2019 Digital in Review

By James Butcher (General Manager – Digital Media)

Whenever we get to this stage of the year, I find myself looking back, thinking, “Wow, that went by in a flash.” It must be part and parcel of the age-old cliché that, in digital, everything moves so fast. And it really does… but in some ways, it really doesn’t.

We continue to chase the “next big thing” – but, as we saw when Uber shares flopped on its stock market debut in May (resulting in job losses later in the year), it’s not all smooth sailing for digitally native businesses.

What I am increasingly seeing, though, is digital effectiveness achieved through a combination of smart executions and good, traditional marketing principles. Driving brand metrics through agnostic screens or audio approaches, or driving performance through personalisation and joined-up customer journeys are all becoming increasingly mainstream elements in 2019 media schedules.

There are still many of the same challenges that digital has suffered for years, including transparency and consumer trust, effectiveness, and growing concerns around the dominance of Google/Facebook/Amazon. But there are benefits, too, which are seeing brands and agencies invest further into digital channels (up 12% YoY in Q3 2019, according to a recent IAB report).

For New Zealand, in particular, 2019 was a tumultuous year that fundamentally changed the media landscape… and not always for the better. Four major themes I noticed, and what they might mean for 2020, were:

Is Social Media Good for the World?

I recently attended a Facebook event where they opened the event with the question, “Is Facebook good for the world?” A brave start to an event, but a question that has been on my mind as a father and concerned citizen this year.

Following the tragic events in Christchurch, we saw New Zealand take a real leadership stance globally, demanding action from the major platforms in ensuring they provide a safe experience for all people.

While we have started to see some meaningful change, there is still a long way to go. We live in a connected age: how we regulate that and ensure we are creating people-safe environments will continue to be a major challenge for these platforms. Twitter recently made the decision to no longer accept political advertising (a step Facebook hasn’t been willing to take) and this is worth keeping an eye on as we enter an election year in 2020.

New Platforms, New Opportunities

Chinese Vine clone TikTok was the success story of the year, as owner Bytedance broke a billion monthly users, began developing its own smartphone and generated £7bn in ad revenue in the first half of 2019 alone.

Video was increasingly the ad format of choice for brands this year, with many making “explainer videos” to lure consumers hungry for information. Netflix continued to grow in strength, with its first Oscar-winner Roma boosting credibility, as rivals Apple and Disney launched new services in a bid to take its VOD crown.

When we look at the local market, it was a year of growth for the major networks’ catch-up services, but with the increasing competition coming, it’s going to be interesting to see who flourishes and who gets left behind.

Pressure on Local Publishers

Digitally, the local market has had a tough time. We saw the closure of KPEX, continued to wait for a buyer for Stuff, and more recently, Mediaworks’ channel Three put a For Sale sign up. All of these have unquestionably made for a weaker digital media market, and reflect how difficult it is for traditional media organisations to transition their revenue models for digital services.

This year, we also saw NZ Herald put up a paywall for some of its content – an interesting shift towards revenue models that have been successfully implemented by publications in other markets (the New York Times, for one).

As imperative as a healthy, local media market is, it’s certainly not straightforward. It will be interesting to see how the playing chips land, and what role the government ends up playing in ensuring this.

Technology, Our Biggest Disruptor and Enabler

We’re finally beginning to move past (rightful) frustrations at the lack of transparency into programmatic buying, and starting to see the percentage of investment in this channel catch up to more mature global markets.

Clients becoming more actively involved in the optimisation process, more transparency around the supply chain and improved capabilities across the industry are starting to realise the vision of 1-to-1 digital buying. However, though traditional media formats have long been threatening to “go programmatic”, beyond how we transact Connected TV inventory and some OOH formats, we are still short of this becoming a mainstream reality.

The other major technological trend we’re seeing is a shift towards how we capture and activate our own 1st-party data assets. Google’s ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) and GDPR have both placed a greater emphasis and value on brands’ 1st-party data, and this will only continue moving forward.

* * *

The danger of writing these types of updates is that, as I said earlier, so much happens in 12 months in the wonderful world of digital.

Staying ahead is a full-time job, reliant on working together as supplier, agency and brand. We’re fortunate at FCB to have what I think are the most progressive, leaned-in clients in the market, which has allowed us to have the success that we have had this year.

Thank you all for being along for the ride, and making it such a fun, dynamic, challenging, crazy, and frustrating but deeply rewarding industry to be a part of.

Take some time off, disconnect from the internet, and we’ll see you in 2020.

Date: December 19, 2019