2014's Top Headlines in Digital Media

Last Updated by Sonia Paul | Media Shift on

The professionals over at MediaShift cover the transcendent space where technology and media intersect. Looking back over a tumultuous year, they've selected the biggest stories and trends that shaped the media and technology industry in 2014, and will likely reverberate into the new year and beyond. A few of these stories are highlighted below, or you can visit MediaShift to read the full article.

3. HBO to Launch Streaming Service
HBO announced in October that it’s going to launch its own standalone streaming service in amove to target the 10 million people in the U.S. who have an Internet connection but don’t pay for a bundled cable television or satellite package. It’s what Jeff Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg, called a “seismic event in the future of television,” according to the Wall Street Journal. It offers consumers more choices than ever, but it also shakes up the television industry because HBO content is no longer exclusive to its cable partners. Yet the time was due — a 2013 Nielsen study found that younger viewers are much more likely to live in “zero TV households,” and therefore prefer online video subscription services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Twenty-five percent of people aged 25-34 and 19 percent of people under the age of 25 reported cutting the cord on their television sets.

Indeed, with the announcement of this streaming service, HBO in effect is now modeling itself after Netflix, making the two streaming services competitors. HBO has 30 million subscribers in the U.S., whereas Netflix has about 37 million. HBO’s new streaming service, which will run on a third-party platform, will likely launch in April 2015. It’ll be just in time for new episodes of “Game of Thrones,” its most successful original series.

Prediction: HBO’s streaming service will become enormously successful among consumers when it launches, but only if it gets the price point right — without cannibalizing premium cable packages. Plus, the division of Time Warner will need to calm internal issues: Its chief technology officer, Otto Berkes, stepped down following the announcement that HBO will outsource the building of its streaming service to a third party instead of building it in-house.

5. Digital Outlets Raise Big Money: Vice, Vox, Buzzfeed
Some of the hottest names in digital media added clout to their reputations this year by attracting heavy funding. The now 20-year-old media organization Vice, known for its edgy and notoriously rebellious take on news and current affairs, grew up this year. In March, Vice News became a separate entity and quickly went on to provide stunning coverage of the Ukraine uprisings and the rise of the Islamic State. After flirting with a union with Time Warner, Vice Media announced a deal with A&E Networks, which would have A&E “invest $250 million in Vice in exchange for a roughly 10 percent stake in the company,” as the New York Times reported. The deal would value Vice at more than $2.5 billion — an amount that speaks to Vice’s popularity with younger audiences and savviness in the online digital space, especially its early entry into the video market.

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Vice Media has made a name for itself by pursuing edgier stories and distributing heavily across digital platforms. Screenshot courtesy of Vice.

While it’s taken two decades for Vice to reach the clout it now has, Ezra Klein’s explanatory news start-up Vox needed only nine weeks to hatch. Just five days after Klein and fellow Washington Post staff Melissa Bell and Dylan Matthews announced their departures from the Post in January, Klein announced they were going to start a news site with Vox Media, and Vox.com officially launched in April. Reports last month revealed Vox Media had secured $46.5 million in fundingfrom General Atlantic, which puts the company at $380 million in valuation.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed — which has had a noticeable step into more serious, in-depth reporting — announced in August it secured a $50 million investment from the prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. It had previously raised $46 million before the deal, which puts its total valuation at $850 million.

Prediction: If there was any sort of hesitation this year over how seriously to take these outlets because of the method of their journalism, they will definitely own their financial clout next year as more people accept their presence for the longterm.

2. Facebook Gobbles Up WhatsApp, Oculus Rift
2014 was a year of expansion for social media giant Facebook, especially in the realm of news. With its $19 billion purchase of the international messaging app WhatsApp and its $2 billionacquisition of the virtual reality technology Oculus Rift, Facebook showed it’s not only trying to become a go-to destination — it’s also intent on occupying other popular spaces in the present and future.

Users have long expressed their worries and frustrations at what this dominance means, and now publishers have a right to be concerned. With new controls allowing people to turn down or amplify certain users on their feeds, Facebook users now have more control over what they see, though some critics have been quick to point out this is a “phony claim” because users must agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions to use the service.

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Photo by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.

The entire operation is a behemoth to be reckoned with for news organizations and other publishers. A recent Pew study found that more than 30 percent of American adults now get their news on Facebook. These algorithms that dictate what pops up on a person’s news feed, whether the user is tweaking them or not, influence how users are getting their news. The result is thatpublishers are ever more dependent on these social media traffic referrals, especially as users continue to increase their use of mobile devices and access Facebook from their phones or tablets. Facebook in effect is becoming a life raft to publishers, and is encouraging them to use more of its tools to promote content on the social network. The question is, even if they’re not sinking, will the life raft help publishers actually swim?

Prediction: Facebook will continue to extend its arms out to publishers in 2015 and become a powerful news hub on its own, especially as projects like its sentiment analysis shape up. But publishers will pressure the social giant to be more transparent about its algorithm.

This article originally appeared on Media Shift.

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