The year ahead for media, by Starcom’s Racha Makarem

A mixture of technology, human nature and market forces will shape 2022, writes Starcom’s Racha Makarem.

Welcome to the year 2022. The below is meant to provide a view on what I believe is to come and trends we might see this year. As an analyst and researcher at heart, I believe that we live in a time where it has become easier for us to predict the future. We can plot many data points, be they economic, market or consumer signals, that can show us where our industry is heading. After giving this much thought, I felt that the below are insights and areas where we will witness exponential growth and amplification over the course of the year. However, in an effort to remain true to the brief, here are my top five predictions for this year:

The rise of the east

A friend of mine recently sent me an infographic, created by The Economist, which looks at the IMF’s direction-of-trade statistics. Mapping the world, it reflects on the dynamics and changes over the last decade between global powers – namely the USA and China – and seeks to demonstrate the percentage of trade between these two superpowers and the rest of the world. I think it’s safe to say that the next year, and certainly the next decade, is showing a shift in impact and growth coming from the east. In December 2021, we saw social platforms that were developed in the east become some of the world’s most-used apps, South Korean series Squid Game gained over 1.65 billion hours of global viewing within three months, and five out of the top 10 gaming development companies are coming out of the east. We are also witnessing an increasing number of platforms from the east set up shop in our region in an effort to share their latest solutions, particularly in the tech and development space. I predict that in the coming year this trend will continue to rise as platforms and companies from the east start playing a bigger role, especially in entertainment, technology, gaming and customer experience. This shift is set to create an increase in healthy competition and diversity of offerings in our market.

Gaming takeover and digital 3.0 

2022 is the year of the World Cup and for the first time, this event is being hosted in the GCC region, presenting an amazing opportunity for brands to activate during the season. Aside from the physical game, FIFA (the governing body of association football) has been growing its e-sport and gaming portfolio as the gaming industry grew globally by 20 per cent in revenue last year, making it a $180bn industry and one that outnumbered the sports and movie industry worldwide. The Middle East on its own represents 25 per cent of the worlds gaming audience, with Saudi Arabia predicted to achieve more growth at an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.5 per cent in the next five years. It is no wonder that key regional governments recognise the importance of this sector and are actively investing behind infrastructure and partnerships to attract start-ups and global developers in that space.

Gaming will present a long-form opportunity for brands to collaborate, to engage with the community and amplify shared experiences. Weaving in brand narratives, custom games, e-sports and even NFTs are but some of the opportunities and thought starters in that space. With so much trending on the metaverse last year, it is important for brands to remember that the notion of the metaverse already exists in gaming platforms such as Robolox and Minecraft, to name a few. For categories that are focused on building reach, what makes the investments so worth it is that impressions in gaming are not in the single digits but hundreds. 

All things shoppable and the rise of NFTs 

We are going to continue to see the rise of commerce as all things become and lead to a shoppable experience, be it social commerce, content or virtual. With the MENA consumer being one of the world’s most engaged across digital platforms, we are likely to see exponential growth in that space.   

Take social commerce as an example.

This space is expected to become a $600bn business globally by 2027. While we do not have data specific to MENA, what we do know is that social media users in the MENA region spend more than 3.5 hours daily on social platforms. These platforms will continue to play a key role in driving more shareability, but their role will evolve beyond engagement and content creation. For the MENA consumers, social platforms have not only become second nature but a space to discover, access and satisfy their instant gratification. Community engagement and interest-based participation on social have led to one in four online purchases being made on social platforms, according to a recent study.

This presents brands with the opportunity of measuring business outcomes from social and, when done right, building more authentic experiences and customer loyalty over time.

Social commerce is only us scratching the surface. In the coming year we will also see the significant role and impact of NFTs, with global brands like Nike’s recent acquisition giving an indication of where we could be heading. Last year NFTs generated globally a total transaction value of $250m and $10.7bn of trading volume. This will have an impact not only on large brands but also on small businesses, which can use tokens to engage and create new experiences, connecting their brands with consumers.

Adjust to a world with less data, more impact

We have been talking to and preparing many partners in our industry for a cookieless future. Chances are if you logged in to any site this morning, you would have been reminded of the site’s privacy laws and how you can adjust your privacy settings. While privacy maybe a concern for some, for others, convenience, relevance, personalisation or customisation become important value exchanges between buyer and seller. The digital economy has, if anything, put a greater emphasis on the fundamentals of marketing, namely putting the customer and their experience at the core of building long-term relationships and sustainable growth. As marketers start to put more emphasis on effective marketing, partnering and building first-party data capabilities will allow marketers to anticipate by connecting online and offline intent signals with predictive AI to predict what consumers want, and deliver relevant messaging to drive action. Customer IDs allows for a seamless customer experience to activate, track and optimise performance. The challenge perhaps for the industry will be how to accommodate these changes to mid-sized or small enterprises to help drive and generate growth.

The future of TV is bright and set for a comeback

If there is anything we have learned over the past years, it’s that nailing the fundamentals and doing them better is, and will always be, key to setting and building a strong foundation. There is no doubt that we’ve had our own set of challenges when it comes to audience measurement in the region. The good news is that this year we are set to change how we measure with the launch of the TAM television measurement system in Saudi Arabia. However, what has been driving a brighter future for TV in our region has been the rise of connected TV, set to play a key role in reviving this very traditional yet impactful medium. Accessibility of content across connected devices means that marketers today will have the opportunity to scale reach, attribute and measure impact across devices, all while offering the viewer high-quality content and non-intrusive experiences.

The good news for brands that follow reach-based planning as a fundamental base to drive growth is that AI will play a key role in driving personalisation and performance in that space. This not only ensures that media dollars are working harder, but also presents an opportunity to drive relevance and impact.

So, these are my five predictions for 2022. Despite the fact our industry is constantly evolving, there is one thing that will always remain true: the human experience and the value you provide to your consumer is what’s going to set your businesses apart from the rest and help you to create and deliver on the human and business outcomes. Happy New Year.