Digital in 2016: Get Yourselves Ready for a Remarkable Year
In 2015, brands experimented with new platforms like Periscope to reach consumers; global politics became a central thread of online and offline conversations ahead of an election year; Black Friday was outpaced by mobile commerce as the bellwether for holiday shopping; and the return of Star Wars showed us how to best launch a multinational media product. If the shifts we’re currently seeing in behaviours, investments, and industry dynamics continue to advance as we expect them to, 2016 should be a remarkable year for digital. What was once on the outer tier of ‘what’s possible’ will be closer to reality, and the expectations of users will be more acutely understood.
So, what’s ahead for 2016? Here are a few things to watch for:
The reimagined studio is here. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are making big investments in original programming and quickly racking up Emmy nominations along the way. The next step? Becoming competitive in distribution. In September, Beasts of No Nation was released on VOD and in theatres after much contention and negotiation between Netflix and the four largest exhibitors. While box office results for ‘Beasts’ were not groundbreaking, it set the stage for an evolution to come. 2016 is likely to be a year in which the lines (and the rules) between theatrical and VOD release windows collapse more fully and the turf war that exists online between owned and licensed content extends into theatre houses, requiring content owners and exhibitors to redraw the lines on revenue sharing, advertising, and expectations for opening weekend. These challengers, already competing creatively with the established networks and studios, are now also competing for distribution. Hollywood studios have their work cut out for them to keep up with their streaming counterparts creatively, and while content may be king, in 2016 reimagining distribution will run a very close second.
Media companies will be forced to change. Twice in 2015 (in August and again in November), we saw media stocks get hammered on Wall Street due to lower than expected subscriber counts and off target TV advertising revenue. Meanwhile, ad dollars were growing and spend performance increasing. In the debate over the existence and impact of cord-cutting, 2016 promises to be a year in which the reality of these trends becomes harder to deny. Cord-nevers are a cable company’s biggest hurdle since their viewing behaviours are being defined entirely in digital, with no legacy influence from network or cable TV. Winning this consumer, for companies built on complex cable business models and long-standing content relationships, is a battle they are not (yet) equipped for. As ad dollars and subscribers continue to shift towards digital, cable providers will need to put more energy behind bringing products to market to serve this consumer. Verizon is making some moves with their acquisition of AOL, and 2016 will be telling to see how they translate this move into new market opportunities. And what others do to compete.
Social live streaming platforms are the next ‘it’ thing. Brands are making significant investments in digital content, branded experiences, and mobile engagement, and for those brands leading the way, social live streaming appears to be the next frontier. Live video, which has historically been risky territory for brands, is becoming ripe for experimentation and we should see much more of this in 2016. Periscope, an app that is just nine months old, is increasing brand engagement for 15 per cent of the world’s leading brands. This is a marked 5 per cent higher than Vine, and even baseline activity on Twitter directly.
Virtual reality will get closer to going mainstream. Originally the pipe dream of a few very ambitious engineers, virtual reality is starting to become dinner table conversation. One of the bigger leaps in 2015 was the New York Times’ launch of NYTVR, a virtual reality app which houses a rotating set of current event based VR experiences. Not only did they launch the app, they also partnered with Google to send Cardboard headsets to every home delivery subscriber in their base. This is experimentation at its best (focused content + reduced friction), and even if only 10 per cent of subscribers engage, they are capturing enormous insight on initial and repeat usage, content engagement, and topical relevance. As more consumer VR options from Sony, OZO, and Samsung come to market, and more brands pursue experiments like this, virtual reality should be something we see take (real) shape in 2016.
Digital disruption in healthcare will finally make an impact on the marketplace. Highly anticipated, and long overdue, 2016 should be the year we see significant strides in the digitisation of health. From real progress in digitising health records and doctor-patient interactions on mobile, to truly holistic digital health experiences that pivot on proactive planning and education versus reactive solutions, consumers are now demanding their health experiences provide the same ‘basics’ as their digital shopping, searching, and sharing experiences. 2016 should be the year we finally see health as an industry ‘catch up’ to its counterparts in media, consumer products, retail, and financial services. If banks can do it, health can too.
In the year ahead, there will still be big problems to solve of course, but the innovation we’re likely to see should be pretty powerful for brands, for users, and for agencies alike.
Naseem Sayani is Vice President, Strategy for the West Coast at Huge