Predicting 2020 was already challenging. Adding a global pandemic to the mix made it even harder. To see how I did with those 2020 predictions, click here.
Typically, I focus the majority of annual predictions on marketing, advertising, digital, and technology. Those are the verticals I know best and I try to stick with what I know. However, when I started making predictions a decade ago, the pervasiveness of “digital” was still fairly limited. As I look at 2021 it’s nearly impossible to decouple digital from anything. From education to shopping and from travel to entertainment, digital is everywhere. With that in mind, my 2021 predictions will seem to stray a bit from predictions in previous years. But, rest assured, my focus is still digital.
Additionally, please note, I stay away from any prediction that might even be in the realm of what my employer focuses on. These are my predictions and don’t represent them.
We will still have COVID-19 acting a hangover in 2021. What became clear in 2020 was the state-by-state impact of COVID-19, based on specific policy choices. This makes predicting 2021 harder. To that end, here’s how I’m approaching my 2021 predictions:
- Short and Long-Term: I wanted to have a healthy mix of both. Yes, 2021 still ends on December 31st, but I wanted to look at things that would happen because of the longer view many are taking.
- More of a National and Global Focus: I wanted to avoid, where possible, the influence of local policies. By local, I mean a specific country (e.g. France), state (e.g. Illinois), or city (e.g. New Orleans). There are a few that toe this line, but again see #1.
- No Layups: We’re keeping the no easy predictions rule.
- Categories: Instead of a random list, I’m going to categorize predictions into 4 specific buckets.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with it.
Category 1: 2020 Pull-Forward
These are all predictions I made for 2020, that didn’t happen, but I’m still bullish on.
- We will see an ad-supported version of Netflix in 2020 or some other option beyond a monthly fee model.
- Snapchat will implode. TikTok and other snackable content platforms/apps will create a more competitive environment.
- Tesla will start to license its battery technology to other car manufacturers as a means to bring in an additional revenue stream, increase the number of electric cars on the road, and make the environment better.
Category 2: Long-Term Impacts from COVID-19
These are predictions that will happen in 2021, based on the impact of COVID-19, and people/society/investors/etc. taking a long-term view.
- The number of private schools will increase 20%, along with enrollment in private schools increasing 15%. Both are an increase on 2020 numbers. If there’s one area that has failed completely during COVID-19, it was education. We have already seen a significant shift away from public schools and with few concrete and consistent plans in place for public schools, this is going to scale. While I am avoiding “local” predictions, I do think you will see a greater call for school choice models across the country.
- Movie theaters are not done for. Much has been written about their demise. I’m not suggesting they will thrive. But, I think some combination of these 4 things will happen. A theater chain or two (e.g. AMC) will sell to a “movie” company like Disney. Alternatively, we may see the reverse of this happen. For example, maybe Cinemark buys/becomes a production company. Blockbuster movies that were held back, that some speculated would be released digitally first (e.g. Top Gun 2), will be released in theaters, sparking their rebound. Theater companies will band together and/or merge, to create a streaming alternative service. If this happens, you could totally see some type of hybrid offering where you can subscribe to watch at home and see X number of movies a month at a theater.
- Social and shopping will continue to grow as we finally see the social deliver revenue at scale. Instagram’s shopping redesign was the big 2020 signal. But, there’s been a steady and slow drumbeat for a few years. COVID-19 forced companies and in some cases, whole industries, to embrace digital sales and revenue models. Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of publicly available data to use as a starting point for a tight prediction, so we’re going to have to get creative. We will see two things happen. The first is fairly straightforward; major retailers (e.g. Gap, Nordstrom) will launch “shopping fronts” on major platforms (e.g. Instagram) and we will see more shopping options/features from social platforms. The second will be the increases in references, during quarterly earnings, about social+commerce growth, from retailers and social platforms.
- The digitization of models, industries, and services that accelerated in 2020 will go even further in 2021. Food delivery, retail pickup, high education, car buying, house buying, and so many other services fully-embrace digital services transitions in 2020. Some of these happened after years of fighting digital purchase models. Ahem…car buying. I think the most likely one here is actually government services and actions. Think about how many things have to be done in person. Your license, passport, marriage certificate, and so many other tasks, all require mail-in forms or an in-person visit. This is going to change. How do we make this something we can analyze and evaluate? In preparation for the 2024 presidential elections, all states will either offer or announce their intent to offer online voting, in place of in-person ballots.
- We will see a reduction in the usage of video conferencing. The meteoric growth was almost, you could argue, necessary, as people transitioned out of the office. However, the number of early studies that indicate how poor the constant use of videoconferencing is people’s mental well-being, will yield more studies and eventually actions. For the purposes of a prediction, let’s say 1 of these 3 things will happen. Microsoft will announce A.I. powered features to help managers manage “zoom” fatigue. Videoconferencing usage will drop 30% from 2020. A formal study between Cisco, the makers of WebEx, or someone similar, and a higher-education institution (e.g. Stanford) to study the mental impact of “zoom” meetings will be announced and findings will be shared.
Category 3: Simple, Straightforward, and Digital Industry Focused
- Jack Dorsey will step down as Twitter CEO. Continued poor earnings, the Section 230 shadow, and Square’s growth will force this to happen.
- Facebook will prevail in defending its position against the Federal Government’s antitrust investigation. What does prevailing look like? They’ll be able to keep Instagram and WhatsApp.
- Digital music sales, as defined by single songs and full albums, will fall to less than $500M in revenue. We are living in a streaming world folks.
- Pinterest opened 2020 at around $18.50 a share. They closed the year around $65. I’ve always felt like they’re the one to watch. Their stock is going to hit $92 at some point in 2021.
- We will see draft legislation in the United States for something that starts to mirror Europe’s GDRP. I have a feeling that privacy and transparency in advertising practices are going to remain a focus in 2021.
Category 4: Digital Influenced
These are predictions where digital, in some way, shape, or form is a reason for something to happen but isn’t the overriding one.
- NBA, MLB, and NHL viewership will increase relative to 2020, but will be down significantly to 2019. The decrease will be so dramatic, the salary cap for at least one of these leagues will go down by at least 10%.
- As cryptocurrencies become more mainstream, their growth curve will normalize. I think Bitcoin, closes 2021 at less than $40,000. While the scale of the growth slows, this will be a good thing for the average person/consumer. While not a prediction to be judged, I do think you’ll start to see more public companies investing in cryptocurrencies in the same way they invest in commodities and futures.
- As work from home, becomes work from anywhere, we’re going to see more and more tech-industry corporations relocate their headquarters from California. In fairness, this started to happen in 2020 (e.g. Tesla, HP). While it won’t be Google or Facebook, expect 3 significant names to announce moves. This isn’t part of the prediction, but likely candidates include Uber, Lyft, Cisco, Nvidia, and Adobe.
Phew. If you read all of that, thanks. Get yourself a cup of coffee; you deserve it. As I always do, I’ll assess these predictions at the end of 2021, and possibly mid-year.