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.

Content marketing for beginners

UN_TLIC_Logo_Black

A couple of posts done for the University of Northampton as part of its new social media marketing campaign

Should the paparazzi be allowed to stalk Prince George?

Wait before sharing the murder video of two U.S. journalists.

7/7: How UGC of a terror attack changed the news forever

Ten years on from the London suicide bombings of 7th of July 2005, I’m struck by how different the news landscape was then.

Today people have been posting their memories of the attacks on social media, back then it didn’t really exist. Today people have been posting images of their journeys to work, back then newsrooms weren’t set-up for UGC. Today people have access to mobile digital news wherever they want it, back then they were reliant on the radio or going into shops to watch rolling TV news channels.

My own memories of the day are still sharp.

I was Deputy Editor of the ITV News Channel at the time and, after having been out the night before celebrating the awarding of the 2012 Olympics to London, I was on a day off. Having slept in I flicked on the news, just in time to hear Emily Reuben report that a bomb had gone off on a bus in Tavistock Square. Seconds later my phone rang with a colleague calling me into work.

Public transport was down so I drove as far as I could, eventually abandoning my car at London Bridge station and jogging the rest of the way. I had to stop at a suit shop on Gray’s Inn Road and buy a new shirt.

By the time I made it into the office the newsroom was in full swing. ITV had opted into the News Channel and the longest ever open-ended coverage of a news event in ITN’s history was under way. Colleagues from the regions were being brought in from outside London, as were the satellite trucks and newsgathering equipment to support them. Craig Oliver, then head of output at ITV News, was running the live coverage that was comprehensive and smart. You can see a taste of it above in a short section of the final retrospective programme broadcast on the channel.

These days news organisations are more sensitive about the potential trauma to staff covering a big attack than they were then. They take more seriously the impact on teams in the field and in the newsroom. But that was the first time I’d ever seen a senior colleague in tears as they tried to cover a story.

This was the kind of event that 24 hour news channels were set-up to report. And it was, in my opinion, the ITV News Channel’s finest hour. It was a minnow compared to Sky News or the BBC but it punched above its weight that day. A few months later I put together the award entry for the Royal Television Society journalism awards and I was again humbled by the professionalism of the teams both in the studio and on the ground, trying to explain one of the biggest stories of their careers as it happened around them. The channel’s coverage that day was nominated in the News Event category, I’m biased but I still think it deserved to win.

So, how did 7/7 change things? The first and most obvious way is that it was the dawn of the UGC era. It was the first time that mobile footage of a news event was brought into a newsroom and used in coverage in any significant way. ITN was off the pace digitally and had neither the capacity to receive or transmit it easily. We were unprepared for the deluge of content that was being offered and those with video from early phone cameras had to bring it into the office in person so the engineers could try to extract it and upload it to the system.

It also changed how TV news organisations thought about newsgathering. ITV News was beaten to air with pictures of some of the events because it was still thinking about newsgathering for bulletins. After 7/7 newsgathering had to be geared up for instantaneous transmission of content – 10 years later we think of that as mobile journalism and the ability to go live on a story from anywhere at any time via your phone. It was 7/7 that started news organisations on that journey.

Finally, while it was the high water mark of the ITV News Channel, looking back it was the moment that the long, slow but inexorable decline in 24 news channels began. As news organisations woke up to the potential for live coverage of breaking news using digital technologies, so the news channels have begun to look increasingly anachronistic. Six months after the 7/7 attacks the ITV News Channel was closed down. One of the reasons given to staff at the time was that in the future all news would be digitally delivered by broadband. We’re living in the future now.