Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2020

by Frederic Filloux

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

These are not predictions, but trends I will be following this year.
Most of them will lead to specific Monday Notes.

1. The morphing newsroom

Newsrooms will change in multiple ways.

→ The ones still operating a newspaper or a magazine will increasingly streamline their print-related operations. Some will even repackage their editorial products into weekly or few-days-a-week publications.

→ The traditional news desk set-up (local, national, politics, etc.) will leave way for a more cross-cutting editorial structure based on each market’s key issue and audience expectations. For instance, comprehensive climate change coverage will make more sense in vulnerable areas (like Florida) while a team of reporters focusing on mobility/housing, percolating up in every part of the organization will be more justified in a large congested metro area.

→ Modern newsrooms will increasingly rely on external expertise to address complex issues. Anyone starting a news

today would rely on a small core of seasoned editors, some in-house specialized writers, and build networked expertise (this will require a novel HR approach with subcontracting to secure good journalism and pay for it accordingly).

→ Most newsrooms will produce less internally and rely more on a network of trusted freelancers, called on a need-to basis according to their competence. That should allow editors to maintain a wider and more specialized pool of talent. (This also carries the risk of a drift into a gig-economy system, with content produced on the cheap. In some cases, production costs will go down, but the quality will suffer).

→ That could go along with the development of (at last) serious online journalism courses as expertise will become decentralized. As a positive consequence, it should unleash a higher degree of competence as many knowledge workers outside of the journalism profession (doctors, scientists, lawyers, technologists) will be tempted to venture into the news. They will be able to train themselves online without having to make a major career shift.

2. The evolution of Journalism School

Trends: Journalism schools need to reinvent themselves quickly in response to students’ aspirations and the evolution of the news sector. Here are the forces at play:

→ A growing number of J-students are not inspired by what lies ahead professionally. They face either traditional sinking ships, slow to modernize, with antiquated editorial structures and layers of management, still largely controlled by aging old men; or the other option of low paid news churning.

→ The consequence of the above is a greater desire for specific projects in which Millennials entering the news sector will retain a greater influence.

→ Even more importantly, they see these editorial projects based on a set of critical values:
• Respect for the reader (no more ad targeting, whether first or third-party)
• Transparency (here is how we work)
• Balanced coverage (paraphrasing The Guardian’s principle — at least under Alan Rusbridger’s editorship — “facts are sacred, comment is free”)
• Greater reader involvement
• Environmental sustainability, both in editorial choices and the way companies operate.

(Expect a series of articles about innovation in journalism training sometime this year).

3. Replacement value for our data

Trend: Users are increasingly frustrated with the inconvenience of free, advertising-based, services. The price to pay in terms of privacy violations will appear increasingly unacceptable.

Evolution: We can expect to see a broad scope of services and applications built around a simple statement: “We don’t collect data for advertising or marketing, but in exchange, you paid a small fee for the service, calculated on the replacement value of the advertising”. If there is any use of behavioral data, it will have to be explicitly associated with a user benefit (like personalization). Nothing new, here. That was Jan Koum and Brian Acton’s idea for WhatsApp before Facebook acquired it.

Some solid businesses like the photo-sharing app and network VSCO are also built on this idea, as explained by its founder Joel Flory, in this Techcrunch interview: “It sounds simple, but this creates a business model in which our business is not extracting value from any one group to give to someone else. It’s this direct relationship with who’s paying us.”

(I will come back to this issue of the replacement value for advertising in a coming Monday Note).

4. Quibi, the 9th Horseman of the streaming war

2020 will see no less than eight video streaming services pitted against each other: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney +, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Hulu, Peacock, and CBS All Access — that’s the list we see everywhere. But there is a Ninth Horseman in this upcoming war and it’s called Quibi, short for Quick bite. Quibi is the brainchild of Jeffrey Katzenberg, a long-time Hollywood mogul (he worked at Disney and later he was the “K” in DreamWorks SKG, along with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen). His idea was to develop a company exclusively aimed at producing content for mobile devices. Katzenberg brought in Meg Whitman as the CEO. Together, they raised more than one billion dollars that will be put into original production and bespoke technologies. They will allow the user to switch seamlessly between portrait and landscape modes, which means specific shooting and post-production work. Combine that with the fact that every show, whether it be curated news or a feature film, will be sliced into 4 to 6 minutes segments. One catch is that Quibi must build its own library from scratch. The service will be producing 20 to 30 pieces of content every day, “more hours than any networks produces on prime time,” said Katzenberg. Quibi is set to launch in April this year at a monthly price of $5 with ads and $8 without ads.

(More after my next trip to LA)

5. Also on the Monday Note’s radar

→ Feature filmmaking is ripe for disruption. Right now, it is the least productive industry in the world with hundreds of people doing minute jobs on shoots. Tech will straighten this out with digitized actors and less reliance on location shootings. To get an idea of what’s ahead, look at this video that explains the aging techniques for the cast used in The Irishman, and this one about the virtual shooting of The Lion King).

Some sectors will experience spectacular implosions:

→ Micromobility. While urban transportation is shifting rapidly, the electric-scooter sector is still more powered by a collective hallucination than by sustainable economics. There is no business model for shared means of transportation (scooters or dockless bikes). A growing number of municipalities see them as a nuisance (Paris created dedicated parking spaces but no one uses them as incivility rules). As a consequence more cities are banning them. Bird, Lime, and other e-scooters operators are dead but they don’t know it yet.

That’s not the case for electric-assisted bikes, either individually-owned or docked (docking prevents reckless user behavior). From a tech perspective, there is room for improvements like battery performances, regenerative power, OTA software updates, and better frames. Pushed by innovation and better infrastructure, e-bikes are likely to become the preferred individual means of transportation in the years to come.

More broadly, the gig economy will suffer. Its economics are too shaky, safety is an issue (see the Uber mess in London), labor regulators will move towards forcing operators to consider drivers as employees, etc. Soon funding will dry up and profound restructuring and consolidation will ensue.

Finally, I will be looking at the innovation wave induced by climate change: impact on the future of food, as well as energy production, storage, and distribution.

We can expect an interesting decade.

By the way, Happy New Year. Thanks for reading the Monday Note!

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