2017: Year of the not yet known

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Mark Thompson

As the smell of mulled wine and cloves waft across kitchens and office parties across the land, the sound of Shane MacGowans rasping whiskey voice takes over the airwaves, and turkeys are suddenly filled with an unerring sense of ominous dread, it can only mean one thing, December has arrived, Christmas is upon us and the year will soon draw once again to a close.

As a new year peaks over the frosty horizon our thoughts naturally turn to assessing the past 11 months and what the next 12 may bring. Commentators and opinion makers across all industries and sectors will undoubtedly start to offer their views and compile best-of lists on what has gone before us and often more interestingly, what will come, with a clamour to identity and “own” the trends of the year ahead. But after 2016, this normal clamour may well understandably take a back foot.

What serious political commentator declared Donald Trump would be US President? Who genuinely and confidently predicted Brexit? Even hometown boy Gary Lineker didn't believe Leicester would hold out for the Premiership title. And who could blame them, for these are uncertain and unpredictable times. By this barometer, Joey Essex could soon topple Theresa May as British Prime Minister and any political paralysis in the south of Ireland could be extinguished with a unifying coalition government of Jedward and Zig and Zag. Maybe Sunderland won't win the English football league this season but as I write, over in Germany RB Leipzig (only formed 7 years ago) sit 3 points clear of Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga.

These unpredictable times are also, not unexpectedly, reflective of Adland. At the turn of the year common opinion was held that the good times were here again and here to stay and the initial figures backed this up. Television spend was up, large format outdoor was increasingly difficult to access, radio airtime regularly sold out, sometimes weeks in advance, and the digital bandwagon continued unabated. Such confidence existed that unnamed media sales teams didn’t return calls, nor seemed interested in demonstrating innovation or tackling challenging briefs, why would they be, space was selling, targets were met, the streets were paved with gold. As was put to me by an experienced media owner in ROI, some people unfortunately have very short memories. 2008? That was so last decade.

But the good times were not here to stay with Brexit subsequently shaking the markets and the advertising industry as once again insecurity crept back in. Resultantly both Television and Radio revenues will fall short from initial predictions at the turn of the year. ITV are expecting final revenue to drop 3% year on year and Dee Forbes, new Director General of RTE has stated 2016 had been proving much more difficult than anticipated. This despite a summer featuring Euro 2016, and credible performances and progression of Irish and British home nations (England aside, but congratulations to our Icelandic Norse cousins), usually a boon for advertising revenues and television networks.

So, we are in a period once again of trepidation and possibly contraction. Many that ventured fearlessly into choppy waters in 2016 soon turned back, Trinity Mirror’s New Day barely made it into a third month of existence before its paymasters jumped to the life raft and let it sink into the abyss. UTV Ireland, on its 3rd ownership of the year is to soon be scuttled and plundered by its latest captain; Liberty Global.

But not all is bad news, over in calmer climes Downtown Country and Belfast Live continued to prove providing a genuine gap and innovation in the market will always be welcomed, the Irish outdoor market looks set to grow year on year and the digital and social economy continues to boom, even surpassing original estimates.  But even digital doesn’t have it completely its own way, 2016 after all saw the end of Vine, Twitter is still yet to record a profit a decade later and AdBlocking continues to loom unresolved in the background.

So, as we move into 2017 full of well-meaning new year resolutions and ambitions, be careful of what you wish for, as who really knows what is around the corner, no one does, and an ability to nimbly negotiate unexpected challenges has never been as vital. Ebenezer Scrooge had the luxury of the Ghost of Christmas Future to show him the righteous way forward, we in Adland are not as blessed with such certain perception, but just as Charles Dickens imagined, do not underestimate the benefit of learning from mistakes and the positive power change can bring.

As 2016 has undoubtedly proven, the future is very much unwritten.



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