One thing for sure: 2020 won’t be easily forgotten.
It’s been a year that sadly redefined a new normal in how we live and work. We continue to track deaths resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and see ongoing violence against people of color that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
We won’t be doing a comprehensive recap of the year – including the lives lost or disrupted, although our hearts go out to all of them – because that’s outside the scope of our trend analysis.
As we’ve done each year for nearly 20 years, we will review the trends we identified the previous year and grade how we did for each prediction.
1. Distrust of Big Tech and media fuels anxiety. We got this one right – noting that “This will fuel feelings of anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and isolation, regardless of political perspective” – though we underestimated the scale of the distrust or the anxiety. This is a significant problem because American generally live in one of two news bubbles, ones that communicate vastly different narratives so that we don’t operate with a single set of facts. This will continue to fuel distrust and anxiety in 2021. Grade: A.
2. The loss of local news coverage will continue, and will erode trust. According to Axios, “In the first 6 months of 2020, more than 11,000 newsroom jobs have been lost. That's nearly as many as were lost in all of 2009.” We’ve also seen many local papers reducing the number of days they publish, scaling back their print editions or going out of business. We were right about the continued loss of local news; we have not seen data yet about the impact of that loss. But we know that the trend impacts how local news gets reported and what kinds of local news gets published. This trend will continue in 2021. Grade: A.
3. Streaming services will get a lot of media and consumer attention. We said that the so-called streaming wars is not a zero-sum game, that American consumers will choose to subscribe to several streaming services, not just one, and we got that right. Streaming services became even more important in 2020, with some like Disney+ premiering movies that would otherwise have been released first into movie theatres. We also believe we were correct when we noted that, “The growing number of ad-free streaming content services will make it harder for marketers to reach a mass audience. Even ad-supported services will be out of reach for local and regional organizations so they will need to look for other ways to reach local customers.” Grade: A.
4. The Gig Economy isn’t just for millennials. We said to expect older Americans to enter the gig economy, and they may have but the pandemic hurt the gig economy. The gig economy did not get as much attention as it should amid huge losses of traditional jobs this year, nor did the impact on gig workers who don’t get benefits like unemployment checks when their jobs dried up. We believe that after the pandemic – whenever that is – the gig economy will recover, but gig workers will want a safety net to help them in case of future job losses. Grade: C.
5. Consumer spending patterns are shifting. We said consumer spending would shift from owning to renting things like ZipCars, Citi Bikes and any number of sites that rent the latest fashion trends. On a short-term basis, spending did shift though that was due to the pandemic. Long-term we think that what we call the “non-ownership economy” or the “convenience economy” will continue. Grade: C.
6. The sharing economy will become more expensive. We said to “expect (that companies will pay) more attention to gross margins (a measure of profitability), detailed financial models for startups looking to raise money, and a focus on discipline” as opposed to focusing only on growth. Instead, many companies focused on survival in 2020, which included pivoting to offer new products and enter new markets. That said, Netflix recently announced it will increase its monthly rates, and we think others will follow. Grade: B-.
7. Streaming — but not owning — content increasingly means you might not be able to access the version you want. We said, “Consumers will become increasingly aware of the risks of streaming, which include ongoing monthly costs that will increase; content that disappears when a streaming service loses its rights even if you were in the middle of the program); and services that might disappear or abruptly shut down. Grade: A.
8. Going cashless will also affect consumer spending. Driven by the pandemic, contactless was huge in 2020 as almost everyone shifted to Venmo, PayPal, Zelle and other services. Many of us have hardly used cash all year. We can’t tell if contactless affected spending since retail was hurt by the pandemic. We do stand by the statement that “An increasingly cashless society will make it much more difficult for the poor, who may be unbanked (as the banking industry calls it) and can’t get a credit or debit cards.” Grade: A.
9. Robots won’t take over in 2020 but will be more commonplace. Robots will likely see a boost om a post-pandemic environment but we did not see as much coverage in 2020 as we expected. Grade: C+.
10. The age of plant-based “meats” has gone mainstream. This was a significant food trend though not the biggest of the year (that was cooking at home). Grade: A.
These were our initial sets of trends. We will post the next set on Monday, and will give us a final grade for the year.