Track Record for 2019: A Look Back at What We Got Right and What We Didn’t


Each year since 2001, Birnbach Communications issues a set of trends and predictions, which we call TrendReport, for the upcoming year.

A lot of people issue trends but we pride ourselves on also looking back to see how well we did with the prior year’s predictions. Here is this year’s report card: 

  1. The growing number of streaming content services make consumers harder to reach. With the launches of Disney+ and Apple TV+, NBC’s Peacock (April 2020), and HBO Max (May 2020), along Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and CBS All Access, consumers will pay at least $60 per month (not including Peacock, which is free for Comcast cable customers). That’s $720 per year before figuring out cable or Internet – and even if you cut the cord from cable, you still need to pay for Internet. All this time watching video on our devices make it harder for marketers to reach consumers. Grade: A.
  2. The age of the mass media is mostly over. We said that “It’s a niche world now,” and we feel that is accurate. Marketers can now reach very specific audiences but are finding it harder and more expensive to reach mass audiences. One of the resulting problems is that it exacerbates polarization, even in terms of what we watch. According to Axios, there’s a split in what we as a nation watch. There’s a self-fulfilling aspect to this because we all used to watch the same programs and talk about them the next day. But that doesn’t happen as much anymore, resulting in more isolation. Grade: A.
  3. The broken business model for news will cause continued problems in 2019, including an increase in “news deserts.” We said, “It’s not only print media that will struggle in 2019, online media will struggle, too.” We’re sorry to be right about this. We’re seeing many news deserts, communities with limited access to news even in Massachusetts. Although the New York Times, Washington Post and a few other newspapers  are doing well, the business model for the rest of the industry still hasn’t been solved. Grade: A.
  4. Social media will continue to undergo scrutiny and it won’t look good. This will continue in 2020, and still there won’t be any adequate solution. Grade: A.
  5. More apps will try to combat fake news. Unfortunately, some of the sites – and this is the list we named last year: The Trust Project, News Integrity Initiative NewsGuardThe Journalism Trust InitiativeAccountability Journalism ProgramTrusting NewsTrust & News Initiative and the oddly named Media Manipulation Initiative – did not appear to make it through Dec. 2019. From our perspective, facts and credible news is more important than ever for our democracy as well as for organizations trying to reach and engage their audiences. Grade: C.
  6.  The shorter/faster news cycle is distracting Americans and causing news fatigue. We are suffering from news fatigue — overwhelmed by news notifications on our phones that seems to buzz every hour. One of the most overused phrases on TV news this year has been: “There’s a lot to unpack” about the day’s (or hour’s) latest breaking news story. Expect to hear “news avoidance” to describe people who feel overwhelmed and have decided to follow the news. Grade: A.
  7. The incredible shrinking newsroom. This is connected to #3. Unfortunately, we were correct about this one, too: in 2019, “7,700 people have lost their jobs so far this year in a media landslide,” according to Business Insider. Those jobs aren’t coming back. Grade: A.
  8. The credibility of news media is under attack. Unfortunately, this is a real problem on social media. We continue to feel that this is a significant real problem for PR functions and agencies who work with reporters, editors and producers to tell their clients’ stories. If there are those who disbelieve the New York Times or Wall St. Journal, will they believe your organization’s news in those or other outlets? Grade: A. 
  9. The war on screen time. There will be greater acknowledgment that we’re all on screens too much throughout the day. We’re spending nearly four hours each day on our devices so this is definitely an issue, particularly with warnings to parents about the amount of time their children spend on devices. According to several studies, including one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is an association between screen time and anxiety and depression among adolescents, and we feel there’s a connection for adults, too. The topic didn’t generate as much media attention as we expected it would, which is why we’re not giving us an A. Grade: B.
  10. The state of the economy, including a volatile stock market, trade wars, trade deals and tariffs, taxes, deficits and unemployment will get a lot of attention in 2019. We’re still not taking sides, and the topic did get media attention in 2019 but it was not as big a story as we expected. Grade: B+.
  11. Brexit, if it happens, will be big news. We thought it would happen but it didn’t happen. It still generated coverage. Grade: C.
  12. Student debt levels and Millennial’s financial habits. Will continue to be a theme in 2020. Grade: B+.
  13. The state of healthcare will get attention. Outside of a campaign issue, there wasn’t as much discussion as we expected in 2019; we still think it will be a hot campaign issue in 2020. Grade: B-.
  14. Election reforms will get discussed on op-ed pages. This did not get the attention we expected. Grade: C-.
  15. Climate control and extreme weather will be a big story. This was a big story, thanks to Greta Thunberg. Grade: A.
  16. Gun control and the state of the NRA. We said “we do believe there will be discussion/coverage in the media in 2019 about what can be done” about gun control but no progress was made. Grade: B.
That’s a B+, which is pretty good. We’re now preparing our trends and predictions for 2020, and hope we do as well, and expect many of the 2019 trends to continue. 

Check back soon for more details.
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