Who would have thought a man running around in red tights would score the CW its highest ratings ever? How about the 2014 box office dominated by the likes of a gun toting raccoon and a talking tree? Superheroes have become media gold, stunning the mainstream with the nichest of the niche.
The popularity of comic book properties in media is just one 2014 development that proves the power of new ideas while also capitalizing on classic concepts that can surprisingly, resonate with audiences. Peering into the crystal ball for 2015, we solicited media predictions for the coming year from media pundits and personalities, picking their brains on the changing task of storytelling and the relationship between the media and PR.
Digital Devotion: Predictions for 2015
In 2015 we will undoubtedly see another year of digital growth in media, most likely with a focus on mobile, as mobile internet usage began to eclipse PC usage for the first time last year, a milestone in the history of the internet.
Holly Epstein Ojalvo, founder and editor of digital news start-up Kicker, sees a year of “more” in the media industry: “More mobile, more disparate, more visual, more personalized, more engaging, more bite-sized, and more creative, more interactive,” she proclaimed.
Echoing that thought is Mark Glaser, executive editor of PBS MediaShift. “The media industry in 2015 will be going digital more than ever before,” he said. “We’ve all heard about traditional media orgs going “digital first” but this year this will happen and it will go beyond the web: the focus will be on mobile, social and video most of all.
Courtney Driver, executive editor of JustLuxe, sees a similar growth trajectory for the media industry, but in so doing wonders about digital/new media as a concept: “The media industry will keep moving in the same direction that it has been, but more than likely at a faster rate, as the industry and public become more familiar with what new media means,” she said.
Driver’s summation of new media is holistic and depicts the length of the gamut facing media stakeholders: “New media is really a combination of various mediums all being used to form a complete picture of a story. Social media, classic editorial, video, photography, interactive design and a stellar user experience will all paint a portion of the big picture,” she explained.
Both Glaser and Driver comment on advertising as a media province to watch closely. Though inevitable, both predict an evolution in the field: “Even advertising will begin to play a part in the overall story eventually,” Driver noted, “and will (hopefully) become an aspect of the experience that is enjoyable instead of an annoyance.” Glaser predicts that “business models will continue to morph, with native ads maturing, video ads getting better and the continuing search for mobile ads that don’t suck (beyond in-stream ads on social).”
“The biggest surprise of this decade is video on demand content providers, like Netflix, taking the role of content producers,” she commented. “This will continue to expand in 2015. As farfetched as the thought of a video store owner producing his own blockbuster films for sale is, Netflix, Hulu and Crackle have all turned the distribution-only market on its head. And why not? In the last century the big Hollywood studios owned the theaters where their films were distributed. 100 years later we see the virtual market leap at the chance to own their product from creation to sales. The verdict: success.”
More Media, More Problems: Challenges in 2015 Storytelling
The advent of streaming media and its demand from the millennial generation has shown that classic media continues to alter the playing field for the industry. Social media, also a millennial hallmark, is another opportunity and obstacle facing those in media, presenting another challenge to those working in the field.
Glaser believes that these challenges will remain the same in 2014, with social media a key component and necessity to the ever-changing media, specifically in terms of branding: “How do you build your personal brand as a journalist while telling great, compelling stories that serve the public good?” he asked. “Journalists will need to do more than just report and tell stories; they will need to navigate social media for interactions with readers and to follow story leads. They will need to consider working for more than just traditional news outlets, and now think about places like Vox, BuzzFeed and other native outlets, as well as content marketing and other corporate work.”
Driver agrees that much of the media game hinges on branding and self-marketing. No longer can journalists be invisible or merely a byline. Contemporary success relies on rising to the top in an oversaturated field of media artists. “It is now more necessary than ever to not only ensure that your story gets published but also Tweeted, Facebook-ed and spread socially,” she explained. “Growing a social following is getting harder and harder, as those waters get murkier. This may in fact be eventually what draws the line in the sand between successful journalists and failed writers; those that do not embrace social and self-marketing will fall by the wayside. The days of simply turning in a written story are numbered.”
Indeed, social media is basically inescapable for media industry players, as Adair noted. “Social media is still coming into its own and 2015 will find social media being as unquantifable for public relation firms as it was in 2014. That doesn’t mean it won’t be impactful. Anyone that works in the communication market who chooses to ignore social media now will be making a big mistake.”
Beyond social media participation, Epstein Ojalvo points out the evolution of the craft itself. “Over the past two years we’ve seen a big evolution in story formats,” she said. “Listicles are the new inverted pyramid. The question is, ‘what’s next?’ How can journalists make important stories engaging so people not only want to be informed and seek out news, but also share and discuss it? Journalists are working hard to figure that out, and it’s a moving target.”
Inherent in journalism’s evolution is the stratification presented by classic journalism and the growing contingent of bloggers, the latter of which Driver sees ever-growing in credibility and impact.“Bloggers who were once considered fringe-‘journalism’ are now respected for their word-of-mouth/grassroots sphere of influence, smaller sites can, in some ways, compete with established media companies,” she noted.
PR’s Plus One: Media & PR in 2015
The rapport between PR and media, while contentious for some, is as inevitable as social media in that the two do rely on one another, a relationship Glaser sees developing further in 2015: “It’s been another year of close work between PR and media, and that will continue,” he predicted. “There’s a lot of automated services and tools to help PR people reach media folks and journalists, and that will only get bigger. PR will utilize digital and social media to reach audiences directly, cutting out journalists, and that trend will only grow.”
Driver noted that PR and media’s relationship isn’t necessarily a new development either.
“The evolution has been happening for a bit more than that and much of it you can track right alongside social media and the growing number of tech-savvy individuals out there in the media world,” she said, also noting the challenge therein presented to media. “I expect that PR professionals will be looking more and more to take advantage of social media and new media opportunities for clients and it will be up to the journalists to rise to that and come up with new ways to report, write, share and more,” she explained.
Rather than looking at the changing process of journalism, Epstein Ojalvo looks at PR specifically, predicting new challenges for that field as well:
“One thing is that PR is getting savvier and more focused,” she offered. “Random, untailored PR pitches are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, and that’s good for everyone. What’s more valuable, and trickier, isn’t pushing out a press release about a new product or fundraising – it’s making sure journalists know you exist and keep you in mind for trend pieces and other related stories. Social media is going to drive that in 2015 even more than in 2014. And I think it’ll come not just from PR professionals but also from business owners and entrepreneurs themselves, reaching out to reporters directly and establishing relationships.”
To Impact and Beyond?
As 2014 presented superheroes as one type of niche media unexpectedly conquering the mainstream, Anair sees another trend on the horizon, particularly with 2016 presidential elections in sight: impact media. “Birthed from social media, crowdfunding and the popularity of video on demand, more and more organizations over the next year will use impact media, short creative pieces with a message,” she explained, also wondering about the eventual effects of these media. “Impact media, at its heart, condenses large ideas into pocket sized media bites. How do we quantify how this media is impacting people? That too will be a trend in 2015 as PR firms, researchers and savvy politicians gather the information they need to make the best guess at what will be successful in an increasingly saturated media market.”