Commentary

Trend Watching: What's Going On?

Our industry is not slowing down, and one way to stay ahead of the pack and maintain an advantage is to identify the trends behind what's happening and anticipate where they'll take you. I get to do this quite a bit, and I find it the most interesting part of what I do every day. To that end, I wanted to share with you what I've identified as some of the more interesting trends shaping the marketplace.

Portals

Portals are not going away; they still remain a very interesting, very important part of our business. The portals offer the chance, as much as any other form of media, to reach a mass audience. They are the closest thing the Internet has to a "major network," even though the future of the major networks themselves is still in flux. That being said, here is what I think will happen with the portals:

· Personalized customization will continue in order to retain users. The portals are tired of farming their users out to other sites and want to keep them in the fold as long as possible. The longer they're in the fold, the more impressions they generate, the more ad revenue they create.

· Cross-platform integration will be their primary focus. The portals have figured out that they amass the largest audience and the largest opportunity to own the audience across the various platforms available. This means it won't be long before we see Yahoo and MSN owning VOD networks and mobile platforms, etc. AOL already has a jump on this via the Time Warner relationship. It continues to innovate through acquisition, and consolidation is only a dollar figure away, so keep an eye out for this. Imagine what will happen if Microsoft were to buy AOL or some other blockbuster were to take place.

Internet TV

As you all know, I spend entirely too much time chatting about Internet TV, but you can't talk about trends without mentioning the topic again. What I see:

· Viewers are beginning to watch TV shows online. This signals the final transition toward a digital-centric world. It is only a matter of time before the audience splits its viewing between traditional TV and Internet TV. I give it three years. In three years we will see as many people watching TV shows online as in the traditional set-top box.

· Niche programming will continue to flourish online. The audience for these programs is small, but they will definitely be there and be loyal. It's cheaper to air niche programming online, so it's inevitable that networks like VegTV will continue to be strong. This could signal the beginning of the end for cable, since no new networks will launch on that platform -- and if you do not evolve, you die out. It's survival of the fittest.

User-generated Content

UGC is still a hot topic, but the biggest trend I predict here is that UGC is capping out on what it can be.

· Brands will still ask their fans to create ads and content, but this trend will slow down. There is only so far this trend can go. UGC ad development is certainly going to be effective, but it will not be much more important than it is right now. Consumers are going to get more excited about continuing to create unique content to interact with other users rather than brands, as soon as they realize the brands are taking advantage of them.

· Short-form user content will continue to grow: Sites like Twitter are gaining steam and allowing users to share their immediate thoughts. I still don't see the application of this, but there's got to be something that will happen very soon, so stay tuned. Twitter specifically has been written up in Time and Newsweek, so critical mass is not far away.

Social Networks

Social networks and communities are also still hot, but they are all about niche focus now. The communities have gotten too large, and now the users want to focus on the right kinds of people they can interact with regularly and who they have the most in common with. The age of Facebook and MySpace is passing quickly, unless they find a way to satisfy the needs of the niche.

There are certainly many more trends going on, in gaming, mobile and any other number of categories, but I can't give away everything in my article, right? I gotta have something that keeps you calling!

What else do you see happening in your neck of the woods?

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