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January 2017

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The Year Ahead (*Subject to Substantial Change)

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2016 will go down in history as one of the most unpredictable years to date. To accurately look ahead at what’s in store for 2017 is nothing but a fool’s errand. But this fool is going to try. Fasten your seatbelts for a 2017 drive-by as we look at the hottest industry predictions for the year ahead.

1.LIVE – Live content is no longer a stunt. Driven by live streaming functions across social platforms, brands will use the tech for product launches, brand campaigns and everyday consumer interaction. If it isn’t happening live, it’s history.

2.TRANSPARENCY – No change here at the7stars, but networks and clients will wake up to the lack of transparency. Improving data transparency will be a key trend in 2017.

3.OUTDOOR IS DIGITAL – Last year, static billboards became high-tech, city-centre infrastructure, with the installation of LCD/LED screens and fully interactive offerings such as LinkUK and Signature Outdoor’s The Loop. This year, Clear Channel announced the launch of Europe’s first out-of-home programmatic buying tool, completing its “transformation into a 21st Century digital media”. Out-of-home will be truly interactive as advertisers align their mobile marketing strategies and NFC campaigns to become more effective.

4.VR EXPERIENCE – If 2016 was the year of virtual reality, then 2017 will be the year to take the tech from a pop-up novelty to a fully-immersive experience. ABBA, surprisingly, have led the way, announcing a VR-experience tour set to launch next year. VR will become more than a visual and auditory experience, as developers experiment with handheld controls and haptic feedback gloves.

5.MORE M&A – Following on from IBM’s move to buy a digital agency, and Accenture’s acquisition of Karmarama, expect the continued rise of consolidation within the martech/adtech space.

6.REAL NEWS – In 2016, Zuckerberg vowed to end fake news on Facebook, announcing several projects designed to “take misinformation seriously”. This year, social platforms will join to declare war on fake news, trolls, and, to use the latest buzzword, ‘alternative facts’.

7.DIVERSITY – In the workforce, in skills, in campaigns, and in ideas. The more advertising and media reflects the diversity of the world around us, the more effective marketing will be.

Other notable mentions: social VR, the resilience of TV, even speedier delivery, AI, bots, brand purpose, convergence, wearables, Amazon, Facebook, Snapchat IPO, bitesize digital news and another year of the mobile. We’re in for one hell of a ride.

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Sports Fans: They Think It’s Online, It Is Now

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The big game gets bigger every year – except, perhaps, this year. On February 5, the Atlanta Falcons will take on the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, and if estimates are to be believed, TV viewership will be down.

In 2016 Super Bowl viewing figures were lower than the year before, with an average of 112 million tuning in, compared to 114 million in 2015. This year, Campaign is reporting that TV spots are still available to buy during the game – despite being sold out as early as November for last year’s final.
That’s not to say it’s a disaster. The Super Bowl was the most-watched TV event in the US last year, and ad spend totalled $380 million. The answer lies, partly, in another stat. Last year a record-breaking 3.96 million unique viewers streamed the game, watching across desktop, tablet and mobile. This was more than double the number of viewers of NBC’s online coverage in 2015.

Viewers aren’t abandoning the game, but they are moving away from traditional broadcast viewing. And this isn’t just happening on the other side of the Atlantic. It was widely reported that early season ratings for Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage were down by 19% last year, which the tabloids were quick to label ‘the big turn-off’.

Although Sky has spent an eye-watering average of £11 million on broadcast rights for each match, it has also invested in non-traditional viewing platforms. This season saw a partnership with Twitter to push out clips in real-time, and the relaunch of the Football Score Centre app, allowing subscribers to watch goals and highlights from every game.  Also in the last six months, the number of viewers of Sky’s Snapchat Discover platform has more than doubled.

Sky recognises that sports fans can be reached online – not just second-screening while the game’s on TV, but using mobiles and tablets to watch the action, play back goals, and catch up on clips.

Online, brands can reach out to connected fans during sporting moments, interacting in real-time, and joining – as well as leading – the conversation with engaging, multimedia content. With an average Super Bowl TV spot going for $5 million, social provides a much cheaper alternative for brands to own key moments and tap into a diverse and engaged audience of sports fans.

This doesn’t mean brands should move broadcast TV budgets into online, but they should be looking at cross-channel strategy around sports events. For this year’s Super Bowl, Bose has launched a social-first campaign, while Hyundai, as well as filming an almost-live ad set to air on TV, is amplifying its campaign with sponsorship of the Super Bowl Live event.

Sports fans are still watching, advertisers just need to score their attention.

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Is It Still Gold for Project Rio as DMG Cuts Ties?

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After months of talks, research and number-crunching, national newspaper initiative Project Rio (formerly Project Juno) has hit a major stumbling block. The recommendation was that, for newsbrands to combat declining print revenues and survive in the new digital landscape, they must put aside their differences, pool resources and offer a combined audience product for advertisers.

Project Rio saw the six major publishers sit down to collectively discuss a plan of action. This month, however, DMG Media, publisher of the Daily Mail and Metro, pulled out of the initiative to focus on relieving its own commercial pressures. It has been reported that DMG felt legal costs and obstacles were too high, and there was little change in persuading regulators at the CMA.

With one of the UK’s biggest publishers pulling out, the future of the project was put into doubt. However, Project Rio has confirmed that the remaining parties are all committed to finding a solution, and the mission remains the same.

At first glance, Rio appears to be an initiative put in place to benefit the publishers, creating a new revenue stream to offset declining print revenues. However, the project’s aim is wider than that. Publishers are looking to force a reappraisal of newsbrands. Rio argues that newpapers’ audiences and the developments in advertising products will create opportunities that will rival the digital duopoly that is Facebook and Google.

Newsbrands offer some of the highest quality content available and have an abundance of data and audience insight that they are not taking full advantage of. For newsbrands to thrive in the digital landscape, they must work towards a fully-aggregated, data-driven, audience-based advertising solution that offers easy access to the agenda-setting content.

Even with DMG pulling out, Project Rio is scheduled to launch this autumn. The project will then open for trading in January 2018 to coincide with the launch of PAMCo’s Audience Measurement for Publishers survey, the new audience measurement service to supersede NRS.

If successful, print will not only have scale of audience, but scale of quality and will be able to offer a much-needed audience-based, data-driven advertising solution.

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The Future of Tech: CES 2017 Round-Up

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Every January more than 170,000 people make their way to Las Vegas to check out some of the biggest developments the tech world has to offer. This is CES, the conference of all conferences, where the masterful and mad put their inventions on show in a bid to steal the world’s attention. Sifting out the credible from the crazy, we’ve brought back five ideas and inventions from the desert that could be game-changers for advertisers and brands.

1.LEG’s credit card thin OLED TV – There’s only so much space the average person can save by having a wafer-thin TV. However, ultra-thin, energy-efficient TVs mark the start of ‘visual wallpaper’, and will allow brands to wrap and roll communications around any surface.

2.Hover Camera Passport – This neatly-sized drone shoots in 4k and can follow you around to make sure you never miss a selfie opportunity. Creative Directors will be going queasy at the thought of marketers bringing these to shoots to get that vital social content, but the opportunities are too plentiful to pass up.

3.Fancy Fridges – Panasonic and Samsung both presented ‘smart’ fridges that, for the first time, seemed like an attractive purchase. The highlight was the Samsung fridge with an internal camera, allowing owners to remotely peek inside. It can read sell-by-dates and even re-order products when you’re running low on essentials, giving brands that are out of the fridge no chance of getting back in.

4.AI (Amazon Intelligence) – Amazon dominated CES by showcasing innovations that other tech brands can only dream of. Amazon’s voice-activated suite of hardware is rapidly partnering with tech companies. If they haven’t already, brands should seriously start to consider teaming up with Amazon and its impressive AI.

5.Non-tech brands do CES – Pernod Ricard, LEGO and L’Oreal invested heavily in this year’s CES, proving that even non-tech brands need to be a part of the growing tech conversation.

Many of these ideas may turn out to be all smoke and no fire, but even if none get further than the prototype stage, there were 600 or so exhibitors that didn’t make our shortlist. There’s a lot to look forward to in 2017.

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Films You Can Feel: 4DX & the Future of Cinema

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While awards season has hit the headlines and UK box office takings have reached a record high, there has been another under-the-radar update from the world of cinema. London has opened its first-ever 4DX cinema, described by Cineworld as the “biggest innovation in cinematic technology to date”.

Cineworld Wandsworth now plays host to a super screen, with high-tech moving seats and special effects. 4DX is designed to stimulate all five senses, with effects including wind, fog, lightning, rain and scents experienced in sync with the film. It has seen a surge in popularity recently; the technology has now been installed at 350 screens worldwide, and 42 films were released in 4DX in 2016 alone.

With admissions up YoY, cinema has never been stronger. It has fought off the threat of home entertainment and is putting up a fight against the streaming giants and their mind-boggling budgets (Netflix is spending £4.8 billion on content in 2017). Ad revenues and box office takings continue to grow, with 2016 breaking UK records as cinema’s most successful year to date.

Although it’s looking up, cinema needs to innovate to stay ahead of the curve. As a channel often relied on to support others, it’s always more at risk of being cut from media plans than TV, for example. 4DX and other innovations, such as pop-up screens and boutique cinema events, are brand extensions that are crucial to keeping cinema advertising front of mind.

4DX isn’t just a novelty for cinema-goers, or, as film critic Mark Kermode complained, a way for “buck-hungry Hollywood producers” to maintain their bank balances. There is also an opportunity for brands to do something new and exciting.

ITV this month used 4DX to push the new series of The Voice, with moving seats and strobe lighting re-creating the experience of being in the audience during the audition. A multisensory experience increases the impact of ads, making them immersive and memorable. Ads designed with 4DX in mind will work best, but the format lends itself to updating existing creative. Some seat movements and a splash of water might just do the trick to reinvigorate a tried-and-tested 30” creative.

Advertisers in the food industry, for example, should relish the opportunity to showcase their products via 4DX, providing they smell as good as they look. Outside of that, entertainment brands seem the perfect fit for 4DX, bringing films, games and music videos to life.

That’s not to say 4DX doesn’t have its drawbacks – not all films are suited to the format. It is up to filmmakers and advertisers to use the technology in the right way to stop it from becoming a gimmick. For the sake of innovation and variety, let’s hope 4DX finds its audience and doesn’t go the same way as the ill-fated Smell-O-Vision.