Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.

In response to COVID-19 and the associated lockdown and economic crash, advertisers have slashed budgets. Online budgets are not immune.

This has clarified features of the online ad market: it is demand-driven, relies heavily on SMEs and startups, and is built on direct response campaigns.

We expect online advertising to outperform other media, and for platforms to further gain share. But with a very few exceptions, this health and economic disaster is good for nobody.

2020 promises a year of transition for the games industry: eSports and games broadcasting are competing with traditional programming; game streaming services are becoming meaningful platform competition; and new consoles are on the way.

While most in the studio and TV industries continue to struggle with the games market—neither understanding (or seeing) a strategic fit, nor showing a willingness to invest—expect explosive growth to power the industry for the next decade and transform all entertainment services, not just games.

The ‘free-to-play’ games sector requires oversight and regulation to protect children and the vulnerable; expect regulatory turbulence in the UK, Europe and China.

With elections in the UK in December, and in the US in 2020, online political advertising is receiving intense scrutiny. Google has announced limits on targeting, while Twitter has banned politicians from buying ads

Facebook is the big player in online political ads, and it continues to allow targeted political ads, and to carve them out as exempt from fact-checking

Facebook wants to keep Republicans on side and surf the revenue opportunity, but pressure will increase with US elections, and we expect Facebook to bring in restrictions

Google’s advertising business has begun losing market share in the US, with competition from Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft intensifying in search and display

In response, the company is redoubling efforts to reshape its apps, services, and the entire web for more efficient monetisation, spelling uncertainty for partners and users

The adaptability and complexity of Google’s services reduce business risk from targeted regulatory measures, but increase the pressure for a radical intervention

After the most challenging period in its history since 2012, Facebook has been able to stabilise its fundamental metrics and announce a major product overhaul

Despite talk of a business model pivot, Facebook’s focus remains on advertising, whose growth will remain concentrated in developed markets

News publishers wishing to stay relevant on the upgraded product set need to target exclusive layers of social interaction, with groups particularly important

Launched to the world in September 2017, TikTok is the first Chinese app to pose a serious threat to Western social media companies as it attracts hundreds of millions of Generation Z users around the globe

Privately-owned parent company Bytedance earned $7 billion in online advertising revenues in 2018 and is valued at $75 billion, placing it ahead of Uber as the world’s most valuable internet start-up, with an IPO likely this year

Bytedance’s goal of earning half its revenue outside China by 2022 is far from certain. In order to hit the target, TikTok will need to attain super scale with best-in-class revenue per user, an unlikely combination

Recently issued regulator rulings on Google, ad tech companies and Facebook challenge prevailing online advertising practices of obtaining user consent under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Rulings from France on Google and ad tech partners of media owners called them out for inadequate disclosure to users, and excessive merging and processing of data

In a landmark precedent for Germany, the Federal Cartel Office found that Facebook lacked “freely given” consent from users, calling its terms “exploitative” and an abuse of its dominant position, also harming competitors

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home accelerated their prodigious rate of adoption in Q4 2018, and we expect they will soon be in 20% of UK homes

Amazon and Google price devices low to drive adoption to mass-market levels and win the race to own the home, in contrast to Apple’s profit-making strategy for its speaker

Echo’s main strategic benefits to Amazon are the scope for data collection and the intelligence it supports, and gatekeeping partners’ access to customers