Five Communication Trends for 2016

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The communications industry — from mass media to advertising to public relations — has changed as much as any other in the last few years. I believe dramatic changes will continue and even accelerate in the coming year. Some of these changes will be positive while others will represent the continuing struggles in the communications industry.

Here are five trends I’m anticipating in 2016.

Trend #1: Native Advertising Gets Better

Native advertising done well is often some of the best advertising of any kind. In fact, its creation is often credited to ad legend David Ogilvy. Here’s a great post from Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth that features one of my all-time favorite executions from Guinness beer. Done poorly — like this example from the Atlantic, preserved by the Poynter Institute — it can hurt the reputation of not only the advertiser but the media outlet in which it’s placed. It’s my belief (maybe my hope?) the cream will begin to rise to the top in 2016 and, despite the need for revenue, media outlets will become more selective about what they accept.

Trend #2: Usable Websites Replace Clickthrough-First Nonsense

We’ve all been there. We follow a link a friend posted on social media and are lost in a maze of horrible design, pop-ups and on-page ads intentionally trying to deceive into clicking on nonsense. Even worse, the drive for page visits has led too many “listicle” sites to hide somewhat interesting content in a fog of confusion. I hit a slide show the other day that looked kind of fun, but after clicking three times to simply read the first three sentences on the first slide alone, I left, never to return. These sites are especially bad on mobile, which is becoming more and more important. The money supporting this nonsense with ads will begin to realize the futility in 2016.

Trend #3: Content Gets Promoted from King to Emperor

Content has been driving the bus for some time, and to almost no one’s surprise, that trend will continue and increase in the coming months. More companies and brands will look for smart ways to develop thoughtful stories that engage customers (and potential customers), and such communication will become expected by customers. A number of converging trends — from television ad skipping to ad blocking software — have made consumers less willing to be interrupted, driving thoughtful companies to develop content programs to tell their stories. Further, I believe search engines will continue to increase the value they place on genuine inbound links to solid content, which will only help proliferate this trend.

Trend #4: There Will Be a Significant Shift in TV and/or Movies

Over-the-top (OTT) viewing will continue to change television viewing habits, and I think there’s a chance this year that major shifts can happen beyond simply how we watch “Breaking Bad” or Marvel’s “Daredevil.” I predict this year a major motion picture release will be available on a major platform (fanboy that I am, I’m thinking Apple TV) at the same time as the theater release. To be clear, I don’t envision a $5.99 rental fee on the first day, but more like $49.99 — think major event pay-per-view pricing. The content developers will start to test what I have called the “tyranny of the channel” and businesses like theater chains will need to find new ways to compete for our entertainment dollar instead of being our only choice. Imagine what opening night of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” might have looked like if there were an unlimited number of seats. I think we’ll find out in 2016.

Trend #5: A New Media Payment Model Begins to Emerge

I’m going to hedge this prediction a bit, because I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m convinced we’re going to see some new ideas this year. The business side of media continues to suffer under old payment paradigms — essentially ad-supported or subscription/paywall or a combination — that don’t work today. News consumers, like entertainment consumers, want to pay for what they want to consume, and a subscription to an outlet feels too much like a cable tier to work for many of today’s customers. Micropayments have never taken off, due in large part to the inability to effectively transfer a very small payment between two parties. But with services like Texture — what I call the Netflix of magazines — we’re going to see some new ways for consumers to pay one price to someone and have that amount shared over a number of content providers. I could envision something like my prepaid Starbucks card — every time I clicked on an article from any number of online sources, my account was debited five or 10 or 20 cents, and I could reload the account when it was empty. Bottom line, we’re going to see the emergence of a new way to pay content creators in 2016.

My last prediction: if I get most of these right, you’ll read about it in January 2017. If not, you probably won’t!

Please either agree, argue or drop a prediction of your own in the comments, and happy 2016 to all!

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