The games industry enjoyed a robust 2020, with the pandemic creating high demand across titles and platforms. Now a core part of the mainstream media and entertainment ecosystem, games share of entertainment spend and audience viewing time will maintain momentum and increase in 2021.

The demand for, and value of, premium content has migrated to game IP, with top franchises driving increased M&A activity and tighter integration with film and TV output, and providing an important advertising channel.

The pandemic has provided breathing space for the industry on regulatory scrutiny of revenue models, and overall consumer safety. Regulators need to increase their speed in 2021, and act decisively on predatory ‘free-to-play’ game mechanisms.

The launch of new games consoles this week showcases broadly divergent strategies for Sony and Microsoft, with market leader PlayStation focused solely on defending its model against the rising tide of cheaper subscription games services.

Xbox's consumer offer is the best value proposition for these difficult economic times, attracting new customers and positioning for growth, and stopping slavish devotion to 'core gamers' in the process.

Amazon's Luna lands, providing big competition in game streaming services for Google's Stadia. But nobody is taking any notice, as neither provide a real breakthrough for the industry or great value for gamers. Stadia’s lifespan could be limited.

ByteDance is rushing to sell a 20% stake in TikTok Global to Oracle and Walmart at an enterprise value of $60 billion. TikTok otherwise faces a ban in the US on 12 November, subject to legal challenges.

The sale hinges on ByteDance obtaining approval from China to export TikTok’s core technologies. China updated its export control rules to include algorithms (and AI), entrenching a tech cold war with the West.

TikTok has confounded regulatory woes in India and the US, and renewed competition from US tech, to post dizzying user growth in every major internet region where it is available, casting off its image as a niche youth product and entering the mainstream.

Microsoft hopes to buy TikTok from Chinese owner ByteDance before President Trump’s Executive Order halts transactions with the company in mid-September. Twitter is now in the game, but is unlikely to prevail

Worth tens of billions, TikTok would be the biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s history. This hot new digital platform has hundreds of millions of users and an ad business that could overtake Snapchat’s. Extracting the technology from ByteDance may take years

Selling TikTok to shake off anti-Chinese scrutiny would signal ByteDance’s abrupt exit from the digital world stage with a fabulous return on its investment, while letting TikTok users continue to enjoy the service. However, losing TikTok sinks the global growth story that ByteDance was lining up for its anticipated IPO

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.

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

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Amazon’s recent deals with Apple in TV, music and device sales mark a turning point after a decade of frosty relations

The context for this involves shifting priorities at both firms, growing pressure on Apple’s iPhone business, and rivals in common — first and foremost Google, but also the likes of Netflix and Spotify

The uneasy alliance helps both companies consolidate their strengths in the platform competition over media and the connected home — but trouble already brews

Spotify is now the world’s first publicly listed on-demand music streaming service. Its global footprint generated €4 billion in 2017 from over 70 million paying subscribers and 90 million ad-funded users across 65 countries

As it expands, the service is steadily but surely moving ever closer to profitability, with a 2019 operating profit a very real prospect

So far and for the near future, Spotify’s global pre-eminence versus competition from Apple, Amazon and Google proves remarkably resilient. Plans to build upon its differentiating features will become ever more decisive as the tech titans will continue to wield their resources and ecosystems against the comparatively undiversified company

For the second consecutive year, the global recorded music industry body IFPI reported rising trade revenues, growing 5.9% to reach $15.6 billion in 2016

Our forecasts supplement IFPI’s trade revenue data with richer national-level consumer expenditure data from local bodies in core markets, and project CAGR of 2.3% to 2021, tapering off as streaming approaches maturity

This fairly modest topline growth for global recorded music streaming trade revenues is the product of our judgement that the marketplace remains awash with free music. Streaming trade revenue growth could be higher still if the industry finds a solution to piracy through technological or regulatory means, obviating the need for the ad-funded compromise

The “fair return” to US music publishers and songwriters for rights used by interactive streaming services will be decided in 2017 by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB)

Rights owners want to switch to a fixed per-stream or per-user rate on all tiers, arguing music has an inherent value. Apple is asking for a much lower per-stream rate

Amazon, Google, Spotify and Pandora warn of disruption to free and ad-supported tiers if the revenue-share tariff is not rolled over, and the CRB could side with them