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The annual Consumer Electronics Show has kicked off in Las Vegas, and media experts and executives hit the ground talking about everything from the future of influencers and ads to what 5G will mean for business.
Here, WWD breaks down some of the interesting topics for media to come out of CES 2020:
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A “social recession” is coming — or already here
Instagram’s user growth is expected to drop to single digits for the first time in 2020, to 6.7 percent from 10.1 percent, according to researcher eMarketer, and its owner Facebook’s growth is essentially flat. So at CES, there was plenty of talk of a “social recession.”
It’s no wonder, given there is so much content being produced every year, numbering in the hundreds of billions, and every publisher and brand is churning out multiple pieces a day [themselves or through influencers on social media], not to mention the content users are self-generating.
“There’s going to be a lot of social fatigue,” said John Holdridge, general manager of client services for Fullscreen. “There’s more content than eyeballs so you have to be selective as a consumer.”
Corey Haik, chief digital officer of Vice Media, said the so-called social recession “is already among us in many ways.”
Part of it seems to be that the mega influencers have moved on from working with brands to sell products to themselves becoming brands and sell their own branded goods. Like the Kardashians and even Chris Hemsworth with his new fitness app. The term “influencer” could get retired soon, given the original idea behind it is morphing into brands working with people who have very small followings.
“We’re living in this moment, or maybe the moment has passed, of peak influencer,” said Jason Jercinovic, vice president of technology at Northhighland. “Teens are starting to take digital detoxes, the first time I’ve really seen that.”
In place of trying to compete for band space with huge influencers, or even just big ones, Jercinovic said working with micro influencers “is starting to happen at scale.” And he’s talking very micro, or “normal people being paid real dollars — a mom getting $8 to talk about detergent.”
It sounds vaguely sci-fi, but it’s not. “Time folding” is merely a new term to explain how people, mainly Gen Z, are consuming still so much content. Social recession or not, engagement with content overall is still increasing, up 20 percent last year, as is the number of pieces of content being produced every year, up 10 percent. There’s already too much content for everyone to even be aware of, much less see, but there is still a lot of consumption going on.
“Younger generations are doing more than one thing at a time, they’re folding time and they’re able to condense,” said Amy Emmerich, Refinery29’s global president and chief content officer. “Yes, they’re binging, but they’re skipping every 10 seconds. We’ve seen it, the younger generation is truly built to fold time.”
Haik of Vice Media, Refinery’s new parent company, offered that younger consumers are actually doing “three or four things at once” in terms of content consumption.
But the odds that any of these consumers are really paying attention to what their viewing, and the ads in particular, seem slim. Holdridge admitted that young consumers do “optimize” their time, but said “they’re not absorbing things quite right.”
“They miss the point sometimes…this is when we run into a measuring problem,” he added. “I question some of the metrics around performance…there’s a huge bridge to cross and that’s what we’re all dealing in day-to-day.”
Podcasting (finally) integrated with social media and search
Still a young medium compared to other content forms like news, photos and videos, podcasting is reaching a maturation point. U.S ad dollars going to podcasting last year hit about $500 million, according to industry analysts, and that number is expected to reach $1 billion by 2021, if not this year. Nevertheless, only 32 percent of Americans consider themselves regular podcast listeners. But according to leaders of podcast companies and divisions within larger media organizations at CES, that low number has partly to do with podcasts not being as easy to find as they could be.
“One of the biggest content distributors in the world is Facebook and it doesn’t have an audio product,” said Conal Byrne, president of iHeart Podcast Network.
In fact, no social media platform has a section or tab for audio, nor does Google. But that is poised to change. Google is said to already be working on one, and while Facebook has said nothing officially, Byrne feels its continuing to ignore podcasts is “poised to change soon.” As podcasts have the highest rate of engagement for content and an average of about 48 minutes of listening time, according to Apple statistics, he thinks it’s only natural for a company like Facebook that makes money by keeping people on its platform.
With a breakthrough on social and search, the number of podcasts and their availability is looking at exponential growth. But there could be a rub. As Norm Pattiz, founder of PodcastOne, put it, “When you transfer social media into podcasting, does that mean time spent listening will go down, down, down, down?” It seems a likely outcome, although no one would admit it, and it could in turn affect what’s making podcasts attractive to advertisers.
Rise of voice search and “discoverability”
The use of voice technology is on the rise and it’s proving difficult for publishers and networks to optimize for.
“Discovery is going to voice and in the TV world, it’s a nightmare,” said Ira Rubenstein, chief digital and marketing officer of PBS. “All the metadata has to be so robust and it has to work. You can do all the ads you want, but if you can’t find it, it’s worthless.”
Right now, he said all the cable companies have individual strategies on how to optimize voice search, leaving the content companies to have to figure out what words will be picked up where. Much like publishers have for years been optimizing for search engines.
Still, in general the “discoverability” of all types of content can be difficult for consumers, given the massive amount of it and the algorithms surfacing it. And with all of the data now available to content producers and brands, the issue is starting to become a major area of focus for them.
“It’s a challenge and partners are constantly asking ‘How do people find our content?’” said Sarah Rosen, Twitter’s head of entertainment partnerships. The platform recently rolled out a new “immersive” ability, making it easier for users to find Twitter content going on around a certain event, but also for them to see branded content and ads being placed in or around the event.
But most of what users, be they readers or TV viewers, actually “discover” is no more than what an AI-driven algorithm feeds them. It can get repetitive and stall, so companies are now looking to add some humanity back in to what consumers are being served up.
“This element of the human is coming into it and we’re thinking a lot about that,” said Jeremy Helfand, Hulu’s vice president of advertising platforms. “Some editorial oversight to help balance it, thinking how do I get delighted by the service?
It’s not really here yet, but 5G still came up a lot, even if there’s no clear answer on what it will mean for media. Most of the talk of 5G, which at a basic level is merely an increase in bandwidth for wireless data transfer, surrounded ideas of faster download times and creating an ease of consumer experience.
“It’s speed, being able to download a movie in a minute before getting on a plane,” said Larry Allen, WarnerMedia’s vice president of ad product strategy.
But there were some bigger ideas being thrown out about what 5G could mean, too, like something almost akin to the fictional, hyper-powerful Internet created on “Silicon Valley.”
“With 5G connected devices outside the phone, it could create a whole new ecosystem, like a second generation web — it creates a lot of opportunities,” Allen added.
There will also likely be improved functionality of immersive technologies, like augmented reality, but also nascent areas like 3-D video and imaging, and even live events. Not just streaming them, but virtual attendance. As Nathan Lindberg, senior director of partnerships for Twitch, a gaming platform owned by Amazon, put it: “Imagine a world where there’s unlimited seating capacity for any event.”