| |

Get in line: why 2024 will be the year of linear

Get in line: why 2024 will be the year of linear
Opinion: 100% Media 0% Nonsense

This year, the pendulum will swing back towards talent from technology as this industry rediscovers what made it special, writes the editor-in-chief.

Happy New Year. Shall we, the media and advertising community collective, make a joint resolution for 2024?

Here’s my idea — let’s ban the word “digital” in the context of media.

I’m not denying the existence of analogue — I still subscribe to a printed magazine and see plenty of print posters, and regularly tune into FM on my VW Polo’s very boxy-looking car radio. It’s just that there’s no longer any point distinguishing between “digital” and “analogue” when it comes to thinking about what matters.

Because what matters is not waves versus digits, or the physical delivery of media.

What matters most in 2024 is the linearity of how media is supplied and traded: whether we serve content in a sequential fashion (usually by humans in the form of a programme controller, publication editor or DJ) or create algorithms to serve content in limitless ways that are personal to small groups audiences or even individual consumers.

I wrote last year how, if algorithms were people, you’d want to sack them for being the absolute worst.

But thinking about the year ahead, I see some strong indicators for why 2024 could be the year that linear starts making a big comeback.

Trust in media is set to get even worse

2024 is a big election year in the US and the UK and, once again, we’re about to see just how dangerous algorithms can be.

Except this time it could get much worse. 2024 will be the first time we’ve had general elections when sophisticated AI tools can produce convincing fakes in seconds.

Oren Etzioni, an AI expert and professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is “completely terrified” and expects “a tsunami of misinformation. Deepfakes of audio, video and images have already started making their way into experimental presidential campaign ads. More sinister versions could easily spread without labels on social media and fool people days before an election. From what we know about social media algorithms, they are generally optimised to promote “engaging” content, but can they be trusted to ignore a fake video of Joe Biden being rushed to hospital even though it gets a flurry of views when it’s first posted? If they can, we’ll have finally turned a corner.

But recent history suggests this will not happen. The financial incentives for malicious clickbait suggest this will not happen. And the breathless (often brainless) manner in which many reporters feel compelled to report “news” from what is “trending” on algorithmic media is a further reason trust has been so damaged in recent years.

If we can’t learn to slow down and take the necessary time to judge fake from fact, then we may as well just go home.

Becoming more human again

This should be the year in which we learn to love experts again, because we need more value in the media supply chain.

Experts are a human form of linear media. Humans may be irrational and our brains may be all over the place when it comes to how we understand the world, but when it comes to giving and receiving messages (media), we like information to be ordered and given in a sequence.

Faced with the mistrust tsunami, we should see a flight to quality begin to take off. Much in the same way as subscriptions for well-known news brands boomed when Donald Trump became US president in 2017, the market should move further towards media that are incentivised to provide quality content over hit-and-run viral sugar highs. This should be good news for (some) news brands, magazines, podcasts, TV and radio — any medium in which humans are steering the major decisions of what content is published when and why.

In other words, the pendulum needs to swing back from technology to talent.

Whether you’re a media owner selling inventory or an advertiser trying to increase sales, the more you leverage media talent, the more value you’re letting into the system. More value for a media owner means you can charge more for selling ads. And more value for an advertiser, in the form of more effective or better-planned marketing activity, means a brand can charge more for whatever it’s selling.

And the more value we build in the form of expertise and creativity, the more consumers will begin to trust again.

Lean times require broad shoulders

What makes 2024 different is that the financial outlook has changed significantly and it’s generally good news for big, incumbent companies with access to cash.

It’s hard to overstate how unusual the last decade had been: more than 10 years of consistently low interest rates, which made it much cheaper to build companies by borrowing money instead of actually making money, and that created incentives to grow quickly instead of sustainably. This led to a cycle of startups launching like fireworks, hoping to become the next big thing or get acquired by Meta and become quickly forgotten about.

No more. The major players are in a position of strength once again as consumers cut back on subscription services because mortgages and bills have skyrocketed, while there are few investment companies waiting around to throw cash at twentysomething entrepreneurs. That process had already started when Netflix announced it would launch a cheaper tier with ads in the summer of 2022. It will continue into next month, when Amazon introduces ads on Prime Video.

Companies that, for years, were indulged by investors because they were allowed to run at losses, because they were “the future” — the music has now stopped, they need cash and now everyone loves advertising again.

That means another return to what we used to take for granted: a desire to work with great media salespeople and planners, not just rely on product engineers and channel specialists. A renaissance of generalists who are encouraged to see the whole media picture and not just optimise for a specific audience.

Let’s just hope that these people still exist or that this industry has the capacity to build a new generation of them.

Omar Oakes is editor-in-chief of The Media Leader.

100% Media 0% Nonsense’ is a weekly column about the state of media and advertising. Make sure you sign up to our daily newsletter to get this column in your inbox every Monday. 

graham milne, Managing Partner, Spiritmedia Scotland, on 09 Jan 2024
“How I hope this is accurate, it would restore my faith in the industry (but maybe I'm an AI chatbot!)”
Ian Dowds, CEO, UK Online Measurement (UKOM), CEO, on 08 Jan 2024
“Great article and I SO hope you are right Omar, on two counts in particular: 1. "Faced with the mistrust tsunami, we should see a flight to quality [news] begin to take off" although, personally I hear, even from smart industry peers, so much open derision of the 'right-wing/left-wing/self-interested* mainstream media' (*delete depending on who you're listening to) that I fear the notion of quality and objective can no longer be applied. 2. "Let’s just hope that these [great media salespeople and planners] still exist or that this industry has the capacity to build a new generation of them." The optimist in me hopes so too, as I see a handful of candidates on both sides. The realist thinks we may be fast running out of time (or incentive) to make it the majority.”

Media Jobs