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1999 Predictions

Just as reporters everywhere have filed their year-end retrospectives, Birnbach Communications has decided to look at 1998's top trends/stories. Based on conversations with a number of top national reporters, a close reading of the media, and some wild guesses, we also listed some predictions of trends that could affect our clients in 1999.

If you would like to brainstorm the implications of these predictions, please contact the Norman Birnbach at

Next trends:

  • DOJ-MS coverage: the possible breaking up of MS
  • The toughest challenge tech companies: it's recruiting
  • The search for a web-based business model that makes money
  • Entrepreneurial lessons
  • Backlashes: dot.coms
  • Telecom/broadband
  • Day trading, and its impact on the market volatility
  • Y2K backlash/Y2K litigation
  • Linux
  • E-customer service
  • Media partnerships: WSJ & CNBC, WSJ Interactive & CNBC/ZDNN; Imus & NBC/CBS
  • Spinning off Internet divisions
  • Increased use of Freelancers by mainstream dailies

Top '99 Stories Predictions

Y2K may be 1999's biggest story. The national media will probably address these stories and angles:

  • Will Y2K really bring doom and gloom?
  • How will Y2K impact ordinary consumers?
  • What can consumers do to protect/insulate themselves, their bank accounts and ATMs access, computers and VCRs?
  • How are technology companies addressing the problem for customers?
  • Are city/state/federal agencies prepared?
  • What impact will Y2K have on the stock market?
  • Y2K and potential disruptions. Y2K and survivalists
  • Profiles of companies making money from Y2K
  • A look at Y2K lawsuits
  • What will Y2K's impact be on corporations' bottom-lines?

The Euro:
With 11 European countries replacing their currencies with the Euro starting Jan. 1, the Euro will be one of the big stories in Jan., but interest should decline by mid-year. The national media are beginning to address these angles.

  • Are US companies ready for the Euro?
  • How does a common currency affect pricing across Europe – when a Swatch currently costs 50% more in Belgium than in Italy?
  • Technologies enabling companies to convert to the Euro will probably only get coverage if there's a real problem
  • How will the Euro impact ordinary Americans, particularly those traveling in the European Union and those using traveler checks?
  • Will the EU's central bank be able to effectively manage 11 economies?
  • Will changing to the Euro impact corporation's bottom-lines?

The Millennium:
This is the big "evergreen" general interest story for next year, particularly as we close in on Dec. Expect each newsweekly to place this on their covers – for that slow week between the Senate impeachment trial, continued posturing by Saddam Hussein, the cancellation of the NBA season, continued market volatility, hearings on the possible privatization of Social Security, Y2K updates, and a ruling in the MS-DOJ trial. Here are a few possible story angles:

  • What impact will the new millennium have on people? On religions?
  • When does the Millennium actually begin: 2000 or 2001?
  • Profile of people getting rich from the Millennium
  • What affect will technology have on society in the 21st century?
  • What will be the key new technologies?
  • Overview of corporate naming strategies for 20th Century Fox, Century 21, and other companies that refer to a century.

E-commerce expected to reach $8 billion in '98, and to exceed $100 billion by 2003. The battle of vs. will become the '90s version of Coke vs. Pepsi, but the media will continue to address the following angles:

  • What developments will spur its growth?
  • What companies are succeeding with their e-commerce implementations?
  • What companies are stumbling? What are lessons learned?
  • Are consumers embracing e-commerce? Which demographics?
  • Will the Portal business model succeed?
  • What are people buying online?
  • Will e-commerce be directed at consumers or other businesses?
  • Will e-commerce change the way companies handle supply chain logistics? Will e-commerce lower costs?
  • What impact will the growth of e-commerce have on the express shipping industry?
  • What will customer service be like in an e-world?
  • Are companies prepared for the demands of e-commerce? Can they handle all the incoming orders? (The NYTimes recently profiled's efforts to handle the Christmas crunch, with VPs helping ship out books.)
  • Are online transactions changing Wall Street?
  • What will be the impact on the New York Stock Exchange if it initiates earlier trading hours to handle foreign stocks?
  • Is e-commerce boosting the stock price of traditional companies, like Charles Schwab?
  • Is e-commerce changing business models?
  • Can the growth of e-commerce be attributed to the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which establishes a three-year moratorium on online sales?
  • What are the implications for the future of e-commerce once an online sales tax is established? Will consumers go back to catalogs or the mall?

Internet Privacy and Security:
These stories will proliferate, especially if any major site – like the New York Times – gets hacked. Look for coverage to tie-in with the possible opening of "Takedown," a movie based on John Markoff's book, "Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick," especially since other reporters – like NYTimes' Katie Hafner and Michele Slatalla and Time Magazine's Joshua Quittner – have covered the same issues and hacker. They will likely focus on the following:

  • Are online transactions secure?
  • Profiles of any major sites that have been hacked
  • What steps can companies take to protect themselves?
  • What steps can consumers take?
  • Are transactions private – or can third-parties get hold of your purchasing patterns?
  • Are websites gathering too much information about users?
  • Are children who surf the 'Net safe?
  • What steps parents can take to protect their children?
  • What personal information is available online?
  • Can hackers steal your identity?
  • Last year the Social Security website inadvertently listed citizen's social security numbers. Are government agencies adequately protecting your personal information?

Internet, Internet stocks and Internet II:
Expect a backlash against Internet stocks like Amazon (which could reach $400 per share), Yahoo, etc., especially as others fail (Zapata) or consolidate. The national media will continue to be interested in:

  • Internet stock hype: how should investors really value internet companies when – which does not generate a profit – has a market value that exceeds the combined value of Barnes & Nobles and Borders, the country's two largest booksellers, which do generate a profit?
  • The next Internet Gen-X billionaire, like the CEO of eBay, now worth $2 billion
  • The plans for Internet II (as those plans solidify), including the benefits and the differences over the current Internet
  • Bandwidth issues, including major problems (like when AT&T WorldNet crashed), traffic jams and the question of cable modems, ASDL, etc.
  • The browser battle between Microsoft and AOL's Netscape Navigator

Convergence of technology/The future of the industry:
As more products combine features – PDAs, PalmPilots, "Smart Appliances" – the computer age is rapidly turning into the Communication Revolution, with telecommunications/wireless technology leading the way for the development and acceptance of "Internet Appliances," devices that are smaller, cheaper, easier to use, and designed to handle specialized tasks. (The Journal and Business Week have both added staffers to cover telecommunications.) National media will focus on:

  • New consumer products that will change the way we live or work
  • The social/lifestyle implications, including the question whether we will have more personal time or simply more time for work
  • The incredibly fast-pace of technology innovation, including the social implications and the impact on buying decisions (figuring out when to buy – or not to buy – equipment that's already out-of-date or for which standards have not been completely established (like HDTV)
  • What will drive the development and acceptance of Internet Appliances?
  • The battle for Java – but only in so far as Java enables Internet Appliances
  • The battle for users in a networked, Internet Appliance world: Is this the end of Wintel's dominance?
  • The business implications of the under-$500 computer: will it lead to industry consolidation? Commodization? Increased penetration of the home market, from 45% to 100%?

New technologies are enabling more employees to work remotely (see above). Reporters will pick up a story that until recently they had dropped: virtual office-workers. The media will be interested in:

  • Technologies that make telecommuting possible (see convergence)
  • Companies that have successfully integrated remote employees
  • Estimates for growth in the number of remote employees
  • Career challenges for remote employees
  • Implications for communities attracting an influx of remote employees (the NYTimes just wrote an article on the topic: "Why Wall St. is losing to 40 acres and a modem")

Global tech issues:
With the EU joining forces and economic crises throughout the Third World, the media will probably look at:

  • Implications of the growing technology divide between haves vs. have-nots.
  • Will the tech gap affect job opportunities? Global corporations?
  • What is the significance of "cultural trade deficits"? – as marked by the growing influence of Hollywood and the growing importance of English as the language of the world's elite. (The official language of the EU is English, for example.)

Education/US Brain Drain:
As candidates start positioning themselves for the 2000 election, the media will start focusing on the state of the US educational system. Most of the media will focus on issues like:

  • Teacher shortages
  • School vouchers and cluster schools
  • Violence in schools (like in Jonesboro, Ark.)
  • Computers in the classroom, including: the battle of the haves vs. have-nots (because many schools either still are not wired to the Internet or have much-outdated equipment) and the social and financial implications for US
  • The US Brain Drain and the possible implications of a severe shortage of US-born technology workers – the result of a diminishing number of US students pursuing an education in math or engineering. The country – and leading technology employees – are going to have to address this issue

Telemedcine and online healthcare offerings:
More resources, diagnostics, advice and treatment will be offered via the 'Net. With this kind of clutter, client stories will have to emphasize significant advantages over any competition. For any healthcare client, the other top stories will probably include:

  • The continued financial problems facing HMOs
  • The "whistleblower" lawsuit against Columbia/HCA, the country's largest healthcare corporation
  • The market volatility for biotech companies
  • The increasing importance of online medial resources

Biotechnological and pharmacological advances:
The national media avidly reported on the latest breakthroughs for cancer, AIDS, heart disease, etc., in 1998, and that trend will continue – even though most breakthroughs are still several years away from even being tested on humans! This kind of coverage, lead by a front-page NYTimes article, turned Judah Folkman, a cell biologist at Children's Hospital in Boston who spent 25 years pursuing an obscure cancer therapy – into a poster child for hypochondriacs.



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