Two months into 2022 and a world not dominated by the global response to the pandemic is finally within touching distance.
Obviously, this could be subject to change if new variants evolve, but media companies are now mulling over how their working practices should function in the (hopefully) post-pandemic future.
Should the changes ushered in as a response to Covid become permanent ones? Or is it time to turn the clock back, or maybe come up with hybrid solutions?
The pandemic also ushered in a second era of digital transformation with companies now starting to see both challenges and opportunities in innovations like the metaverse, AI and NFTs.
And the last two years have also impacted the big tech companies who are now feverishly making changes to ensure that they maintain their powerful positions in the media in the longer term.
Here then is a look at five key issues that we think publishing companies executives will be thinking about the most in early 2022.
1. A new working culture?
During the pandemic employees of media companies found that due to digital transformation innovations of previous years that they could successfully work from home. Some found that they were more productive while others said that they preferred the freedom that remote working endowed them. Research by the University of Strathclyde found that 78 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to work in the office for only two days or less, while almost a third – 31 per cent – said they would prefer not to spend any time at all in the office.
The biggest question for media executives now is how has WFH impacted on their bottom line? What has been lost financially and culturally by not having a centralised place to work?
There are clearly negative aspects to the change in working practices.
Working in silos may have contributed to burn out and created mental health issues for some employees. For employers, WFH may have meant that their staff are harder to manage and trickier to motivate if things aren’t going well.
There are also clear benefits too of teams physically being together. Working in the same place is good for the creative process enabling workers to bounce ideas off each other in a way that is hard to replicate virtually.
There are lots of side benefits to working in offices, such as memberships and social events which have been shelved during the pandemic, and for younger employees working in offices make it much easier to network and develop their own career trajectories.
Hybrid models in which employees return to their offices a couple of days a week seem like a good solution. Yet is this a temporary compromise or one with long-term benefits?
The coming months will throw up some interesting dilemmas for media executives.
2. New wave of technologies
The last two years have also been crucial ones for emerging technologies. What once was seen as niche by media execs could now have a profound impact in the way that businesses are structured, how they work with their consumers, how they raise money and how they monetise their content.
Non-fungible tokens have grabbed the headlines as the concept of owning digital media files becomes more established. The experiments of The New York Times, Time Magazine and others have encouraged companies like News UK to look at how they can raise revenue by selling digital assets.
NFTs have also been used to fund businesses too – with startups like Dirt selling tokens which are then used to finance content creation. The rights and privileges that Dirt’s tokens give include some say over the direction of the editorial content – a novel and intriguing development for content creators.
In addition to NFTs, DAOs, or Decentralised Autonomous Organisations, offer entrepreneurs a new way of creating businesses that are looser and more democratic than traditional media enterprises. The jury is out on whether they are simply a Silicon Valley-induced trend or a concept that will usher in a new era of transparency in businesses.
And in the background looms the metaverse, where real and virtual worlds collide. It is clear that is coming (after all Facebook seems to have bet much of its business on its success) but no one seems sure when it will penetrate mainstream culture. At what point should media companies create teams that deliver content for the metaverse? Timing is crucial.
3. Google, third-party cookies and the future of online display advertising
One of the key challenges for media executives is staying up to date with the latest in Google’s attempts to phase out the use of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser. The process seemingly heads off in a new direction on an almost weekly basis.
On the one hand, Google seems to be constantly tweaking its approach – ditching its original ideal FLoC and then adopting a strategy based around a concept called Topics – in a bid to make its initiative more palatable to both publishers and the advertising industry in general.
In tandem with this are the legal challenges like this one, led by a group of German publishers, which has targeted the EU.
It does seem inevitable though that whatever the outcome, online display advertising won’t be as lucrative as it once was for publishers. Many have already prepared for this scenario and are focusing on emerging revenue sources, or doubling down on memberships and subscriptions.
The ongoing confusion is not good for the media. Companies need stability to be able to plan properly. So the sooner Google resolves this issue the better.
4. How do media businesses grow?
Every media company is focused on growth. How can the company become bigger? Generate more revenue? Wield more influence? The last couple of years has seen growth fuelled by an exceptional set of circumstances. Several companies like Future, have posted record figures, but as the world returns to what might be called the new normal, how else should media companies look to grow?
Is technology once again the key, with its innovations creating ever more opportunities? Or should companies follow the lead of behemoths like The New York Times which has spurred growth via acquisitions both in its core area – The Athletic – and in niche areas that are becoming more central to its business – Wordle.
Is the emerging middle class in parts of Africa and Asia going to encourage western media to deliver on pre-pandemic plans to target new markets?
Then there is the topic of growth in new territories. Is the emerging middle class in parts of Africa and Asia going to encourage western media to deliver on pre-pandemic plans to target new markets?
Or is growth mainly about focusing on what a company does well and then scaling it across a business?
It is certain that 2022 will witness a lot of discussions about the nature of growth.
5. The changing social media landscape
Until fairly recently the big three tech companies – Google, Facebook and Apple – seemed content to go about the business without instituting changes that would impact too much on each other.
That’s now all changed as Apple’s recent iOS15 privacy initiatives have caused issues for both of its rivals
For Facebook it has led to a slump in advertising, which was the main reason why the company posted disappointing revenue figures earlier this year.
Have the days when social media was a significant driver of traffic to online sites gone for good?
One below-par quarter doesn’t characterise a company, but nonetheless the dip, coupled with a fall in the number of global users has led to questions being once more about how useful social media is to the publishing industry. Have the days when social media was a significant driver of traffic to online sites gone for good?
It is worth keeping an eye on the UK where the government is now making noises about social media companies paying media outlets for use of their content. It mirrors a recent scenario in Australia which, after a lot of shouting including threats from the tech companies to pull news from their platforms, ended up with a compromise deal that has hit Facebook and Google’s bottom line.
Should the UK follow Australia’s lead though a global precedent will have been set, and the EU would be likely to make a similar move. Might the tech companies then decide they have bigger projects to focus on and pull out of any news distribution?
Many publishing companies are already focusing on ways of securing traffic without having to resort too heavily on social media. The next year or so could see that process speed up significantly.
Main Image: Shutterstock/Subbotina Anna