Media predictions 2016 – what was right and what was wrong?

Time for me to mark my own homework again. 12 months ago I made some predictions for 2016.

How on point do they look at the end of the year?

1. Ad-blockers will go mainstream

If you’re under 25 you are almost as likely to use an ad-blocker as not.

And the numbers are rising.

This year’s Reuters Digital News Report made the same point:

Ad blockers age

One report, published in the summer, suggests a 90% jump in ad-blocking on mobile devices in the past year alone.

That said, mobile network Three seems to have gone luke-warm on its plan to introduce automatic ad-blocking for all consumers.

As I argued last year, this is all about user experience.

If users feel ad blockers cut data usage, improve page delivery speeds and kill off ultra-intrusive formats such as splash screens, they will vote with their feet.

There are some signs of progress in the ad industry.

But companies need to move faster to tackle what is a potentially existential threat.

Once an ad-blocker is installed, what incentive is there to remove it?

Appeals to logic are not sufficient.

I teach undergraduate journalism students.

Rough in class surveys suggest that most of them use ad-blockers and none of them pay for news, but they still want to work in an industry being strangled by a lack of digital revenues.

I’d say this prediction was correct.

2. A choice to make: destination vs distribution 

Would it be distribution or destination in 2016?

Not much doubt the resounding answer was distribution.

The old adage that you should be where you customers are, held true again.

But the underlying financial weakness of this as a business strategy has been shown again and again.

Buzzfeed and NowThis are both heavily invested in a distributed content strategy.

They’re both huge content farms that appear to make essentially no money from distributed content but use it as an advert for their branded content businesses.

Both companies also continue to attract significant VC investment.

But is this a sustainable business strategy or are the disrupters at risk of being disrupted?

It’s not yet clear but should the financial outlook turn chilly in 2017, things may come more sharply into focus.

The question in the prediction was right – whether it was the right answer though is debatable.

Let’s call it a half.

3. Innovation will move to the heart of the newsroom

More innovation was on show in 2016.

The Washington Post demonstrated there’s still some life in newspapers.

And there was a lot of talk about VR and immersive video. Not least at The Guardian.

But there’s still a long way to go to make it deliver as a story-telling medium.

Have newsrooms really embraced innovation? There are some examples of progress.

For the most part, though, the answer seems to be to keep doing what they’ve always done while incrementally changing.

That’s hardly a surprise. But disappointing nonetheless.

4. Twitter will face an existential crisis

Boy, did it ever.

It’s been a tough year for Twitter.

Shares tanked after a failed sale over the summer.

And costs are running so high it’s losing $500 million a year on revenues of $2 billion.

Its active monthly user base appears maxed out at circa 300 million.

And it has a terrible reputation for trolling, misogyny, and racist abuse.

Twitter is going to have to change to continue to exist – there can’t be a standstill point here – without change it will decline and die.

No company can survive for long on flatline growth and losses of hundreds of millions.

And those of us who love it will have to hope that its charm and vibrancy isn’t destroyed in the process.

5. Managing decline in TV news

It has been another great year for TV news content.

Huge stories and amazing, brave and fascinating reporting.

But the slow decline of the medium continues.

As a fascinating report for the Reuters Institute for Journalism by Professor Richard Sambrook showed, a sustained decline of 3-4% in audience per year is comparable to those seen by newspapers a decade ago.

And the inexorable rise of on-demand programming shows that linear programming is, at least in the long-run, dead.

The BBC News Channel may have survived the latest cuts – at least for now – but TV news is in long term decline.

That doesn’t mean everything ends tomorrow.

But editors need to think hard about what the netflix of TV news looks like, even as disruptors like Vice move into the linear space.

We know that traditional TV packaging doesn’t work well in social news.

Can a lean-back experience deliver where a smartphone based approach won’t?

A tough nut to crack but one that I hope will be solved in the coming years.

So I make that three and a half out of five. Thoughts for 2017 will be coming shortly.

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Most popular posts of 2016

It’s December and it is time to take a look back at this year’s most read stories on my blog.

Up at the top is always the generic homepage – that doesn’t tell me much so I’ll drop down to the specific stories people read.

  1. Once again at the top of the leaderboard is 2014’s post about John Oliver quitting The Daily Show and how I set-up The Bugle podcast with him and Andy Zaltzman when I was head of multimedia at The Times.
  2. This year’s predictions for the year ahead was the second most read item.
  3. In September I took a sceptical look at a report into how much the BBC was paying its journalists.
  4. The fourth most read story was a look back at my media predictions for 2015
  5. And fifth was a look at some of the fake news about journalism spread in the wake of the Brussels attacks.

Twitter, search and Facebook were the most common referrers. Facebook always surprises me as I don’t post blogs to Facebook but presumably readers share articles there.

Linkedin also put in a showing – although I doubt some of the figures. Linkedin always claims a far higher click-through rate than WordPress records arrivals.

Search terms on Google are usually encrypted these days so there’s little of interest in what has been recorded. Usually just a variation of my name and a topic.

Traffic by country tended to be predominantly the UK, the US and Australia. But with a smattering of places where I’ve done international work over the past year such as India.

In terms of total traffic, 2016 was approximately on par with 2015. 2014 remains the most active year in terms of postings, impressions and visitors. The main driver was the John Oliver story being shared by Andy Zaltzman and Bugle fans sharing it on social media and reposting it to fan-sites.

 

Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons – not as bad as you might have heard

Poor Sir Craig Oliver.

His memoir of the inside story of the Brexit referendum seems to have been universally panned by the press. James Kirkup’s evisceration in The Telegraph is particularly brutal.

It is true that it is not that well-written. The number of times that Craig “runs into” a world famous politician and then is reminded of a pop-culture reference suggest it needed more careful editing.

It has clearly been rushed out and is little more than a diary rather than a considered view of the campaign and its implications.

But that was also true of Alastair Campbell’s diaries too. So, why the universal derision?

I better declare an interest. I’ve known Craig for many years. He was a highly intelligent and capable programme editor at ITN and one of the driving forces behind ITV News during his tenure as Head of Output. He was a smart, driven but thoughtful journalist with a populist touch.

We stayed in contact after he moved to the BBC and I briefly worked for David Cameron in opposition – although I’ve not seen him since his elevation to Number 10.

But he’s not exactly clubbable.

When he started working for Cameron I heard back from friends in the Lobby and on comment pages of newspapers that they found him supercilious, unconcerned with the needs of the print press and purely focussed on broadcast news.

That was clearly the right thing to do in my opinion. Getting the message right on Radio 1, Radio 2 and the main broadcast bulletins watched by millions of voters is far more important than appeasing the Sunday Telegraph’s comment writers.

But it is clear the Lobby has never forgiven him and is getting its revenge now.

That said, this is an insight into the heart of the campaign and its failings. And it is surprisingly refreshing to see politicians actually being quoted in what would normally be off-the record moments.

And that might be something the Lobby, with its reliance on anonymous sources, might want to reflect on.

Is the BBC paying its journalists too much?

Quick post on this morning’s Telegraph story on journalists’ pay at the BBC.

It suggests that pay for rank and file broadcast journalists at the BBC is far out of whack with its commercial competitors.

With another round of cost cutting coming up, the message is clear: BBC hacks are growing fat on public sector money and need cutting down to size.

I don’t have the full report from PWC but I’d be interested in reading it. Not least because the methodology looks suspect.

Take a look at this graph:

bbcpay

It seems to show that BBC pay outstrips commercial sector pay at lower levels when compared to journalists at Sky News, ITV, ITN, Channel 4, the Guardian, Reuters, The Times and the Sun.

Leave aside the fact that comparing newspaper and broadcast salaries isn’t straight forward – they’re different jobs with different salary expectations and scales –  the graphic seems to show a rather odd result.

A broadcast journalist band 5-7 is a journalist working outside London, band 8-9 is one working in the capital. According to this, a BJ working in the commercial sector in London earns the equivalent average salary as their senior broadcast journalist colleagues across the whole country including London.

That seems unlikely and almost certainly reflects difficulties comparing different positions.

The other factor that’s not revealed by this graphic is the age and experience of the journalists being surveyed.

It is entirely possible to have a career at the BBC and never rise beyond BJ/SBJ level. That’s not my experience of the commercial broadcast sector with its leaner operations – there it’s move up or move out. I can remember looking around the ITN newsroom in my early 30s and thinking there was barely any production journalists above the age of 40 – including the senior editors. That doesn’t promote confidence in career longevity.

That said, it’s hard to see the BBC’s Unpredictability Allowance payments surviving unchanged. There aren’t many jobs in the media that pay you extra fixed sums for working unsociable hours – that looks like a hangover from a previous age.

 

Cristina Nicolotti Squires poached by Sky News

One of ITN’s most successful and creative executives, Cristina Nicolotti Squires, has announced she’s leaving to become Director of Content at Sky News.

It is a big job with responsibility for news and current affairs across multiple platforms.

And it is a big loss for ITN. Cristina is a formidable presence in the newsroom. Smart, resourceful and passionate about news, she will be a tough act to follow as Editor of Five News.

Like her predecessors  Chris Shaw, Deborah Turness and Geoff Hill, she’s used the editorship of the comparatively small-scale Five News as a springboard to bigger things.

She moves to Sky at a time of considerable change. Many of the old guard are moving on. Not just on-air talent such as Jeremy Thompson and Eammon Holmes but some of the most experienced backroom staff too.

Head of News, John Ryley, is clearly preparing for a future of on-demand digital news as well as a live streamed channel – perhaps no longer delivered on TV nor based in a studio.

Professor Richard Sambrook from Cardiff University has written persuasively about 24-hour rolling news being a product of newsgathering technology that now looks outdated. Even the most traditional 24-hour channels, such as Al Jazeera, are considering what post-TV news looks like.

As 24-hour news veteran, I still retain an affection for the form. But there’s no doubt that it cannot compete with the immediacy of digital news, even if there is still value in a live stream of content. It is hard to gear up to rolling coverage if you lack the platform and resources to produce it.

So I will wait with interest to see what Nicolotti’s Sky News will become – how she’ll balance innovation with maintenance of the existing product. And hopefully she’ll kill off the ruddy awful “The Pledge“.

 

Shaping Tomorrow’s News – the emerging digital leaders who are creating the next iteration of media

During the past couple of months I have been developing and running a number of digital strategy workshops for emerging news leaders from across Africa and Asia.

Called Tomorrow’s News, the Thomson Reuters Foundation programme aims to help participants consider their next digital news steps by learning about the latest industry practice and academic research, and by creating a community who can support each other through the challenges ahead.

It’s been an enormous privilege to meet some of the creative and innovative journalists who’ve taken part and I’ve learnt a great deal about challenges they face in developing high quality digital news services.

From news services that tell the stories of India’s disempowered and dispossessed communities, to data journalism services that are finding new ways to report about Indonesia, to digital services using mobile technology to deliver east Africa’s farmers essential information – these are  smart, innovative forms of media that will set the pace for the next phase of disruption.

Two final thoughts on all of this.

Firstly, a lot of the problems people are facing in newsrooms (or virtual newsrooms) around the world are similar. Persuading legacy media to embrace digital rather than tolerate it, going digital  or social or mobile first, finding the right mix of skills and training. Or for digital native publishers, establishing a revenue model that’s robust enough to support future development.

And finally while we may be on a journey with digital transformation, the journey’s end has to be more than mere survival. There is real social importance in creating sustainable journalistic outlets that deliver high levels of public value through content. And I am confident that’s a goal to which these brilliant and creative journalists are committed.