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Future of Media Media Trends

The 8 trends media execs are hoping to ride in 2021


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

January 13, 2021 | 8 min read

Bloomberg, Sky, Jungle Creations and more talk us through the media trends the industry should be focusing on in 2021.

Media Trends

8 trends media execs hope to ride in 2021

With the commencement of a new year, media predictions are stacking up. Differentiating this pile is the fact that, after a period of unprecedented change, the big thinkers have been unable to trot out the same old ideas.

2020 was a game-changer in almost every sense, with 76% of the media execs polled by Reuters Institute saying the pandemic sped up their digital transformation plans. Lo and behold, the UK’s Reach group posts record digital growth in the fourth quarter of 2020, evidencing this pursuit.

If 2020 was a year of challenges, 2021 offers many opportunities. The Drum has quizzed the best in the industry about the trends those in the media should be aware of. But which will win the day?

Focusing on your strengths

Duncan Chater, head of sales for Europe at Bloomberg Media, says focusing on the group’s strengths helped guide it through a tough year.

“2020 was a reminder that you must stay nimble and be able to adapt fast. It is essential that we are agile and as responsive as possible in order to help clients stay relevant, authentic and effective in-market.”

Its focus was to ensure it was an easy partner to do business with within a virtual environment. “We worked hard to improve our processes and systems to speed up our response times and deliver more value around our data and the insights clients could draw.”

In Q3, Bloomberg Media’s revenue globally was up 13% year-on-year, with digital advertising up 27%. Chater predicts greater digital revenue this year.

TV adapts

TV enjoyed record audiences across the board, but it had to modernise and streamline its buying systems. Sky Media’s director of planning Sarah Jones says: “2020 was a timely reminder of the importance that TV plays in our lives – its role in keeping us informed, entertained and culturally connected. In this time of instability, it has also reinforced the importance of quality and trust to consumers.“

For example, Sky News saw record consumption figures. On-demand consumption was up, as was time with TV.

Jones says: “The global pandemic has also triggered accelerated viewing trends, particularly in the on-demand space. From an advertising perspective, after the initial shock, we were glad to see the confidence brands had in investing in TV and the record viewing figures.”

The conditions propagated fertile soil for many D2C brands that were buoyed by the lockdown of the high street. They were baited also by the move towards shorter advance booking deadlines.

Jones says that the lower production capabilities proved that impactful creative doesn’t have to be expensive. The success of Sky’s digital TV offering will be based on activating SMEs. It offered £2.5m worth of addressable TV campaigns to such businesses to get their feet in the door.

Scaling up audiences in news

Dominic Carter, group chief commercial officer of News UK, says “transformation” projects with 18 month cook times were delivered years early. The acceleration was real.

In particular, a big move for The Sun owner this year looked to be the expansion of its digital audio offering. Carter says: “With our Wireless radio business, for example, we had to adapt and innovate quickly. When live sport stopped, our TalkSport stations pivoted to bring the sports community escapism and camaraderie, Virgin Radio became the home for entertainment and we launched Times Radio to keep the nation informed against a backdrop of misinformation, fake news and the pandemic.”

Marking this renewed energy, it launched Octave Audio, a joint sales platform with Bauer Media to offering a scaled-up digital audio audience. It’s a theme that cuts through into the written word too.

“We’ve equally shown our support for the wider industry through our major investment into The Ozone Project, the UK’s leading high-quality digital advertising environment. We’ve seen a fourfold increase in revenues, with a lot more to come.”

Dynamic out-of-home

Andrew Newman, chief executive of, reflects that over the last year, while the out-of-home medium was often starved of audiences, work was done to improve and digitize the output.

He says: “We’re already seeing an increase in smarter dynamic digital out-of-home campaigns and this will continue into 2021. Locational dynamic campaigns are being used by brands to speak directly to local communities in specific areas – micro-targeting their audience, increasing effectiveness and making their marketing spend work harder.“

The Drum previous listed some of the top dynamic out-of-home campaigns from 2020. QR codes, weirdly enough, are predicted to “become a staple part of out-of-home campaigns in 2021” because of the adoption of track and trace and as a new means of sampling products.

Programmatic out-of-home

The increased digitization of out of home inventory also means more stock can be bought programmatically, bringing the medium more in line with digital buying. Jean-Christophe Conti, chief executive of VIOOH, says: “In an uncertain and increasingly digital-first world, the need for flexibility and data-driven campaigns has arguably never been greater and will continue to impact the future of out-of-home. I expect the uptake of digital OOH to gain pace in 2021.”

VIOOH’s 2020 State of the Nation report predicted continued growth for programmatic OOH in 2021, with 99% of UK executives looking to increase spend in the channel. One third expect to double spend.

For this to be fully realised, the industry will have to move towards some form of standardised measurement.

Nicole Lonsdale, chief client officer of Kinetic Worldwide, says that “out-of-home campaigns can now be activated using behavioural audience targeting”, which is seeing it overlay better with mobile display and social executions.

“This use of data to create a detailed picture of audience activity in near real-time will give confidence to brands that their ad spend in 2021 is being delivered with maximum impact.“

To this end, she sees a “huge rise in omni screen solutions“.

Social matures

Melissa Chapman, co-CEO at social-first publisher Jungle Creations, says it saw record growth. The pandemic drove a huge digital migration and businesses with strong diversified models that could meet brands’ needs prospered.

Chapman says: “With more people online and on social than ever before, we’ve seen a huge uptick in viewers and followers over the last year and on some platforms as much as a 30% increase.”

For a business that’s bread and butter is social audiences, this helped deliver record growth. “We’ve launched our media brands on TikTok and increased our reach on Snapchat, growing our number of Discover shows sevenfold.” LadBible similarly enjoyed enviable growth.

Gaming catches eyes

Gaming was up substantially in lockdown. It was a platform that some brands couldn’t ignore.

Tobias Knutsson, chief commercial officer of Adverty, says that “savvy brands quickly learnt they needed to shift increased spend to in-game advertising to get a slice of this lucrative pie“.

As consumers spent increasingly large amounts of time on their mobile devices, brands soon found the social and mobile gaming sector was largely untapped.

Tapping into gaming culture occurred mostly on mobile, but adjacent platforms like Twitch also saw growth.


Budgets are still under pressure and the recovery may not be as fast as many would hope. With this in mind, agile teams operating across the industry should consider finding their perfect match.

Owen Hancock, marketing director for Impact EMEA, outlines partnerships as more important than ever.

“Brands have quickly learnt the importance of redistributing their marketing spend and this led to a range of often high profile partnerships coming into play this year. A key takeaway from 2020 has been the booming partnership economy, illustrated by creative pairings such as Hello Fresh and Craft Gin Club, whose collaboration provided additive value for customers and increased performance for both brands.“

Hancock concludes: “Large companies with high-maturity partnership programmes have found they have grown their businesses twice as fast as their peers.“

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