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Media Trends to Watch in 2013

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A photo of 2013 with confetti

Five important trends will help define the media industry in 2013.

Photo © ba1969 / stock.xchng
Media trends to follow during 2013 will change the way we use print, broadcast and online media. Track 5 media trends throughout 2013 to see how they will help reshape the industry.

Media Trend: Shifting Prime Time TV Landscape

For several years, the prime time battle among the four major broadcasting networks has had one constant element -- NBC has been in last place. With the peacock network finally showing some signs of life in the fall of 2012, that leads to two key questions.

The first is whether NBC can continue building momentum in the Nielsen ratings once its two established hits, Sunday Night Football and The Voice wrap up their seasons. Those programs allowed NBC to promote the rest of its lineup, but viewers will have to remember to sample the network's other offerings.

The second question is which of NBC's rivals will lose viewers that NBC gains. CBS appears to be too strong across its prime time lineup to suffer, which puts ABC and Fox as the ones with the most to lose if NBC can gain traction.

Changes are also coming to the cable news networks in 2013. CNN will try to reverse its long list of problems in prime time by turning to a new leader. Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBC Universal, will be making several key programming decisions as the incoming president of CNN. His ideas on how to better compete with Fox News Channel and MSNBC make him one of the 10 media people to watch during the year.

Media Trend: Newspaper Paywalls Gain Greater Acceptance

Newspaper paywalls around premium content are nothing new, yet over the years there have only been a few brave publications that have tried them, with mixed results. Some publishers have been afraid that disappointed customers would simply turn elsewhere to get their news for free.

But 2013 could be the year that paywalls become the norm for newspapers, with readers accepting them as a part of a paper's business model. That's because Gannett, a major newspaper publisher, is installing paywalls at most of its properties, except USA Today, which likely follows a different strategy because of its national reach.

In addition, when billionaire investor Warren Buffett bought more than 60 newspapers from Media General in 2012, he indicated support for paywalls as a way to make money with a media website to offset losses in producing print editions.

With Gannett and Buffett on board, readers will simply see more paywalls protecting content. They may not like having to subscribe to get stories, but provided the content is unique and has value, expect to see paywalls becoming more accepted and more newspaper companies erecting them during 2013.

Media Trend: More Magazines Become Digital-only Publications

While newspapers try to support both print and online platforms, some magazines are taking more drastic measures in dropping their familiar newsstand copies in order to focus completely on the Internet. The biggest recent example is Newsweek, which ended its print run on December 31, 2012, and published its first digital-only edition on January 4, 2013.

Newsweek and its challenges over the years are not uncommon in the magazine industry. It's expensive to put out a glossy print edition once a week, or once a month, when readers demand instant information on their favorite subjects.

The trick for magazine publishers is to re-think how they've traditionally built their magazine brand and make the necessary adjustments to survive online. Instead of competing against dozens of rival publications on the newsstand, they must grab attention in the limitless world of the Internet.

That means the art of selling magazine advertisements must largely be forgotten, so that the focus can be shifted to selling online ads. Newsweek will be a case study to watch throughout the year to see whether this familar name can make the transition.

Media Trend: Social Media Misuse Endangers Careers

Media pros are becoming more skilled using social media. Unfortunately, that's not stopping many from hurting their careers by careless use of tools like Twitter and Facebook.

Sports reporters have turned to social media to share opinions of the teams and athletes they cover. But that's gotten several of them into trouble in recent years, when their bosses decided their tweets went too far.

That's why many media companies are establishing social media policies to govern employees' conduct online. Some go as far as to hire a social media manager to oversee all social media use.

This action proves that companies are treating social media as a critical business tool, and not just an idle pastime. Employees must consider their social media comments as a reflection on their companies and not just their own personal musings. If 2013 is like other recent years, you'll likely see many examples of otherwise intelligent people making foolish mistakes through social media.

Media Trend: Phone-hacking Scandal Brings Changes

Most people who follow media in the U.S. are well aware of the power of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, whose empire includes all of the Fox broadcast and cable TV properties, as well as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post newspapers. But many in this country may overlook how much Britain's phone-hacking scandal threatens Murdoch's legacy.

Several high-ranking executives at News Corp. have already left the company. In 2012, Murdoch himself was told he was unfit to run a media company by a group of British lawmakers who were outraged that some employees at one of Murdoch's papers were accused of hacking into people's phones in order to get stories.

In 2013, legal action may be taken in the case. It remains to be seen whether Murdoch will survive without further damaging his reputation. Beyond this investigation, some may call for reform in the way Britain's newspapers practice their interpretation of journalism ethics.

We'll certainly see some surprises in media during 2013. But these five trends will be interesting to track as developments occur throughout the year.

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