6 Trends That Defined the Media Industry’s Most Chaotic, Reflective Year

2016 saw both innovation and consternation

From the rapidly changing definition of "watching TV" to the extreme highs and lows of political news coverage, 2016 has been one of the modern media industry's most unpredictable and disruptive years ever.

There was plenty to hold the media accountable for, but there was also much that publishers and social networks contributed in terms of advancement and progress.

Let's take a look at six of the trends that drove the evolution of broadcast, digital media and print publishers this year:

The fake news explosion

The elephant in the room (no GOP pun intended) for media professionals, particularly toward the end of 2016, was the extent to which digital and broadcast channels shaped, contorted and fueled the presidential election.

One of the most high-profile aspects of that debate was the explosive role of fake news, easily spread through the sprawling number of information sources available online, the craving to share news that advances your own political worldview and a lack of safeguards that help consumers tell truth from share-bait fiction. 

Fake news also proved to be not just annoying, but also dangerous. While the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory—alleging that the Democrat leaders ran a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizza shop—arose on anonymous outlets like Reddit and 4chan, it soon spilled over into popular partisan sites. It sparked small protests outside the pizza shop and, worst of all, motivated one believer to bring an assault rifle into the business and shoot open a locked door (only to find no evidence of any wrongdoing) before surrendering to police.     

The incident only seemed to put more fuel on the conspiratorial fire, with Donald Trump's transition team firing one staffer who tweeted that #Pizzagate would "remain a story" until "proven to be false." 

For now, many in media are still looking to major apps and social networks like Facebook to address the problem, which Mark Zuckerberg says his team is attempting through a mix of third-party fact checking and ad policies aimed at "disrupting the economics" of those who profit off fake news clickbait.

The 'post-truth' subscription bump

With the rise of fake news, as troubling as that's been, there's also been a rise in people searching for truth, regardless if that's too little too late. As the Oxford Dictionary declared "post-truth" to be the word of the year, key newspapers have actually seen a bump in subscription rates.

Contrary to what Trump suspected of the "failing" New York Times, both the NYT and The Wall Street Journal saw immediate bumps in subscriptions after the election. As confirmed to Fortune, the NYT saw an additional 132,000 paid subscriptions to its print and digital editions, while the WSJ saw a "300 percent" spike in subscribers in just the day after the election.

Time will tell if that trend, though late to the 2016 game, will continue to help fight the less legitimate news sources, but it's clear that 2017 will be a polarizing time for news outlets as the nation remains as divided as ever.

We've even seen this dynamic playing out this week with Vanity Fair, whose review of Trump Grill instantly drew the president-elect's ire and calls from Trump's critics to support the magazine:

Keeping up with the phones-es

Speaking of print publications, several in 2016 stepped up their efforts to dabble in the more creative or exploratory digital spaces and technologies. Esquire, for example, used an AR campaign in connection with a partner whisky brand. 

Hearst also recently announced its 10-person team dedicated to providing and building voice-activated experiences after seeing the rise of devices like the Amazon Echo, Tap and Echo Dot.

Reminiscent of when publishers raced to be included in Snapchat's Discover platform, new technologies do mean that older, print-focused brands should at least attempt to catch up to where the digital space is headed.

New frontiers for influencers

Content stars who've come up through platforms like YouTube or Facebook videos know better than to place all their eggs in one basket, and 2016 clearly saw a trend of these influencers branching out beyond their original channels. 

Matt Bellassai, best known for downing a bottle of wine before whining about his topic du jour, got his start at BuzzFeed before wanting to explore his own options. Now with a live tour and multiple brand partnerships, Bellassai recently partnered with wine curation service, Winc, to produce his own blend.

Tyler Oakley, one of YouTube's most popular stars, branched out to work with Ellen DeGeneres on a digital series, participated in the Amazing Race's social media season, and partnered with Warby Parker for his own line of glasses. Plus, he helps run a summer camp with fellow YouTuber Bethany Mota, for kids who want to unplug while connecting IRL with their peers.

Another YouTube star, Hannah Hart, also diversified this year. With the release of her second (and much more personal) book, Hart's year was built around extending her personal brand in new ways. This includes the yet-to-be-released travel series she filmed for Food Network.

And Casey Neistat, Adweek's Digital Creator of the Year, announced one of the field's most interesting transitions, as he shut down his popular YouTube vlog and announced he and his social app, Beme, were joining CNN.

Mergers on the mind

Did you notice how Time Warner Cable combined forces with Bright House Networks to become acquired by Charter Communications? Their new superhero-esque name will be Spectrum. Perhaps that'll disguise any former misgivings Time Warner customers had about the service.

In the new year, AT&T's deal to acquire Time Warner Inc. (separate from Time Warner Cable's acquisition above) will ostensibly follow through. The company recently went through U.S. Senate hearings to decide whether or not this is too dangerous or would allow AT&T to unfairly raise rates of licensing Time Warner's entertainment titles and properties. 

Plus, the Altice Group acquired Cablevision, despite more customers or subscribers choosing more of the over-the-top providers that keep coming into play.

Time will tell if Donald Trump's administration proves friendly to such mergers, and if it doesn, you can expect to see the trend continue or even build steam into 2017. 

Cord cutters get a bigger slice

The evolution of TV distribution known as OTT (over-the-top) continued to take shape this year, as more major media players got in on the streaming action.

Not only did Starz launch its own streaming service, but Turner (parent company to truTV, TBS, and TNT) also began providing OTT options. 

Most ambitiously, DirecTV announced its own service, DirecTV Now, that doesn't require a cable or satellite subscription. It started off on a rather buggy foot, though it certainly inspires optimism for cord cutters.

So what trends will 2017 hold? Looking back at 2016, one thing is clear: Whatever happens, it won't be a boring time to work in media.