Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Track Report 2021: Which trends we got right, which ones we didn't

Every year, we issue a set of trends and predictions for the upcoming year and -- unlike most prognosticators, we evaluate how we did at the end end of the year.

Which is now.

So here's a look at our top predictions for 2021:

  1. We will all become more aware of supply chains. We were right about this. Supply chains became a front-page story everywhere. Until 2020, supply chains were a trade story, a topic non-trade publications rarely touched but this year, The New York Times made supply chain a focus for economics reporter Peter S. Goodman. Supply chain issues will continue into 2022, especially if Omicrom or subsequent variants continue, which seems likely. Grade: A.  
  2. The workplace of the future will be your home. We said that "a significant percentage of employees will choose to continue to work from home – which has propelled some to move to cheaper, less dense neighborhoods. Companies will have to rethink HR, recruiting and team building as well as reconfigure workflow, collaboration, and customer support to address the realities of the new workplace." So far, as many companies are halting return to the office initiatives, our prediction that work from home would continue into 2022 seems correct. We did not predict the Great Resignation, in which people resigned to pursue something else but we believe we were right that companies need to rethink, still, workflow, collaboration, teams (actual teams, not Microsoft's Team software).  Grade: A.
  3. Cities will need to reimagine downtown business districts. We continue to see underoccupied buildings and empty storefronts. We continue to think that "local hospitality businesses and retailers need to focus on delivering customer experience, not just commodity service" and that "to overcome stories about closures and stagnation, stimulate the local economy and give people a reason to visit, cities will need to revitalize downtown areas by expanding cultural activities." The problem is: we're not seeing much movement or coverage about rethinking downtowns. We think this is a critical issue that should get more attention. We hope this gets more attention in 2022. From a media coverage, however, this did not generate the proverbial ink we think this topic deserves. Grade: B.  
  4. Telepresence, industrial robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will get more attention. Companies did experiment with video conferencing solutions like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and others but we did not see as much about telepresence as we thought. Same with industrial robotics. That doesn't mean that telepresence and industrial robotics did not gain strength in 2021 but we didn't see much evidence in news coverage. We did see tremendous interest in AI, however. Overall, from a media perspective, we overstated this trend. Grade: B.
  5. Telehealth becomes a preferred option, not an alternative. We said "Telehealth will become the preferred option, particularly for therapy or appointments that don’t require hands-on treatment." Subsequently, we heard that medical insurance companies scaled back coverage for telehealth appointments. We said we expected "to see stories on the delivery of healthcare to those who don’t have access to telehealth and whether patients will get the same level of care and attention via virtual sessions as they do with in-person visits," and we did not see much of that. One reason: the continued focus of the ongoing shapeshifting Covid virus. That said, we think telehealth is a great option, and we expect to see some of the coverage about the delivery of health care to occur in 2022. Grade: B-.   
  6. Big Tech’s role will be scrutinized. Not surprisingly, this was a big story throughout the year. Grade: A.
  7. The streaming wars will continue with no real losers. We said we thought that streaming services launched by networks trying to optimize their content will continue because streaming is a way to monetize their content library. One of the new services we didn't expect to like but do because of its quirky old library is Pluto TV; it's a free, ad-supported service leveraging CBS and Paramount's content. While the streaming wars did not get as much attention as we expected, there was a lot of attention to various offerings on many services, and always a lot of interest in Netflix's business. And we were right when we said that the contraction of non-network-based services (Crackle and Tubi, for example) won’t happen in 2021 -- but could happen within 24 months. Grade: A.
  8. In a post-truth era, media polarization will continue and media credibility will decline. Things got worse in 2021 in terms of media polarization, and we wish we were wrong about this. We expect this will continue, especially on the anniversary of the Jan. 6th insurrection -- we saw on Twitter today that there are people disputing that characterization despite the video, despite the sentencing of perpetrators who pled guilty -- and any ongoing investigation into what led up to that day. We also said that we expected "the phrase post-truth to be used quite often in articles that look at the current lack of unity inside the U.S.," and we think that was right, too. Please note: for the purposes of this blog, we're not interested in the politics or the drivers of polarization. The reason we're interested in media polarization is that it makes marketers job much harder, and credibility more challenging to achieve, because ads placed on one network may be construed as an endorsement of the media property's perceived political perspective, whether FOX or MSNBC, so companies need to find a way to dance around this issue. Grade: A.     
  9. The news flow won’t diminish in the first half of the year. We said, "we expect the news flow to continue at its current levels through the fall due to the ongoing pandemic, its impact on the economy and continued volatile political situation. We also expect Doomscrolling will drop off but not fade away in 2021." We have some some media engagement by readers to be on the decline this year but the amount of news has not diminished, and we're still doomscrolling as much as we had hoped to break that habit.  Grade: A.
  10. From a business perspective, the media sector will face a challenging year. This is a problem for advertisers and publicists because newspapers are publishing issues with fewer pages despite the crazy amount of news flow. We've seen coverage of SPACs and Alden's relentless mission to purchase storied news organizations only to decimate newsrooms, diminishing the role these media play in their hometown communities. Grade: A.
  11. More newsrooms will be shuttered. Another prediction we would prefer to have gotten wrong. Grade: B+.
  12. Substack won’t save most reporters. We said, "An email newsletter platform designed to enable reporters to turn readers into paying subscribers, Substack has lured dozens of prominent reporters with the claim of a better business model for journalists to control their destiny and make money." Some reporters have indeed done well on Substack. Long-time Bloomberg Businessweek economics reporter has an interesting column in the New York Times. But others -- like former New York Times privacy project reporter Charlie Warzel -- left for Substack and then jumped ship to the Atlantic. We think newsletters may help media properties reach readers interested in a specific perspective but we don't think it will make it easier for reporters to make gobs of money. We see newsletters as this year's podcast. Many people have them, enjoy producing them, but most aren't making money solely from their newsletter or podcast. We believe we got this right. Grade: A. 
Overall, we got an A- for this year's TrendReport. We are working on our predictions for 2022. Stay tuned!