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2020: place your bets on major change

06 Jan 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
2020: place your bets on major change

From the rise of carbon-neutral marketing to an influx of indy businesses, or TV's uncertain standing to a sea-change in the the digital ad economy, Dominic Mills looks at the biggest issues to impact media this year

I’ve never been much good at forecasting, and even people who do it for a living can get tied up in knots by the process.

Back when I was a financial journalist, as usual for January, we asked a bunch of City economists for their five-year predictions for interest rates and GDP growth. One sent his in mid-morning. He phoned mid-afternoon.

“You know that long-term forecast I sent you this morning,” he said. “Well, I’ve changed my mind.”

“But you’ve only just done it. It’s a five-year forecast. You can’t change your mind already,” we replied.

“I have and I’m sending you another one today.”

As a result, I am a subscriber to economist Edgar Fiedler’s maxim: if you’re going to forecast, forecast often.

Read on now, but remember that I reserve the right to change my mind at any point in the year.

And, by the way, if you want some soothsayers more prepared to stick their necks out, you can’t do better than this and this from Mediatel News.


Much as I hate adland’s appetite for buzzwords/phrases, often leading us to a point where no-one knows what they mean anymore, I’m going to predict the ubiquity in 2020 of two.

First is ‘carbon-neutral marketing’, about which I’ve been rude before. But I’m now ready to change my mind. What I once dismissed as a gimmick will, I think, become centre stage this year.

But let’s be clear, ‘carbon-neutral marketing’ only covers a brand’s advertising and marketing efforts, not the bigger (and altogether existential) question of advertising’s role in minimising consumption. That’s in the file marked ‘too difficult to even think about’.

Thus we will see brands minimising or offsetting their ad production efforts (no more glamorous winter shoots in South Africa) and looking for media-owner partners with the greenest possible footprint.

Oh, and one more prediction here: there’ll be a whole industry of consultants telling the ad industry how to green its marketing and by year-end someone will have set up a whole Carbon-Neutral Marketing Excellence Awards which, sadly, will turn out to have a big CO2 footprint of its own after you take into account all the beef, food and electricity consumed at its awards ceremony.

The second buzzphrase coming our way in 2020 is ‘ethnicity pay gap reporting’, a requirement which, given the industry’s belated recognition of BAME, will cause it pain and embarrassment — a bit like gender reporting. Still, based on the adage that that which gets measured gets done, then we can expect better BAME performance from the industry starting this year.

Let’s hear it for the indies

I’m predicting that 2020 will see a rash of indies (creative and media) arrive on the scene.

This will be driven by a number of factors: one, with Brexit stasis done, wannabe start-ups that have sat on their hands will feel emboldened; two, as the networks continue to remodel their offerings, there will be fall-out and refugees eager to have a go themselves; three, new clients (DTCs and the like) will want agencies with new ways of working and which, like them, are entrepreneurial and owner-led; and four, the arrival of James Murphy and David Golding’s much-awaited new venture will inspire others.

Hooray; start-ups and indies are a vital part of the way adland regenerates itself.

A pivotal year for TV

Here’s a hedged forecast — 2020 will be a pivotal year for TV in the UK. But I don’t know how it will pan out.

Let’s start by throwing what we know into the pot.

Amazon has planted its size 12 shoes into the world of live sport — with a generally positive outcome.

The streaming wars are imminent, as the likes of Disney and Apple hit the road properly, and Netflix ramps up its content budget even more.

The UK’s own answer to streaming — BritBox — will have a full year’s worth of trading by year-end. We’ll get a clue when ITV reports its full-year figures in March.

Addressable TV will be mainstream(ish) by year-end with 12 months of ITV’s own efforts to judge by, coupled with the integration of C4 onto Sky’s Adsmart platform.

Short-term, we wait to see whether the resolution of Brexit unlocks any significant changes in budgets and money flows back to TV (GroupM estimates revenue down 2-3% in 2019) — or whether that money is gone for ever.

Also short-term, will the Euro 2020 championships draw money back in permanently to ITV, or just be the sticking plaster?

If the government clips the BBC’s wings and/or the licence fee (which may not happen in 2020 but the direction of travel may be clear) who benefits? Established broadcasters like ITV and C4 or the challengers?

The question of reach, a rock first chucked at TV last year by Ebiquity, will be higher on the agenda as live TV viewing levels are squeezed down.

The reach question will then leach into the effectiveness issue. While TV’s relative effectiveness remains undimmed (as numerous studies, including by Ebiquity, have shown), its cost-effectiveness is likely to come under pressure.

Here, I can’t do better than refer you to Starcom’s Dan Plant, who memorably told the Future of TV Advertising conference last month that the cost of TV was now a major issue. It’s twice the price but not twice as good as the alternatives, he said.

Which brings us back to addressable. It may be the the future, it may prove (ultimately) to be the saviour of TV, but at between two and three times the price of linear, cost is going to be an issue. I think it’ll take broadcasters about two years to acknowledge this, by which time... well, who knows.

And finally, politics and acronym soup

We’re 18 months in to GDPR, and things are beginning to happen — of which more in a minute.

But the big acronym the industry needs to get its head around for 2020 is CCPA, which stands for California Consumer Protection Act, and came into force on January 1. It’s essentially California’s version of GDPR, handing California residents a level of control over their data by insisting that any entity that sells personal data gives consumers the chance to opt out. Publishers must put a clear and conspicuous link on their homepage headlined ‘Do not sell my personal data’. You can read a thorough summary here.

Yes, it’s opt-out rather than opt-in, for which some marketers and platforms will breathe a sigh of relief.

It’ll take some time to see how eagerly Californians choose to opt out, but it’s possible that, taking a belt-and-braces approach, publishers may decide to treat everyone as an opt-out. It’s likely less risky and less expensive. There are a few reasons for this.

One, the privacy bandwagon is rolling so it may be sensible to take the safer option. Several other states, including New York, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine, are looking at their own versions of CCPA.

Two, California is a highly litigious state. Lawyers there (as in all the US) love nothing more than a class-action suit.

Three, the law in California (as in other US states) can be highly politicised, meaning any state Attorney-General (an elected post) looking to make a name for themselves at election time can win a few easy headlines by instigating action.

Already California A-G Xavier Becerra is coming on strong about taking aggressive, early action.

And four, there are plenty of other alternatives to personal data for advertisers — contextual, for example.

The simple question then is this: does CCPA promise a sea-change in the the digital advertising economy? My guess is that it does... but it won’t happen overnight.

By way of parallel, look at the way the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is getting its teeth into RTB. In contrast to the California A-G, it has been neither early nor aggressive in its actions, but nevertheless thorough, reasoned and very firm. You get the sense that the ICO has the RTB bone between its teeth, and it ain’t going to let go till something changes.

My prediction: this will be the year we see the ICO flex its muscles and hand out a fine or two.

And if you look at the wider picture and pull together a number of other threads such as the US Department of Justice investigation into anti-competitive behaviour by the duopoly (one possible remedy being a forced break-up), and here in the UK the decision by the Competition and Markets Authority into their share of the UK digital ad market, and the suggestion is that the pendulum is beginning to swing against the duopoly.

None of this happens fast though, and in real life pendulums rarely swing smoothly... so in a year’s time we may still be talking about these issues. But of one thing I’m sure: change is coming.

Dominic Mills will be sharing a panel at The Year Ahead 2020 this week, Mediatel's annual invite-only networking event for senior professionals from across the media industry, which sees panellists give their views on key media issues.

This year will not only be another opportunity for the leading minds in media to come together to discuss the next 12-months, but as we enter a new decade it gives our experts the chance to future gaze into what the next 10 years could possibly bring.

Click here for full details - and if you have a question you would like to ask of the panel, let us know.

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