As another year has come to a close, this time the close of a decade, it’s always a good time to look back and reflect on the previous year and what stood out in the industry. In the digital publishing world, it has been another eventful and tumultuous year. We’ve seen numerous acquisitions, shuttering of newsrooms, new advancements in technology like AI and the continuation of an always-on news cycle that impacts readers’ attention and consumption habits. But rather than look back, let’s look ahead to 2020 and the trends in digital publishing that I believe will make an impact.
M&A was the big theme of 2019 and one that will continue into 2020. Some acquisitions were to grow audience, like Vice and Refinery 29, while others like Vox and New York Magazine, were to combine assets to form a multi-faceted media company. I expect we will see more acquisitions in the coming year as publishers with strong brands, but perhaps weaker infrastructure will need to partner with brands that have strong back-end services to survive. By sharing technology, product, and infrastructure, publishers can save on costs and more effectively distribute and commercialize their valuable content at scale. We’ve seen interest from the market to work with fewer partners that offer more capacity. Consolidation will continue to weed out the weaker players from those that have been able to establish a formidable content and market position and that have been able to scale their monetization and audience targeting solutions.
Formats Beyond Digital
The new decade will also bring about the experimentation of new formats that expand digital to help publishers connect with audiences in new places and in some cases, in real life. Digital is no longer digital on an exclusive basis. Whether through audio, video, experiential or even specialty print editions, publishers will need to expand their offering to bring their brand to life and unlock cross-platform value. We’ve seen this in play already with the explosion of podcasts – now estimated to be more than 750,000 in existence, with 29 million episodes published- and with publishers like PopSugar, who have done a good job of connecting their brand to their audience through events like their PopSugar Playground which brought together 15,000 people this past summer to experience branded content, commerce, immersive retail and more, all while engaging with their readers in a way that is not possible just in a digital format.
New Technology in the Newsroom
We’ve been hearing about the potential of 5G in newsrooms for a while, but 2020 is when we may see the true impact in action. With the first 5G Super Bowl and 5G Olympics planned for this year, the New York Times has already been experimenting with 5G as a way to speed up the way it captures video and images. Verizon Media also opened a 5G studio to test faster content transfers. As the general public starts to demand and expect 5G speed, the newsrooms that have been testing the waters may have the upper hand in implementation.
New Rules for Owning Digital Content
Outdated copyright rules will come into focus as the pendulum swings between content owners and content distributors. This is especially true in sports publishing with rights holders typically holding all the control. No matter the outcome of copyright rules and regulations, publishers will need to find value in creating an ownable intellectual property as well as taking back control of their own audiences, and not being as reliant content recirculation or traffic from outside platforms. By focusing on their own IP and audiences, publishers can build sustainability and ownership to more pieces of the publishing stack.