From ad blocking to fake news: Three digital media predictions for 2017

As a whole, from Facebook to Donald Trump, the digital media industry experienced significant change over the past year. And while content preferences certainly played a role in the shifting landscape, the constant evolution of technology – across all areas: access, distribution and advertising – was ultimately the most significant influence.

Jessica Rovello is the CEO & co-founder of Arkadium

But with so much innovation, what should we expect in the New Year? To make sense of it all, here are three digital media predictions likely to become reality in 2017.

Ad blocking concern will wane

Over the last two years, the fear of ad blocking among digital publishers seemed to reach a fever pitch – and for good reason. Last year, use of desktop-based ad blocking grew by 30%, and mobile ad blocking adoption more than doubled worldwide. This year, 32% of all US Internet users are likely to have an ad blocker on at least one device.

Yet even as ad blocking adoption will grow in 2017, publishers aren’t likely to be as worried as they have been in previous years. Several industry changes in response to ad blocking applications are poised to offset their effectiveness. A growing number of platforms and publishers are taking a more hardline approach to ad blockers. Facebook, one of the world’s most visited websites, is the most famous example. Facebook opted to jam ad blockers from working on its desktop site last August. Several major publishers like Axel Springer, Conde Nast, and Forbes are taking similar approaches, limiting content access altogether unless ad blockers are turned off. Additionally, more and more digital content is being consumed on mobile devices, where ad blocking use is growing, but adoption in the U.S. remains relatively low – at around 17%.

These changes will help slow blocked impressions in 2017. With publishers and platforms both taking steps to offset ad blockers and mobile consumption overtaking desktop, where ad blocking is most prevalent, industry concerns will temporarily subside.

Third-party distribution will help push paid access

Third-party distribution platforms like Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and Google AMP have become critical for digital publishers. Early on, publishers were rightfully skeptical about syndicating their content across these platforms. But for most, the scale has been worth it. A 2016 AOL report revealed that more than 90% of premium publishers believe these services have had a positive impact on their business. Fifty-three percent called the impact ‘very positive.’ While these platforms need to be held accountable on giving more audience data and better CPMs to publishers, they have delivered on their promise.

Beyond the advertising benefits, third-party syndication is also providing a new advantage for many premium publishers, particularly on the news side. Today, these premium publishers typically leverage metered paywalls or feature a freemium content model. Free content access is capped, requiring payment for content after the cap is exhausted. Publisher adoption of third-party distribution has provided media businesses with more audience-rich channels to proactively promote metered and freemium content. Readers are hitting article caps more quickly because of these new syndication channels, enabling more opportunities to push subscription and paid content offers to audiences.

This year, digital subscriptions among premium publishers could see meaningful growth because of syndication partnerships with Facebook, Google and Apple. As content caps on these channels are quickly exhausted, frustrated readers might ultimately opt for paid access. In the last six months, several major publishers have already reported increases.

Legacy news media will see greater millennial interest

Millennials are increasingly skeptical of traditional news organizations. Six years ago, 40% of millennials said that news media ultimately had a positive impact on U.S. society. But today, just 27% describe the impact as positive, indicating a more critical view. As millennial cynicism about traditional news organizations has grown, it’s no coincidence that fake news has exploded as audiences seek out alternative media sources.

Interestingly, as the fake news epidemic becomes more evident, millennials are likely turn back to traditional news and legacy publishers. This is because, as a group, millennials value authenticity; in fact, 43% of millennials rank authenticity above all when consuming news stories. While negative perceptions of traditional news media have opened the door for fact-free content to spread, millennial awareness of the problem will only make legacy media more attractive.

This will have a profound impact on newsrooms in 2017. In 2015 and 2016, newsroom employment continued to decline – driven largely by downsizing. But the surge in fake news is likely to intensify millennial demand for authentic news media, which could be a good sign for newsroom employees.

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As digital media innovation continues at a breakneck pace, publishers needs to be ready to evolve and adapt. Ad blocking, third-party distribution and fake news are three of the most likely areas to see change in 2017.

Jessica Rovello is CEO & co-founder of Arkadium. She tweets @JessRovello

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