Anna Washenko (RAIN News editor) and Brad Hill (RAIN president) offer a few points of outlook for 2018. On Tuesday, January 2, watch for the annual RAIN News 2018 Predictions from participating industry leaders.
Anna’s 2018 Predictions
An Explosion of Podcast Infrastructure Startups (Mostly Doomed to Fail): If there’s one trend that I can count on, year in and year out, it’s the scramble to build auxiliary services around whatever the big shiny topic is. In the past, that topic was social media, and video is still having its moment in the sun. In 2018, it will be podcasts. Already this year, I’ve seen multiple upstart podcast directories. These websites vary widely in quality and usability, but all have a similar story: the founder enjoyed podcasts and saw what they thought was a unique adjunct service that “nobody had done.
This was the year of directories, but I expect more angles to emerge in 2018 as more podcast listeners get enterprising. I’m picturing a boom of hosting sites, discovery platforms, social listening options, and monetization avenues. Most of them won’t be relevant, many won’t last for more than a year. But I’m keeping my eyes open for the one or two projects that hit on a service or a strategy that is not just unique but valuable, the one that helps podcasting go from active niche to mainstream success story.
Shots Fired Among the Tech Giants: I love watching drama unfold. I adore the reality dating franchises, and I can’t get enough of whatever the latest teen show is. So one of the stories that most excited me this year was when Google and Amazon moved past the thinly-veiled PR lingo and actually traded barbs. To borrow a line from The Bachelor, the claws came out.
The major tech companies — the ones controlling hardware, software, and e-commerce platforms — have been steadily working to reduce the number of reasons their customers might have to leave their own media ecosystems. The battle lines have been drawn. In 2018, the battle will start in earnest. I don’t know which brand will be the first to fire a salvo, but you can bet it’ll be some Dynasty-level drama when Apple, Google, or Amazon make their move. I’ll make the popcorn.
China Will Cast a Long Shadow: As the internet makes the miles melt away, the international angle on both music and tech will only get more compelling. My eyes are trained on China. RAIN News picked up a few profiles on China’s music market over the course of the year, and the country’s presence and power in the business world will likely continue to grow. Even just focusing on Tencent is a fascinating study of how this massive conglomerate that has become involved in entertainment properties all over the world (most recently Spotify). Expand that view to include Bytedance, which recently acquired hit music video app Musical.ly, and Alibaba, which dominates China’s online retail, and China’s top businesses are poised to have a fascinating year.
Brad’s 2018 Predictions
The smart speaker competition will shift from device to operating system: For most people, awareness of smart speakers started with Amazon Echo. Google Home came to market as a strong #2. (Apple’s HomePod announced, failed to launch, and has effectively lost.) But the important brands of 2018 and beyond are the two main operating systems: Alexa for the Amazon device family, and Assistant for the Google products. In the same way that Google’s Android OS powers smartphones across many manufacturers and devices, both Assistant and Alexa will branch out to become the identifying brand of each company’s AI initiative. It has already started, with Alexa powering the Sonos One speaker (which elbowed Apple out of the market), and Assistant lending the smarts to a new speaker from LG.
The continued rise of playlists: Are playlists the new radio? Yes, that is already established to an extent. The new album? Definitely. How about the new channel? I have already seen Spotify’s Discover Weekly referred to without any other identifier or locator, as in, “I was listening to Discover Weekly when my phone buzzed.” Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, and others are building and promoting playlists as the leading acquisition and retention hooks, as major labels scramble to own and curate the most influential lists. (Of particular recent note: Spotify’s RISE program.)
Cars can be channels too, further fragmenting podcasts: Car maker GM recently gave me pause with its announcement of its dashboard podcast initiative. GM will curate a small collection of shows from eight media companies (not podcast platforms) for placement in the dashboards of about a million cars. While it seems like good news for a major car builder to promote podcasts, it is also a tightly controlled silo where potential new audiences will have a severely limited understanding of this important audio category. GM (and potentially other auto brands) is seeking to replace the dashboard-connected smartphone, present its own version of digital audio, and retain ownership of the usage data flow. Let’s watch how this develops.
And a final prediction: Streaming music will claim 70% of U.S. recorded music revenue in 2017. (The RIAA will release its report in March.) Watch what that does to the playlist ownership scramble.