2017 will almost certainly be a terrible year for the media industry, if you view industry-wide layoffs and cost-cutting to be a bad thing. There’s a case to be made that media companies are smart to be stripping down and trying to do more with less, considering that no one has yet figured out a business model that will work for a wide swath of the industry. The darlings of the biz — The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, etc. — should be fine, but I expect the companies in Tiers B through D to really suffer next year.
In particular, I expect a handful of VC-funded digital media companies to either sell low to bigger companies or implode. While most of these companies don’t want to be associated with Elite Daily, The Daily Mail’s recent decision to write down the value of its 2015 acquisition is bad news for this corner of the industry. Digital media just isn’t a great business right now, and the idea of “acquiring millennials” by buying up a site like Elite Daily has now proven to be at best very risky and at worst extremely dumb.
I imagine that a few companies will hit the brakes on producing branded content next year, since it’s expensive to make and there’s way too much of it flooding the market. It seems pretty clear at this point that branded content will not save the media industry. It won’t replace print advertising, and it won’t prop up digital companies that don’t make any consumer revenue and are relying on the promise of it to back up their lofty valuations.
I hope that we’ll actually start seeing some TV shows from the digital media companies — like BuzzFeed, Vox Media, and Mashable — that have been talking about TV for a while now. TV is hard to make, of course, but I’m ready to see whether there’d actually be an audience for a BuzzFeed show. (We’ll find out soon whether there’s an audience for a BuzzFeed movie, with the Brother Orange feature — starring the guy from Big Bang Theory — in development.) These companies are hoping that TV will provide a healthy new revenue stream, and something of a contingency plan if marketers lose interest in branded content.
In 2017, I sincerely, earnestly hope that journalists will stop fighting on Twitter over minor differences in opinion or style. Fighting on Twitter is fun but not productive. Besides, things are rocky right now, and we need to huddle together, not subtweet the shit out of each other for no reason. That being said, I reserve the right to publish snarky tweets about dumb headlines.
Jeremy Barr has covered the media industry for Politico and Ad Age.