Some fields are resistant to change; digital publishing is defined by it. With each passing year, it seems, the latest batch of common wisdom is chucked out the window and the rulebook written anew. This tendency felt somewhat less pronounced in 2023, which was in certain respects a transition year: it began with high hopes (and trepidation) around AI, but the buzz outweighed its practical uses, at least for the first half of the year.
That—and much—is set to change as we make our way into 2024, which is shaping up to be a genuine hinge point for publishers and their use of online video, in particular. New formats, new technology, and new approaches to monetization—all are on the table in the coming months. Below, we delve into some of the most significant trends set to shape digital publishing for the coming year and beyond.
1) Publishers will get better at monetizing news
The first thing to note is that 2024 is an election year, which in digital publishing means a drastic uptick in attention. Whether publishers will be able to monetize this attention remains an open question, but evidence suggests that they're very much on track to do exactly that. Partly, this has to do with the hard lessons of '16 and '20 finally sinking in: publishers are increasingly aware of the need to lobby to get off of over-cautious keyword and whole site blocklists by advertisers, and they are better-equipped to turn eyeballs into repeat visitors and even subscribers. The massive geopolitical disruptions of the last few months—and the subsequent clicks—have served as a kind of condensed test-run, allowing publishers to work out the kinks before the big show next year.
2) Short-form reels will continue to dominate the internet—and publishing, too
2023 was the first year in which even your grandparents started sharing their favorite short-form videos, as Instagram prioritized Reels on its feed and TikTok continued its ascent to social dominance. As is clear to anyone who's spent even a few moments on social media, these short-form videos aren't going anywhere. Some publishers—NPR's Planet Money comes to mind—have been leveraging this format for a while, but it's only this year that many publishers have begun investing in the medium, and we can expect to see those numbers rise significantly throughout 2024.
3) Live-streams will be ubiquitous
Concurrent with the rise of short-form video has been the rise of the livestream. Once something a reader had to actively opt-in to, the technology has now advanced to the point that an active stream can surface instantly alongside an article someone's already reading. Expect these to proliferate as publishers internalize the impact these streams can have for key metrics like time-on-site. Similarly, expect an uptick in live events run by publishers, which, in addition to serving as a valuable income stream, can provide content for both live-streams and on-site videos.
4) Video ads will grow more dynamic and more contextual
Digital video ad spending hit an unprecedented peak in 2023, reaching $58.36 billion. No surprise there: in the last few years, online video has proved itself significantly more effective than traditional digital advertising across a variety of metrics. In 2024, we can expect more publishers to take a more personalized approach to these videos, delivering ads that dovetail in meaningful ways with the content they're set alongside.
5) AI-driven video content will begin its journey to center-stage
And now, inevitably, comes AI. This time last year, some onlookers were convinced AI would completely revolutionize digital publishing by the summer. That didn't quite happen, but the technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in just the last 12 months. Ubiquitous multimodal functionality in particular has created exciting new possibilities for instant video generation—think articles instantly converted into short-form clips. Expect a significant uptick in quality video content generated on the fly by AI in the coming months.
6) Publishers will deploy verification tools to determine which content is real and which isn’t
Among the most important functions of the media over the last decade has been fact-checking—taking the wild claims that circulate on social media and actually attempting to vet them. With the election looming and generative AI becoming more popular to create articles and videos, expect verification to continue apace, and for it to take new forms—publishers are already starting to hire employees to verify potential deepfakes in-house. We’ll also likely see labels on all articles and videos to let audiences know which content was created by a human vs. AI.
7) Publishers will offer vertical video on their own sites and apps
In what feels like a very short period of time, the TikTok approach to media consumption—swiping vertically on clip after clip—has become the dominant way that people of all ages consume media. The advantages of the endless vertical scroll are self-evident, which is why we expect publishers to start trying to replicate that engagement on their own mobile sites and apps throughout 2024. Granted, the demand isn't quite there yet from a programmatic standpoint—but expect that to change, fast, in the coming months.
8) Publishers will make a major effort to engage in—and broadcast—their sustainability efforts
Late last year, an editor at the digital news publication Semafor quit his job over what he described as an "over-dependence on Chevron advertising." This was, granted, an extreme case: for the most part, individual readers have not taken it upon themselves to critique publications for the kinds of advertising they run. But there are indications that this is changing, with readers becoming more fluent about publisher-advertiser relations. There is also an increasing awareness—among publishers, if not necessarily among readers—that digital advertising is not immune from sustainability concerns. Per Scope3’s State of Sustainable Advertising Report, the energy used each month by programmatic advertising in the US, UK, Australia, France and Germany generates the same amount of greenhouse gas as 24 million gallons of gasoline. Expect more publishers (and technology companies from across the industry, frankly) to focus on reducing their carbon footprints for the greater good.
9) Publishers will experiment with new ID solutions as the third-party cookie finally says its goodbyes
The death of the third-party cookie has, in some quarters, come to feel like a boy-who-cried-wolf situation: every year is supposedly the year when the cookie's finally going away. It's an understandable feeling, but also a deceptive one: after years of talk, Google fully intends to begin phasing them out for 1% of Chrome users in the first quarter of next year, with that number ramping up throughout 2024. Accordingly, the emphasis across the industry will shift to new methods of user identification for addressability, with increased investment in first-party data and contextual targeting.
Almost certainly, there are developments we're missing here. If the vagaries of digital publishing over the last years teach us anything, it's that predictions are always incomplete. But the above should serve as a handy roadmap for any publisher looking to stay ahead during what's promising to be—at a minimum—a very interesting year.
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