Media Executives Share Their Predictions for 2020

After a decade defined by disruption, what's next for publishers?

business man and woman standing by a podium looking out into a window shaped eye with the moon and skyline
What will the next age of disruption bring for the media industry? Getty Images

The media industry has seen some things this decade. As have consumers. We’ve watched the rise of technology and new platforms from the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube—and now, TikTok.

It’s been an era of disruption, particularly in terms of the maturation of social media. So, what’s next for the media industry? We put the question out to media executives—here’s what they had to say.

Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Neil Vogel, CEO, Dotdash:
The same thing will matter in the 2020s that mattered in the 2010s or the 1950s. If you create and deliver high quality content and you can connect the right person to the right marketer message at the right time, you will have a great business. The mediums may have changed, but the principles and disciplines of the last 100 years of media are exactly the same—whether it’s a print magazine, a broadcast network, a social network or online publisher, those who can deliver quality audiences with real intent to advertisers will win.

Cory Haik, chief digital officer, Vice Media:
The disruption will continue in the next decade, as the models and mechanisms that support media production and consumption continue to change.

There are some interesting trends emerging, leading us to more premium offerings and consumer curation. If we turn to our users to guide us, it’s clear that some of the future of storytelling are formats natively built for mobile. This doesn’t mean just taking an article and making it performant on the phone, or making sure your video player loads on mobile. It means producing our journalism in formats that our audiences are spending the majority of their time in: Stories. Think Google AMP Stories, Snap, TikTok, Instagram and the like.

Motion graphics, narrative, video, mixed media, interactivity and the like are all the things that go together in this story form. At Vice, we’ve set up our 2020 strategy to reflect this as a legitimate story form with a seat at the table—we will resource and produce articles, videos and Stories. And as monetization becomes mature, we fully expect to continue to invest.

Catherine Levene, president/chief digital officer, Meredith:
Expansion of video and audio. Wider 5G network deployment has the potential to further fragment the consumption of video and impact traditional TV advertising at scale. Consumers will be able to get the content they want not only from the apps and networks that exist today, but also OTT from the browser on TV or any device. More content will be created from both studios and individuals. Media companies will need to find ways to aggregate meaningful audiences, personalize experiences and track across a much more complex ecosystem.

With regard to the proliferation of audio content and experiences, more and more people are going to want hands-free convenience for daily tasks. This will impact search, news and information, storytelling and even activities such as cooking. In fact, 71% of Meredith women cook with screen-equipped smart speakers.

Heather Dietrick, CEO, The Daily Beast:
If the 2010s was about social media disruption, which for publishers amounted to the dissolution of brand affinity in favor of the algorithms and the disruption of the relationship with the audience in favor of traffic growth, the 2020s will be about media owning its relationship with the audience, building brand devotion and leveraging loyalty.

Pam Wasserstein, president, Vox Media:
The 2020s may offer a course correction to some of the trends of the last decade such as fake news, generic content and chasing scale for scale’s sake. After this onslaught, audiences are hungry for relationships built on trust, and they are willing to pay where they perceive sufficient value. Quality and brand differentiation will be critical in developing these ties with consumers; we will all have to work harder to ensure that our product is worth paying for directly.

Pam Drucker Mann, global CRO/president, Condé Nast:
We’ll see—and are already seeing—a huge return to brand marketing. I’m calling it a ‘brandformation.’ Over the past few years, CMOs have sacrificed long-term brand building for short-term wins in a race to the bottom, leaning on advancements in targeting technology to find their consumers at precisely the right moment. That hyper-focus on ROI has led to an overinvestment in digital and performance marketing as a substitute for brand building. While measurement will always be important, the pendulum is now swinging back to a focus on building connections with consumers.

In 2018, the number of connected TV users in the U.S. reached over 180 million—a number that is expected to increase to over 200 million by 2022. If the runaway success of Bon Appetit and Wired’s OTT channels is any indication, there’s a huge opportunity for both media companies and advertisers on this evolving platform.

Howard Mittman, CEO, Bleacher Report:
Back in 2010, I was busy launching the Wired iPad app, and as crazy as it seems now, that felt like a truly transformational moment. The genesis of apps and social distribution kicked off a wave of media companies becoming willing to turn their brands over to other platforms of all kinds. I would argue the next decade will be about continuing to work with the top-tier platforms but that many media companies will look to own more of their distribution and data. Translation: This is the decade when everyone tries to claw it all back. Most won’t find success. Those that will have probably already begun this transition and have brands that stand for something and provide consumer utility at deeper levels.

Thomas Hjelm, chief digital officer, NPR:
This is the era of the ear. More listening is happening to more content across more devices in a greater variety of settings than ever, and media companies—particularly audio-first producers like public radio—must explore new forms of distribution partnerships, personalized channels, conversational interfaces and other horizons.

Ben Lerer, CEO, Group Nine Media:
There’s no question that audiences are going to continue moving to mobile. On the heels of a huge consolidation period, there‘s going to be a small group of publishers that have digital DNA along with the scale, reach and strength of brands to connect advertisers with young audiences across all of the key platforms.

Jim Spanfeller, CEO, G/O Media:
The next decade will be a combination of transparency and its impact on how marketers go to market, and the effect that will have on the ad agency business model.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.