even spent $71.3 billion for the 21st Century Fox assets to beef up Disney’s production capabilities and content library.” They also noted “Disney is sparing no expense on programming, projecting a 2020 original content budget short of $1 billion.”

Meanwhile, “Apple is reportedly spending $6 billion on its initial lineup of TV shows, documentary series, and other originals,” The Verge said. “That’s about $5 billion more than what Apple was originally slated to spend,” they observed, citing a Financial Times report. “It’s also about 25 percent of Disney’s entire 2019 content budget.”

As Quartz reveals, these new entrants are pushing up production costs of tentpole shows to new levels. “The age of the $15-million-per-episode TV series has already come and gone,” they wrote. “We’re now entering the era of the $25 million show.”

In 2020, the streaming pantheon will be joined by a number of notable entrants including NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, (rumored to be a free, advertising paid-for service,) HBO Max, which will cost $14.99 a month when it launches in May, and Quibi, a mobile-based service launching in April, and costing $4.99 with ads and $7.99 without.

Whether consumers can afford all of these services (or the ones they want, especially when other media is also increasingly subscription-led), have the time to watch the content on offer, or if this will cannibalise our consumption of other media, remains to be seen.

2: Publishers may already have hit peak-paywall

The willingness of audiences to pay for content, especially news content, has long vexed media executives, researchers and policy makers alike. 

Last year’s Digital News Report found “only a small increase in the numbers paying for any online news,” observed Richard Fletcher, a Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Some in the news business worry that, even though subscriber numbers remain low by some standards, we might already be close to reaching an upper limit,” he added. 

As we shared last June, the report found: “Growth in online payments of any kind – including subscriptions, memberships, or donations – has grown slightly in Norway (34% up 4%,) Sweden (27% up just 1% from last year). The number paying in the US (16%) remains static.”

Since then, more publishers, such as The Atlantic, have (re)joined the paywall-fray. Some outlets – such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Economist and Washington Post – may continue to grow their subscriber numbers, especially in an election year, but others may find the going a little tougher. 

Audiences only have a finite amount of money to spend on their media. And news media – compared to other mediums – does not come cheap.

Chart from: Pay Models for Online News in the US and Europe: 2019 Update, by Felix M. Simon and Lucas Graves, for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

3: Making the case – why audiences should pay for news media

As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton has commented

“News consumption used to be about daily habits — reading the paper every morning, watching the 6 o’clock news every night. Now it seeps into our days as much or as little as we want it to. Civically useful journalism is competing with every other form of media, content, or diversion on your phone. In that context, many people decide, as rational economic actors, they’re better off without us. How can we convince them otherwise?”

This problem is especially acute at a local level. Despite the fact that 1,800 local newspapers have closed in the U.S. since 2004, according to the Pew Research Center, 71% of Americans “think their local news media are doing just fine financially.” This may be one reason why only 14% of them financially supported a local news source in the past year. 

With more media choices than ever, publishers must make a better case to their audiences for the value of their work and why it needs to be (financially) supported.

4: Overcoming news avoidance

A further challenge in convincing audiences to pay for content can be seen in the high levels of news avoidance. 

Abstinence, the Digital News Report suggested, “may be because the world has become a more depressing place or because the media coverage tends to be relentlessly negative – or a mix of the two.”

To address this, it will be incumbent on news outlets to do things differently. This may involve telling stories in fresh and innovative ways, changing the tone of content, engaging with audiences online and offline, as well as exploring new beats and approaches to storytelling (such as solutions journalism).   

With the political climate in a country seeming to be a key determinant in news avoidance, it’s difficult to see much changing unless these types of shifts take place. Doing things the way they’ve always been done is unlikely to shift the news avoidance needle.

5: Rebuilding trust

Publishers must go beyond changing formats and their approaches to the work they produce, they also need to communicate what they are doing (and why). Arguably, this is essential if trust is to be rebuilt with audiences. 

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that globally, people were much more inclined (75%) to trust “my employer” to do what is right, than NGOs (57%), business (56%) and media (47%).

In the States, one component of this issue is seen in Pew’s finding that half U.S. adults say “made-up news” is a big problem, ranking this concern about violent crime (49%), climate change (46%), racism (40%) and illegal immigration (36%).

“U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists for the creation of made-up news intended to mislead the public,” their research discovered. “But they believe it is primarily the responsibility of journalists to fix the problem. And they think the issue will get worse in the foreseeable future.”

Image: via 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

6: Mobile matters more than ever

Alongside these attitudinal and philosophical considerations, content creators also need to keep in mind continued shifts in consumer behaviour.

Of paramount importance in this space is the role of mobile. 

For the first time, in 2019 “US consumers will spend more time using their mobile devices than watching TV,” eMarketer reported during the summer. “As recently as 2014, the average US adult watched nearly 2 hours more TV than they spent on their phones.” 

And as a further sign of how quickly this market has evolved, Mary Meeker’s annual data deck showed that mobile now accounts for 33% of ad spend, up from 0.5% at the start of the decade.

By 2018, mobile accounted for both a third of our media time and of advertising spend. Compared to print, radio, TV and desktop, mobile has been the only platform to grow in terms of both time spent and advertising revenue, since 2010.

7: Stories are the format of today. And tomorrow.

An essential part of the mobile experience, especially for younger audiences, is the stories format

These ephemeral (they self-destruct after 24 hours), vertical pieces of content, were pioneered by Snapchat, but are now omnipresent across all the major social networks. More than 1 billion stories are shared every day across the Facebook family alone

In 2018, Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox shared his view that “the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.” 

And it’s not just friends who are embracing this format. Brands, marketers and media organisations (including more establishment brands such as The Telegraph and The Economist and Penguin) are all actively investing in Stories. 

As the “swipe up” functionality of this format continues to develop, so we can expect publishers to further explore the possibilities for eCommerce, subscriptions and other forms of engagement, that Stories may help unlock.

8: Podcasting’s popularity keeps growing

The past year saw a slew of crystal ball gazing about the continued rise of podcasting. 

In November, the market research company Forrester, in its Predictions 2020 report (paywall), suggested that podcasts will be the next $1 billion media market, which “would be pretty sharp growth,” MediaPost noted

However, Forrester weren’t alone in their optimism. Earlier in the year, the third annual Podcast Revenue Report by IAB and PwC predicted that the American podcasting market would hit the $1 billion milestone in 2021, which is all the more striking given that they anticipated companies will spend $479 million to advertise on podcasts in the U.S., itself up from $314 million in 2017. 

One reason for this optimism is the investment in this field from major media companies, celebrities and platforms. Alongside this, podcasting’s share of audio listening has more than doubled in five years (+122% since 2014,) according to Edison Research’s “The Podcast Consumer 2019.” Overall, around 90 million Americans, akin to just under a third of those aged over 12, listen to podcasts each month.

Spotify’s moves into podcasting remain one to watch. “Apple Podcasts played a pivotal role in the development of the industry and remains the dominant app for listening,” wrote Li Jin, Avery Segal, and Bennett Carroccio at az16. Their analysis, which was published in May, commented at the time that “Apple’s share of the podcasting market has slipped from over 80% to 63%, while Spotify has quickly grown to almost 10% of the market.”

In February, Spotify bought Gimlet Media and Anchor for around $340 million. As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson, observed: “Spotify is still a distant second to Apple in podcasts, but they are growing fast. Just as importantly, Spotify already has a strongly growing advertising business — again, larger than the entire podcast market — that it can extend to podcasts.”

Early indications seem to suggest that this move is paying off. The company reported “exponential growth in podcast hours streamed (up approximately 39% Q/Q) and early indications that podcast engagement is driving a virtuous cycle of increased overall engagement and significantly increased conversion of free to paid users,” in an October 2019 letter to shareholders.

9: Will we still be talking about TikTok?

TikTok was arguably the app of 2019, having surpassed 1.5 billion global downloads in November, a mere seven months after hitting (in February) the 1 billion mark. 

A report by Activate Consulting noted that, in the USA, users of TikTok spend an average of 10 hours a month on the platform. This was the most for any single social platform. Yet, interestingly, India is the largest market – based on downloads – for the app, ahead of China and the USA. 

The rapid uptake of the app (security concerns aside) has sparked considerable interest from brands and media companies, given TikTok’s creative potential, large youth audience and the ability to engage with audiences in fun, innovative, ways. 

Will it still be garnering as much attention this time next year?