Thursday, January 3, 2008

Digital predictions for 2008

A version of this piece was published in Marketing in 2008

2007 was a rollercoaster ride. The rise of Facebook, the Doubleclick acquisition by Google, the continued boom in both online advertising and e-commerce – the sheer pace of growth continued to keep us all on our toes.

As January gets into full swing, it’s a good time to think about the trends for 2008. If last year was anything to go by, there’ll be no shortage of material, so I’ve picked four that are going to define the coming year.


Christmas has seen the BBC pushing its iPlayer software heavily on TV. The system lets viewers watch BBC programmes over the internet up to seven days after broadcast, and it’s a great (free) product.

But as this column has discussed before, it’s just one of several IPTV platforms – Sky and Channel 4 have their own, whilst ITV streams its programmes on the web. This makes watching TV online clunky and over-technical, with different software required for Eastenders and Coronation Street, and no common programme guide.

Kangaroo, the BBC’s joint venture with Channel 4 and ITV is expected to put paid to these obstacles, bringing these operators’ channels together with others on one software platform – one observer commenting that it could do for IPTV what Freeview did for digital TV.

And it comes at an opportune moment – according to the OECD, the average speed of UK broadband connections is 4Mb, and over half of UK homes have broadband – providing a critical mass of users that could see IPTV take off this year.

Mobile web

Poor battery life, duff devices, worse software and cripplingly high costs have conspired to keep the web firmly in the home or office.

But all of these are set to change in 2008. Not just better phones (Apple’s iPhone is the first usable mobile web browser – coupling a good device with excellent software) that make using the internet on the move a reasonable proposition, but also the success of ultra-mobile PCs.

At the same time, the mobile networks have introduced fixed-price access (largely responsible for the growth in fixed-line internet access), and WiFi hotspots (many of which are free) have become common. With longer-range technologies like WiMAX are starting to become available, we’re going to see the web unplugged in 2008.

Transparency spreads

A lot of attention has been focused on how brands will be affected by the transparency the web demands, but 2008 will be the year that transparency comes to politics.

We’ve already seen how bloggers have taken enthusiastically to the task of keeping our representatives in order, but technology is set to change the availability and meaningfulness of data. puts a flag on every location earmarked by the US Congress for defence spending – straight away, you can see which states are benefiting from federal investment, and which are losing out, and applications like this could change (not just for the better) the level of understanding we can have of what is done in our name.


2007 saw the US Federal Trade Commission grant approval for Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick, doubtless aware that the deal bolstered a substantial export opportunity for US business. But will the competition authorities in Europe take the same view? They were tougher on Microsoft in the past, and may be less inclined to support Google here, as the search giant’s share of the business is close to 90% in both the UK and Germany.

What is significant is this. ‘New’ media isn’t new anymore, and regulators are starting to wake up to the power it wields. By 2009, internet advertising is widely expected to have overtaken TV in the UK, and that scale makes it a big business that government won’t be able to keep its hands off.

The sense is that digital is outgrowing its adolescence. Government and business are sitting up and taking notice, even if they’re still scratching the surface of what will be possible. 2008 is going to be a growing up year; the year that digital starts to become the establishment.