What Will Media Advertising Look Like In 2020?

In just eight years, we will enter the third decade of the 21st century. What will the media advertising industry look like then? Who will be running the media agencies? Will media buying be completely automated? Here are some prognostications:

Clouds, screens and agents. By 2020 the media industry will be have moved to cloud-based computing platforms. A few of these platforms will become dominant and manage most of the screen-based buying. To exist as a major media company or technology vendor will mean plugging into these platforms. Screens will come in all shapes and sizes but it will be the devices not yet on the drawing board today that will be the most exciting. Augmented reality software will offer new kinds of advertising opportunities. Virtual agents will increasingly become a part of our personal and professional lives. Brands will take the first steps toward sponsoring some of the activities of our agents.

Women rule. By 2020 many of the men who built and have led the media advertising industry for the past 40 years will have retired. The thousands of women who joined media agencies straight out of college in the 1990s and 2000s will be in their late 30s and 40s and will be ready to step up. Within the next ten years upwards of half of all media agency CEOs will be women. Also, sometime in the 2020s we may see a woman break through to run an agency holding company.

Buyers will be geeks. The buyers of the future will have a formal background in predictive analytics. Some of the people who cut their teeth buying pay-per-click keywords on platforms like Google will provide essential leadership on these teams. Others will come from the existing analytics groups inside the agencies. Increasingly, with so much data to process, human buyers will be assisted by virtual agents.

Fewer media sellers. While some level of human-based media sales and strategy will always be necessary, by 2020 the majority of ad deals will be consumated silently inside of machines. The practice of large teams of junior sellers hitting the streets and pitching banner ads to agencies will be as dated as 1960’s “Mad Men.” In fact, by 2020 there will be a period drama or movie based on the online ad industry circa 2004. It will be rather humorous.

More technology sellers. Many of the people who were previously selling media will move over to selling media-related technology and they will be very good at it. As software increasingly eats the human-based ad sales business this trend will only accelerate.

The Web is old. The banner ad will be 25 years old by 2020, and the business will be mature in more ways than one. With the younger demos all on mobile devices, games and augmented reality apps, Web sites will be used to target people over the age of 40. “Surfing the Web” will seem as quaint as reading a physical newspaper is today.

Talent investment. Someday we may look back and cringe at how poorly the media advertising industry managed its human talent during its first few decades. Through a combination of training and technology, media advertising will move beyond its roots as a kind of guild to become as professionalized as the consulting, finance and technology industries.

Left behind. While technology will continue to transform media, there will still be pockets of non-digital media. Some areas will continue to be served by local newspapers. But the economics of remaining non-digital and thus outside of the realm of the major trading platforms will be increasingly difficult, particularly for national publications. Many papers and magazines will either make it as digital-only properties — or, sadly, decide to wind down operations.

Of course, these predictions deal with the macro trends in media advertising. There will be exceptions to every trend, just as there is still a market for vinyl records in an age of iTunes, Pandora and Spotify. Likewise, there will be media properties that are so unique that they can resist being part of the larger buying platforms and maintain significant human-based selling teams.

However, I do believe that many of the trends mentioned above will eventually impact everyone in our business.

This article originally appeared in MediaPost.