As I pondered VidCon’s overarching themes for 2017, I kept on coming back to the land grab. Everywhere I looked, I saw consolidation, battles and border wars over ownership and positioning. It’s as if the media world had turned into a great big game of Risk, with everyone fighting over Kamchatka and Greenland.
The big companies keep getting bigger. Even though CBS decided not to buy Viacom — ATT, Time Warner, Comcast and Verizon all made significant purchases in 2016. A similar hunger for franchise properties also dominated the news in 2016, as Disney extended its Marvel and Star Wars business, Harry Potter expanded into new theme parks and storylines, Game of Thrones kept on rolling and Netflix expanded several its successful franchises too.
But what will come in 2017? Here are a few predictions for what we’ll be talking about over the next 12 months.
YouTube Starts Looking Like Old Media: With its renewed push for watch time and frequency, YouTube’s algorithm starts to push out the authentic and independent creators that built the business. Big media companies will continue to flourish and ad dollars will accelerate from traditional TV to YouTube. Alphabet’s insistence that YouTube move from “Rising Star” to “Cash Cow” will deliver fantastic quarterly results in 2017, but then a funny thing will happen. The core creators that helped build the popular site will abandon ship. Even though they total less than 5% of overall viewership, this diaspora will begin to leech the magic out of YouTube. By the end of the year Big Red will be in an odd position, as it exceeds its revenue and profit targets handily, but loses its soul.
Facebook Starts Looking Like Old Media: Facebook says it’s not a media company, but as 2017 continues not only will it behave more and more like a media company, it’ll start looking more and more old-school. Ricky Van Veen was a key hire here, and expect him to really stretch his wings in 2017 as Big Blue sprays tons of cash around the big television production companies and networks. It’s unclear whether anyone will watch long-form episodic shows on Facebook — or if they’ll come back every day or every week, but it won’t be for lack of trying.
Amazon Becomes a Major Player in Creator-Centric Online Video: Where will all those creators go when they leave YouTube? A big majority will flock to Amazon’s new video service designed to compete with — and ultimately crush — both Netflix and YouTube. It started when Amazon wrestled Twitch away from YouTube, and it will only continue this year. Amazon has quietly been hiring some significant talent away from YouTube. Tom Sly and Charlie Neiman are just the tip of the spear. This “YouTube Killer” has been rumored for years, but in 2017 it’ll really start to build traction.
Snapchat Becomes a Hardware Company, Or a Media Company, Or Twitter 2.0: Frankly I have no idea what Snapchat will look like by the end of 2017, post IPO. With the release of “Spectacles”, and the acquisition of Cimagine it seems they want to be a hybrid of GoPro and Magic Leap. The company continues to pay big media companies and production shops for original content, while rumors of a slow-down in viewership are rampant. And in many ways Snap is looking more and more like Twitter — with an inevitable stall in user growth imminent. We’ll know more in 2017, but aside from a very successful IPO in the first quarter, “Reply hazy, try again”.
Twitter Still Can’t Explain Its Video Strategy: Vine is dead, Periscope is now integrated into Twitter, and some of the top video product experts were laid off two months ago. We’ll hear a lot of noise from Twitter about this and that, but if the last two VidCons are any guide, it’ll just be a continuing stream of mush from the wimp. Paradoxically, though, Twitter will start to see significant revenue growth from its video business as marketers realize you can move the needle for far less here than on other social platforms. But without a unifying vision, reality will remain far below the potential.
Platform Intentionality Comes to Live Video: In the early days of online video we practiced super distribution: create once, and push out to every platform on earth. Over the last few years that has evolved into platform intentionality, as we’ve realized that what works on YouTube won’t fly on Facebook or Instagram, and when it comes to Snapchat you have to rethink everything — even the frame rate. But live is so new that you can essentially super-distribute live and get similar results across every social video channel. But that’s today. As 2017 goes on we will begin to realize that each live platform has its own story arc, its own flow and its own cadence. What works on Instagram will be different than for Twitter/Periscope; similar platform specific live formats will develop for YouNow, Twitch, Facebook, YouTube, Live.LY and all the rest. And the benefits will accrue to those creators that figure out — and then dominate — those platform specific live formats first — much like AJ+ figured out Facebook video, and What’s Trending is conquering Live.LY.
VR — The Time Is Now: 2017 will be a painful year for the VR industry, as it enters what Gartner calls the “Trough of Disillusionment” for at least the third time in its hype cycle. But this time VR will escape the hamster wheel and accelerate out into the “Plateau of Prosperity”, due to improved delivery infrastructure, lower-cost displays that mimic real life, and a robust B2B wins in HR, sports and healthcare. Sure, lots of early VR startups will fade away or merge into insignificance, but the real leaders in this exciting new 30-year-old medium will be built on the bones of these pioneers. Just as Amazon, EBay and Google accelerated through the dotcom disaster in the early 2000s, fortunes will be made in unlikely places. By 2021, we’ll look back at 2017 as the year it really all started to come together. But there will be a lot of pain to go through first.
Celebrities Will Continue to Die: There was much hand-wringing as we exited 2016 around the spate of beloved celebrities passing away. It seemed like an inordinate amount left this mortal coil and passed over the rainbow bridge. Or whatever. But don’t expect that flood to turn back into a trickle — because even more beloved celebrities will pass away in 2017 — and that growth will only continue. Why? Simply because of the expansion of media outlets, and media stars that began with the advent television in the 50s, the expansion into cable TV in the 80s and 90s, and the acceleration we’ve seen with online stars in the 2000s. An almost exponential increase in beloved celebrities from the 60s to the present time means that the grim reaper’s targets have increased exponentially as well — as the teeny bopper stars of the 60s are now pushing 70 and even 80 years old. In the immortal words of Oingo Boingo, “No One Lives Forever” — and many more of them will pass on this year. And if you thought 2016 was bad, just imagine the hue and cry in 2060 when many early YouTube stars will be in their 70s and early 80s. Every day will be a disaster.
Other predictions — messaging platforms become the next great video platforms, square video starts to dominate online as the battle between wide and tall meets in the middle, the great unbundling of television accelerates as consumers express their desire for ‘shows’ not ‘networks’. Sports ratings continue to fall on traditional TV platforms as ESPN and the other ‘sports nets’ lose subscribers. Apple still won’t be a player in the TV space, and probably won’t deliver any breakthrough product in 2017, Spotify gets sold in a bidding war, and Star Wars and Harry Potter remain the top media franchises, followed closely by an increasingly tired comic-book super-hero crowd.
It’s going to be a fun year!