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The year ahead for content, by MMS’s Rayan Hajjar

New technologies such as NFTs and the metaverse will shape innovation, but live TV is not going anywhere, writes MMS’s director of client partnerships Rayan Hajjar.

I remember it as if it was yesterday when TV was one of our only sources of entertainment. Not just from a media perspective, but across our social interactions. There were few TV stations back in the day, and we didn’t have a say on the content we watched or when we watched it. We simply took what we got – a concept, I imagine today’s consumers would find outrageous. TV evolved from terrestrial to the satellite and cable era to the world of streaming platforms that we have come to know and enjoy today.

It all changed in what feels like a snap of a finger with the rise of technological advancements, just like everything in our lives. The internet took off and, as it became accessible for everyone, everything started to change. Connectivity, convenience and choices all from the comfort of your home or even your phone. Advancements in 5G and fibre optics just make it cheaper, easier and faster for people to stay connected. This is mainly what gave way to the changes in the landscape over the last decade with streaming players, social media and commerce retailers being introduced.

This evolution greatly affects everything from content distribution to creation. If we look at it from a business perspective, all parties involved are affected. The consumer is exposed to extensive platforms and can get overwhelmed with choices The agencies need to continuously adapt and keep up with consumer and platform evolutions. The clients must re-evaluate their media spend and diversification of touchpoints. Finally, publishers need to keep up with competition and innovate fast enough.

Things moved from being linear and straightforward to challenging. If you’re quick enough, you can turn that challenge into an opportunity.

As digitalisation continues to change a lot of things in the far future that we probably can’t even fathom right now, allow me to share some of the trends that I predict are here to stay in 2022.

Streaming services

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the last couple of years is the rise of streaming, with multiple global and local platforms being introduced in MENA; and we don’t see the popularity slowing down anytime soon. Audiences will continue to seek them due to the freedom they offer; watch what you want, when you want, where you want and from the device that you want. Today there are only a few streaming platforms in the region compared with the US, where they have more than 300, so there are only growth opportunities for the existing players to expand on and capitalise further.

Personalisation

Data from search queries and watch history on streaming platforms is already creating personalised experiences on your homepage; every individual has a unique homepage. This is extremely important as it ensures relevance to keep users engaged with both the content and platform, tempting you to spend more time, come back and watch more.

Personalisation will continue to grow, and this will help platforms develop the right content based on users’ search histories, behaviours and trends to assess what resonates with audiences and what content needs to be created.

Live TV

Nothing beats live TV. If you are going to watch a sports game you are going to watch it live. Nobody wants to watch a recorded game. Live TV will continue to dominate and grow. Taking Shahid as an example, we’ve ensured that viewers have access to Live streaming of TV content and sports through the platform, which gives the users the ability to watch where they want. Didn’t get home, and you want to watch the F1 or an SPL derby game? Just log on to Shahid through your phone and enjoy the action.

Shoppable media

We’ve all seen how e-commerce boomed drastically during the Covid-19 lockdown, and this will continue to rise. It’s difficult to go back to inconvenient routines once you’re used to shopping online. We’re used to ads being served to purchase a product. Clients and agencies have adapted quickly to become more dynamic on this front to catch users across different stages of the purchase funnel. What will change, though, is how to integrate brands within pieces of programming content where people can easily have access – to buy that product through Shahid. It creates a seamless user experience where users can interact with the brand, to see how it’s being used within specific content and how it turns into a direct buy.

Integration

This has been around for a while, where brands integrate within TV and digital programmes or video content, but there is still a lot of room for growth. When we look at the volume of brand integrations in the region, it is still quite low. There will be a spike in integration this year, especially as the scale and engagement grow through social media platforms.

Brand content

This is two-fold; the first question is what content to develop for each platform, and the second is how quickly and efficiently to develop the content.

Every platform has a different type of creative that works for it. I think we all know by now that you can’t use the same piece of content across different platforms, so clients and agencies need to understand what audiences on different platforms are receptive to.

Obviously, digitalisation continues to change a lot of things, and it is one of the main causes of where we are today. It enhanced content creation, making it a lot easier for clients and agencies to produce quick content that is applicable for social media platforms.

Interactivity

Interactivity with users is important, especially for streaming platforms that have to push out content that users want to watch. Netflix created a show where users can opt-in and engage in the next episode’s content. This engages the audiences more and makes sure that people are tuned in. This is one of the future things that we will probably see more and more of.

Virtual reality

Another example of interactivity is virtual reality. How do we embed the consumer within the content, rather than just watching the content? this is going to be a game-changer in terms of people interacting with a show’s actors and brands, giving new opportunities for clients to integrate their brands from within programmes. This brings me to the next topic.

The metaverse

We can’t discuss virtual reality without mentioning the metaverse. It is being discussed more heavily after Facebook’s metaverse announcement. Some companies believe that future meetings can be held in a metaverse, rather than a regular video call meeting. While I don’t think we will see anything in 2022 in the region here, I believe it will increasingly be the centre of the conversation. It will be exciting to see how clients and brands can capitalise on these virtual worlds in the future.

NFTs

This is probably going to be one of the most sought-after digital topics in 2022. The growth behind NFTs in the last year has been tremendous, becoming around a $40bn industry in 2021. In December 2021, ‘NFTs’ surpassed ‘crypto’ in search volumes for the first time. There are already brands jumping on the craze, with the likes of Adidas launching their first NFT in December and Samsung looking to have NFT support on their TVs in their 2022 models. Look out for this space as more brands will develop their own NFTs and integrate them within the metaverse. While I don’t think this will happen with brands on a regional level, it will definitely happen globally.

Measurement

It wouldn’t be a media discussion without bringing up the topic of measurement.

Given everything that we are seeing from a streaming and data perspective, we will probably see a shift from panel and household data to a lot more audience-inferred data. This means that you have all that data from the streaming services, so we know what audiences are watching and are able to eventually create a behavioural analysis based on a specific audience rather than a panel or sample size population. It is important to have a better understanding of viewership habits.

Acquisitions and mergers

I don’t think this will happen in 2022 in MENA, but acquisitions and mergers will grow globally to ensure networks and platforms continue expanding and stay competitive. Everybody is trying to produce content that appeals to viewers, creating a lot of pressure from a revenue perspective.

Merging can be the solution for this. Take Disney as an example. Disney owns Hulu, ABC Network, Marvel and Pixar. That is a huge network. Merging is a way to make sure that these platforms either survive or grow by relying on big partnerships and consolidations of different players. One regional example which took place sometime back was when Orbit and Showtime merged as a network to become OSN.

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