2023 promises to be an interesting year for the media industry. For publishers, a very crowded field will make it difficult to stand out, grow subscriptions, and diversify revenue.
If you read the industry press, there’s no shortage of opinions and advice, although much of it contradicting and confusing. If you find that you have more questions than answers, rest assured you’re not alone. Deciphering the important business-changing signals from the noise has never been harder—or more important.
Some within the industry predict that media budgets will still grow in 2023, but at a much slower rate. Much of that is expected in retail media, not branding campaigns. Depending on who you ask, subscriptions will decline or stay the same. The uncertainty makes publishers uneasy; should you invest in new services, stay the course, or retrench? Which of the hottest trends might have the biggest business impact, and which are passing fads?
Good leadership hinges on the ability to separate what’s important and what’s not important. To this end, we’ve invited industry executives to talk about the biggest trends in publishing, how they think these patterns could shake out, and how it may all impact the world of publishing and media in 2023.
Here’s what we heard.
Ripple Effects of a Recession on Publishers & Advertisers
Whether or not we officially enter a recession in 2023 is somewhat beside the point; advertisers fear a recession, and many are cutting their media budgets. This has real world ramification on publishers, many of whom are cutting staff. In 2022, the media industry shed 3,000 jobs, and more cuts are expected in 2023.
Publishers are likely to spend time optimizing their ad-tech stacks in order to eliminate supply partners that grab too much margin, or deliver less premium advertisers.
More importantly, they may return to the basics: focusing on reliable revenue and making improvements to the user experience in order to increase the lifetime value of readership.
“No matter what publishing vertical you operate in, you’ll need to prioritize reliable revenue sources and take fewer risks. Otherwise, if your strategy is solid, you should be able to stick with it—a recession is unlikely to drastically change the course of the industry,” Joshua Nino, CEO of Dexerto told us.
ESG is Here to Stay
Are climate action, diversity initiatives and good governance table stakes or luxuries? If a recession hits, can publishers comfortably jettison their ESG initiatives in order to concentrate on shoring up revenue?
“The public expects ESG investment from their brands, so these programs are unlikely to go anywhere any time soon,” notes Scott Mulqueen, Senior Vice President, Recurrent Ventures. But he warns, calculating the ROI of such initiatives is hard. Harder still is assessing the impact of ESG on growth.
The Future of Short-Form Video as Social Media Finds New Footing
Short-form video dominated in 2022, with brands posting them on virtually every social media site. Should all publishers jump in the game?
The success of short-term video is an irresistible draw for publishers, but it’s not without its risks. Doing video right may require some publishers to add videographers to their staff, at a time when the media seems to be shedding jobs. What’s more, publishers should think carefully about how video fits into their growth strategy, not rely on it to be the sole driver of new revenue.
“There’s no doubt about it: short-form video is here to stay. But the shift to video puts legacy publishers in a precarious place. It’s tempting to chase trends, but developing video competency is no small task. If heritage brands choose to compete in that ruthlessly competitive world, the outcomes will be important to track,” said Jeremy Hlavacek, Chief Commercial Officer at Experian Marketing Services.
Will Google Ultimately Eliminate Third-Party Tracking Cookies in Chrome in 2024?
Way back in August of 2019, Google announced its Privacy Sandbox initiative, and its intention to eliminate support for third-party tracking cookies in Chrome by 2022. Since then, Google has announced one delay after another. The new target date: some time in 2024.
The multiple delays have provided publishers and advertisers the chance to experiment with alternatives. What’s more, with the growth in retail media and CTV, third-party cookies are losing their relevance. For their part, publishers are amping up their first-party data offerings in order to diversify revenue.
“Is the end of third-party cookies the ‘tech moment’ that cried wolf?” Michael Liss, VP of Product at New York Post asks. “At this rate, regulators may beat Google to the finish line and hasten the move. But, regardless of the timeline, many publishers and advertisers have been preparing and will be ready when the time finally comes.”
Are Changes In Store for Open Exchange Programmatic?
Bloomberg Media made headlines when it announced it would cease filling inventory via open exchange programmatic. In their view, a short-term hit in revenue is well worth the upside of a more active and loyal reader base.
But for many other publishers, open exchange programmatic may remain a key driver in growth. “Thanks to how efficient open exchange is, I only see it growing in 2023. As the field matures, it may even grow to make up the majority of publisher revenue online. There is this idea in the industry that user experience and programmatic advertising are at odds, and they don’t have to be. As publishers, we can control the experience, the price floor, and thus ad quality. We have the right tools to work with, it’s just a matter of using them to their potential” Peter Wang, CTO at BuzzFeed told us.
How to explain these two opposing views? Joshua Nino of Dexerto has a theory: “Abandoning programmatic, in any part, for private marketplaces is a luxury of well-established, large publishers.”
Trust & Safety in a Recession
Advertisers were nervous when Elon Musk took over Twitter, prompting them to cut back on spending. Those fears escalated when Musk announced the company had dissolved its Trust & Safety Council (via email and less than an hour before its members were to meet with Twitter leadership).
Will this trend spread to all platforms? Unlikely, say our experts. Trust & Safety be one of the core components of brand safety, as no brand wants to appear associated with toxic behavior or misinformation.
“With a recession comes risk aversion—there’s just less room for error. In that kind of environment, where every ad impression counts more, Trust & Safety is likely to be more important than ever,” says Jeremy Hlavacek.
Tiffany Xingyu Wang, Chief Marketing Officer of OpenWeb agrees. “The importance of Trust & Safety is only growing, and that trend will continue as we face a recession and increasing competition.”
Dive Deeper At OpenWeb’s Media Trends For 2023 Webinar
Your company’s success in 2023 may be affected by how well you’re able to read the tea leaves. But how do you separate the true signals from the plethora of noise?
This is the precise theme we’ll explore at our upcoming webinar, Media Trends For 2023: Analyzing The Trends Shaping The Publishing and Media World. Join us, and our panel of distinguished industry leaders, on January 10th as they give even more insight into these topics. Save your spot today.