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Conan Loses, YouTube Wins in Catharine P. Taylor's Six 2010 Media Predictions

Though I rarely jump into the year-end predictions fray, this year was so full of tumult in the media industry, from the crumbling fortunes of newspapers to the rise of Twitter, that I have to get into the game. As 2009 has been a year in which many media organizations have been reeling with changes in economics and consumer behavior, 2010 will be the year that many of them start doing something about it, which is the stuff predictions are made of. Here then, six (clairvoyant) media predictions for 2010:

1. Within the Leno/Conan/Fallon entertainment axis, Conan loses. C'mon, people. We can't expect that a year from now, NBC will still have Jay Leno setting new ratings lows at 10 p.m. while Conan O'Brien does the same with "The Tonight Show" at 11:35, and Jimmy Fallon cruises along with "Late Night" at 12:35 p.m. Here's what will happen: NBC will move Jay Leno back to "The Tonight Show" where he belongs and because he's a company man who does what he's asked to do. Jimmy Fallon will stay right where he is because his ratings have been OK and because there's no way O'Brien could turn back now. O'Brien will be given some vague development deal and then decamp to another network. (Ancillary prediction: new NBC Universal owner Comcast will throw record amounts of money at dozens of new 10 p.m. drama pilots, all of which will fail miserably because broadcast TV as we know it, is dead. Except for new "Law & Order" and "CSI" spinoffs.)

2. There will be a major privacy gaffe involving Facebook (tip of the hat to Kevin Barenblat of ContextOptional on this one). Now that it's possible to tell the entire universe what you're up to, and Facebook Connect is available on hundreds of content sites, there will be an uncomfortable, maybe even unintentionally illegal, crossover concerning information that was meant to be private, but was shared and targeted to anyway. (Ancillary prediction: Tiger Woods will not be opening up a personal Facebook account in 2010. He has more "friends" than he can deal with right now -- the group "I have also slept with Tiger Woods" currently has almost 275,000 members.)

3. MySpace will become an entertainment site with social networking features, instead of being a social networking site with entertainment features. It is already part way there with acquisitions such as iLike, a vast video library and the continued ascendance of Facebook making it an also-ran in social networking. In order to save, well, face, it will unsuccessfully try to coin a new term for whatever it is (social-tainment? Entertain-networking?), so it looks like it's staking out new territory rather than exiting the stage as a noteworthy social net.

4. Super Bowl XLIV will be the first social Super Bowl, with CBS incorporating Twitter and Facebook Connect into its coverage. As I've said earlier, all big events are going social, making the Big Game's socialization inevitable. (Ancillary prediction: in a scandal not seen since Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction, a player in the game will tweet from the sidelines, get suspended, and pay a massive fine. NFL players have proven amazingly adept at mis-using Twitter.)

5. YouTube will become profitable. As popular as it has been in its short life, YouTube has never been able to fully capitalize on its popularity, but with a raft of new developments toward the end of 2009, the Google-owned site is poised for a breakthrough year on the revenue front. First, it's rumored to be looking at a subscription model for some premium content; second, it opened the doors of Vevo, an ad-supported site of music videos, with most of the major record companies on board; third, YouTube is refining its suggestion engine, getting better at showing content to individual users that might interest them. The goal of that initiative is to up the amount of time a user spends on the site, which should have impact on revenue. These moves follow other smaller efforts to make the site more advertiser-friendly, such as letting media companies sell inventory themselves and give YouTube a cut. Taken together, these little streams will lead to a river of revenue for YouTube.

6. The newspaper industry will try to move to an online subscription model, but it won't work. We are ringing out the year of hand-wringing in the newspaper industry. Unfortunately, much of the talk about revenue generation centers around bringing a subscription model to online, with entities like Steven Brill's Journalism Online LLC promising to handle transactions. While I fully expect newspapers will actually try out a paid model in 2010, they will fail. Most of the interest is from the publisher side, not the consumer side, which is a recipe for a non-product; no one has yet proven that there's a market for paid newspaper content that doesn't revolve around a specialty like Wall Street, despite what Rupert Murdoch thinks.

OK, that's it. It's almost 5:30 EST in New York and the New Year is but 6.5 hours away. See you next year.

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