2016: What Wonders Do You Hold For Us?

Josh Smith, our resident Strategic Management Specialist, and I were discussing the promises of 2016. What might this year bring? More Emoji adoration? Wearable mobile devices in the forms of earrings? Dual use Microwave/3D printers to combine the Maker movement? Oh, the possibilities!

In our conversation, we cover five industry and pop culture trends that have been building over the last few months, and ask: Will 2016 be THE year?

1.  Millennials + Customer Service?

Josh: Millennials overwhelmingly prefer customer service through channels other than live phone, and are more likely to use self-help options than ever before.  We’ll see tech savvy brands continue to push for live chat support, great help centers, and more integrations across all of their systems to provide opportunities for quick resolution to issues for customers willing to seek help through their websites.  Our amazing partner, Zendesk, will continue to lead the way, while we continue to provide expert implementation and direct customer support using their toolset!

Izzy: For my generation and older, 2016 will bring about a desire to continue automating (how can I streamline this? Does buying this help me simplify the situation?). For Millennials in 2016, automation seems to be two steps past expectation — to the point of confusion if it’s not already included, implied, and in working order. I recently read an article that talked about instant self-reliance – and how great customer service for the Millennial generation doesn’t necessarily involve a phone rep (“26 percent would rather go to the DMV” than call a phone rep).  It’s all about social help – solving those public lament rants and tweets for help.

But to be honest, I’m waiting for the boom of the video CS option. Someone physically showing me (or showing my mom, more importantly) how to fix something in one-to-one video communication. While phone conversations may not be a Millennial thing, video certainly is! From Periscope to Vine to YouTube video content is key, but they can’t answer my tangent questions when i ask them.

2. Star Wars and The Growth of Fractured Franchises

Josh: More Star Wars games and a new movie means that franchise will continue to grow beyond what we were expecting during the Disney purchase. Not to mention, the growth of the cartoon, the spin-off content, and the upcoming television shows – there’s so much potential. I predict it overtakes Marvel’s movies and IP in popularity. OH yeah, and there’s those plans for Star Wars lands in the Disney parks.  The force is strong with that IP.

Izzy: Yes. Not to mention – the licensing is everywhere. EVERY. WHERE.

But on a content/story theme, I’m starting to see a large conversation about authorship – and what role creators play versus what role customer demand has in the development of a fantastical universe. George Lucas, and his plight with the Disney empire, has started bubbling up conversations about storytelling and storycrafting. As other IP’s continue to fracture under franchise power, it will be interesting to see how the voice of the OG aligns (or doesn’t) with the desires of the audience.

For example, Game of Thrones. George RR Martin recently apologized, as his sixth book installment will not make it to the public before the next season of the show. And while he has a finger on the pulse of the storycrafting, the show is ultimately written by another team. Changes created in the television show fracture the book universe, and vice versa – what happens if the actions of the TV show do not reflect his book, and the fandom reacts as they did to Lucas with the prequels? It’s a stretch, but still a consideration for authors and their precious characters and story arcs. Perhaps with the Harry Potter expansions, JK Rowling is next?

3. Virtual Reality
We brought in resident VR-fan, Matt Hostler, to share thoughts on this one.

Matt: Overall, 2016 will be the year for early adopters in Virtual Reality technology. Playstation VR tech is going to be a big success due to the amount of software/games and ease of use. Sony will be able to pull from their vast IP movie franchises as well, to really round out the entertainment demand. Oculus Rift will do ok as well (pre-order launches tomorrow, and price point hasn’t been shared as of yet). Without the backlog of AAA game and movie content, Oculus Rift will take a bit to grow the mass appeal for entertainment value (beyond just tech innovation). HTC Vive (SteamVR) will be great tech when it comes out, but expensive, which will slow down the mass appeal.

Josh: VR is going to continue to expand. We may see enough content and affordable devices for it to become a big hit for the 2016 holiday season.

Izzy: I’m going to be a slow adopter for VR, I think. I’m still just eyeballing the Apple Watch after 2 years of concept-obsession. I was super into the concept of VR when Second Life was talking about it in 2007, and I’ve found the recent coverage to be interesting… I think this year will be big for building hype, and enticing people. We’ll see more and more about VR, but I agree with Matt – 2017 may be bigger.

4. Table Top Gaming 

Josh: The popularity of board and role-playing games with ACTUAL PEOPLE IN REAL LIFE will continue to grow. Geek and Sundry’s TableTop, Critical Role, and various other shows (and podcasts), is really bringing folks back into tabletop gaming. It turns out that taking some time away from screens can be fun!

Izzy: Whenever I think of table top games I think of three things: Dungeons & Dragons episode of Freaks And Geeks, Cones of Dunshire, and Community (the TV show). I love all three of these things, but they’re not really new. I’ve been living in the Bay Area, surrounded by Game Developers for about 7 years and table top is everywhere, and taken wonderfully seriously. I’ve started seeing the popularity grow to my networks in both LA and Chicago, so the movement is definitely happening.  Now, while I choose to enjoy sillier characters in table top games, I do enjoy listening to the hardcore players. I’ve started following various podcasts over the last few months that seem more like epic improve, fantasy skits – very delightful!

5. Alternative Media Content

Izzy:  YouTube and Instagram fame is so 2014/2015. And while digital celebs are still a hit with the kids, I think sponsorships and paid content has lessened the thrill for me. I should probably include Vine in that, but I’m not at all thrilled with the more abusive content found on Vine, so I’m giving that platform another year or so to sort itself out.

Periscope could be huge this year – especially as it’s an Election year, and that platform seems to be geared towards rallies and live event perspectives. Early adopters began tinkering with the platform last year, and it seems to appeal in majority to grown ups (not teens – the trend-setting market). But with that said, it’s a cool platform, and it has legs.

For me? I’m hoping the slow climb for the fine art of Podcasting, and it’s establishment as a legit form of streaming storytelling and content creation. Last year marked a resurgence thanks to the Apple update that included a separate podcast application. When I saw that app appear, I literally said to myself “Oh, podcasts! I forgot about you.” (Sigh) Not to mention, the star caliber appearing on various shows (um, if President Obama gracing Marc Marin’s podcast isn’t a sign of the times for legitimizing podcasts, I don’t know what is). Currently, I’m addicted to The Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick. He’s a pop culture icon.

Josh: I watch a ton of YouTube, which I think will continue to grow as a medium – and start to challenge streaming channels more and more.  We’re seeing a lot of investment by corporations into sponsored content, and even more traditional media companies getting involved in the space. Legendary Pictures buying Nerdist and Geek and Sundry, for instance, is huge. And the content creator movements by Google (Youtube Studios) and Disney has really fed into that platform for establishing quality talent, and entertaining content.

Izzy: I guess we could talk about SnapChat here, as the marketing investment in that platform for business has been growing. I, personally, think there are still some hurdles to jump to make mass appeal (beyond the teen market). And they need to find a way to channel top content makers and their networks. SnapChat might make it happen this year!

Who knows what 2016 will really bring – but here’s hoping it’s amazing, innovative, and creates world-wide good for audiences, customers, and communities alike!

Izzy Neis
Director of Engagement & Strategy

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