The year ahead for ... digital

Jean-Paul Edwards on why 2009 - a year many view with trepidation - will be one in which digital continues to flourish.

Jean-Paul Edwards...faster connections in 2009
Jean-Paul Edwards...faster connections in 2009

On Christmas Day, 1990, we all received a gift. We didn't know it at the time and it wasn't addressed to any of us. On that day, a packet of information was sent over the internet using a set of protocols that would soon be known as the worldwide web. That experiment evolved into what has arguably become the largest force of change in the communications industry.

Today, the 1s and 0s of digital media are fast becoming the new lingua franca of communications. A popular T-shirt among geeks proudly proclaims that there are 10 types of people in the world. Those that understand binary, and those that do not. In that spirit, here are 1001 digital predictions and themes for the new year.

Continued growth. The wider economic environment will, of course, have some impact on the digital industry, but as advertisers increase their focus on return on investment as well as innovation, digital will continue to grow as both a response medium and a brand medium. As consumers become ever more price-conscious, shopping online becomes more attractive. We are already spending 17p in every £1 online (IMRG 2008) and this will grow in 2009.

Small devices doing amazing things. The new consumer products of 2009 are the product of investment decisions made several years ago at the height of the recent boom. The volume of mobile devices is staggering: already there are more than four billion devices and, early in 2009, mobile devices will be owned by half of the world's population. New mobile devices running Google's Android operating system and many more iPhones will spur further innovation. Applications empowered by the web will radically change our view of the potential of these clever little gadgets. Also, the developing cloud of computing technologies will massively empower mobile, as much of the hard work is done on the web rather than on the device.

TV and the web make friends. Despite recent problems, Project Kangaroo should launch to great excitement, whatever it ends up being called. It will look a lot more like broadcast TV than we have been used to from an online service, and it will herald a period of accelerated change for TV. Hulu has been an enormous success in the US, especially as it is built around web business models. They happily link to competitors' content, making them the starting point for a TV experience, and they positively encourage users to "steal" small portions of shows, making them naturally viral/social. Teenagers already know all about this, and the rest of us will discover the joys of an on-demand social TV experience; in the long run, TV will be far better off for it.

Games as top dog. Video games are rapidly becoming the largest entertainment format in the world - it is a bigger industry than the box office or music industry. The new generation of consoles will break ten million sales in the UK in 2009 and most of them will be online. Like last year, a game will be the biggest money-spinner in consumer entertainment and ever more brands will want to be associated with these new cultural forces.

Search finds new applications. Search is not just the primary engine of growth of marketing investment, its model and conventions will increasingly impact other forms of media. YouTube's recent experiment with "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy", which used Google's Adsense network as a distribution channel, is a sign of things to come. People and processes that understand the power of this model will do very well indeed.

Transmedia ideas go mass. The impact of the PVR is being felt heavily in the US, where more than 50 per cent of impacts for some shows are time-shifted and ads are often skipped, causing a big gap in funding. This is a trend we are beginning to feel in the UK. Big shows such as Heroes are now offering advertisers all sorts of new opportunities for brands to communicate that use scale efficiencies of spot advertising and deep content integration online. The UK is a very different TV market, but expect to see some really interesting things happen, with big TV shows having a new lease of life online and new revenue sources driving creativity in new directions.

Adversity will force social media to invent all of our futures. Despite accounting for around one-fifth of all page views, the social networks are having a little difficulty making money from all of that attention. 2009 will see many attempts to monetise what Mark Zuckerberg calls the "social graph". A scalable, sustainable model will define the long-term future of the communications industry. This will, in turn, start a trend of consumers understanding their true value. Many people, especially the young, will begin to treat themselves as media brands working on their personal "influence rank" and monetising their daily lives.

Web 3.0 will die. Remember the information superhighway? It became Web 2.0 when we discovered what those fast connections were for. It turned out they created meaningful two-way connections between people, not just a faster download of a web page. Similarly, many now speak of Web 3.0. We know it will be made up of faster connections (Virgin Media will launch 50mb broadband in 2009) and a cleverer web, called the semantic web, where everything becomes a single database. In 2009, someone will figure what the core benefit of these technologies really is and hopefully give us all a new buzzword. This new concept will replace Web 3.0 and spur a new round of investment, innovation and opportunity.

Wan Wei Wang. Every language needs a term that www can stand for. Worldwide web is pretty meaningless if you don't speak English. The Mandarin Chinese version translates literally as 10,000 dimensional net. The fast-moving developments in digital media will affect our lives in at least 10,000 ways, creating exponentially more threats and opportunities. The new year is a great occasion to take the time to reflect on how it might affect you and those around you.

A very happy 11111011001 to you all.

- Jean-Paul Edwards is the executive director, futures at Manning Gottlieb OMD.