Look Back/Look Ahead: Canada’s biggest publishers will be hardest hit, says Wittur

Bottree Digital Services' Bill Wittur offers his take on the 2009 digiscape.

As part of our continuing Look Back/Look Ahead series, MiC caught up with Bill Wittur, who has been involved in the online media industry since the ‘early days’ in the late 1990s and now owns and operates London, ON-based Bottree Digital Services, a consulting co for agencies like Mindshare, mediaedge:cia, ZenithOptimedia, Starcom Mediavest Group and JWT, seeking to leverage the digital environment.

MiC: What were some of ’08′s big trends in the digital world?

1. Tools: There are some really exciting tools being made available to advertisers that will permanently alter the dynamics of the agency/client/consumer business model. Google leads the pack with easy-to-use tools that anyone can operate anywhere, and we should expect more innovation from them in 2009.

2. Open Source: Many organizations, large and small, are discovering the merits of the open-source software and mindset. Even Yahoo has jumped into the game with its launch of BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service).

3. Social: Dialogue has changed everything, and it’s just getting started. The notion of giving up control has never created so many opportunities for advertisers.

MiC: What trends or issues are you spying on the horizon?

The general thought is that 2009 will be a buyer’s market for digital media, but only in the case of portals and sites that fail to engage the user. The bright lights will continue to be search and ad networks.

However, we’ll see the global financial crisis really erode the influence of the twin pillars of marketing: mainstream publishers and traditional agencies. As large advertisers pull back on advertising, those hit hardest will be Canada’s biggest publishers. Smaller publishers are used to shoestring budgets and will do a much better job of weathering the financial storm. Traditional agencies will be put between a rock and a hard place because the new economics will be very disruptive to an old model of doing business.

As an extension of that, the Internet will continue to be the great equalizer, in that smaller companies will be able to compete with substantially larger organizations.

I made up the term P4P, or Peer-for-peer, to show that we’ll experience an evolution in social media, pushed by the dismal economic climate. People may not have the financial resources in 2009 to give to their favourite charities or causes, but they will still possess the desire to see them succeed. P4P simply means more people will give their time and use the web to spread the word about causes they believe in. We already see it with social media, but it’ll really pick up steam in 2009. Also, barter exchanges will grow in popularity. And expect the use of auction sites to increase as people are forced to consolidate their personal assets.

Another aspect is that people will be contributing more content to their favourite publishers, possibly in exchange for a share of the revenue stream.

‘Local’ will surprise observers with how quickly it will grow. As an extension of the P4P philosophy, people will be doing what they can to support local enterprises. This will be of great detriment to big boxes and companies that don’t reinvest in local communities.

MiC: What do you see as the next big opportunity?

Government 2.0. Obama led the way with this philosophy by launching Change.gov. Government 2.0 is P4P on steroids, where citizens get really involved with the direction that their government takes, regardless of what party they believe in. Just beware of the freepers.

MiC: Will there be a change.ca?

In Canada, most government sites are a mess. There are substantial opportunities to create websites that are ‘of the people and for the people,’ to steal a phrase from the US, but I doubt we’ll see big change in the near term.

I’m surprised to see that Canada doesn’t have a more robust industry that revolves around online education, certification and conferences. Given our physical expansiveness, you’d expect to see us try to close that gap with online video, more paid webinars and Skype conference calls. We have the tools, but I think the slowness to adopt relates to Canada’s marketers still wanting to touch and feel a product as opposed to showing a little faith that it exists when it’s presented in ones and zeroes.

Facebook Connect – and applications that come from it – will fill any gaps left by Google when it comes to media opportunities in Canada.

MiC: What’s the next big looming threat?

Failure of the CRTC to act on the issue of net neutrality will result in a squelching of growth in the digital sector. If the ‘keepers of the gate’ engage in practices like throttling and control available bandwidth, expect to see media boycotts and legal actions become the norm.