Amol: My media predictions for 2019

The willingness of humanity to forfeit decision-making to algorithms is likely to grow exponentially. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The willingness of humanity to forfeit decision-making to algorithms is likely to grow exponentially.

Looking back over my predictions for 2018, I realise they were a mixed bag at best, wet and woolly at worst. Now there's a mixed metaphor to get the year underway.

I was cowardly or wrong with my specific punts, and a bit obvious with my broad themes.

It's true that the tech-lash continued, consolidation was rampant, and we got some evidence of Russian interference in America's election.

But the phenomenon of cameras being taken up as a way of talking didn't grow exponentially, as I said it would; a major BBC News show or service didn't shut, and no foreign investor swooped on Fleet Street.

Oh well. Forecasting is but a species of fraud: common sense tells you that. But being wrong, boring or both never stopped other pundits getting rich. Here's the content of my crystal ball for 2019.

1/ Election interference on an unprecedented scale

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Revealed: The winner of the Russell Prize for the best writing of 2018

Bertrand Russell Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bertrand Russell's writing combined plain language, pertinent erudition and moral force

And so we come at last to that key annual moment in the life of licence fee payers everywhere: The Russell Prize.

For those unblessed few who had the misfortune to miss last year's inaugural event, this is a prize-giving ceremony in honour of my hero, Bertrand Russell.

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Social reform in the digital age

The Gambling Commission says 52% of online gamblers have gambled using a mobile or tablet in the last 4 weeks Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Gambling Commission says 52% of online gamblers have gambled using a mobile or tablet in the last 4 weeks

Social change has sped up and social media is one of the main reasons why.

The latest evidence is the whistle-to-whistle ban on sport advertising agreed by major betting firms in Britain this week. As my distinguished colleague Richard Conway was the first to reveal, the likes of Ladbrokes-Coral, Bet365, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair have, through their membership of the Remote Gambling Association, made the move voluntarily.

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Why tech is taking a hammering

The FAANGs have been savaged over the past week
Image caption The FAANGs have been savaged over the past week

Technology stocks have had a very bad week. For the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) which have led the charge in growth over the past decade, it was grim.

At their lowest point, all five were down more than 20 per cent from their peaks. This translates to hundreds of billions of dollars in value being wiped from them.

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Can the BBC still afford free licences for over-75s?

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Media captionThe director general of the BBC, Lord Hall says: "We need to hear views to help the BBC make the best and fairest decision."

The consultation just announced by the BBC, into whether the BBC should carry on paying for the licence-fees of over-75s, is a curious beast.

The BBC cannot be seen to take a position on the outcome, and says it will be governed by the principle of fairness - but it's clear from everything its leadership is saying that this financial burden is becoming unbearable.

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Why Sir Nick Clegg is taking a global position at Facebook

Nick Clegg Image copyright Shutterstock

Nick Clegg said no to Facebook when they first called this summer. "But in that funny way that happens," he says, "if you say no to people they suddenly become very interested in you."

In a phone call, I discussed this move with the former deputy prime minister.

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Can Harding make Slow News pay?

Tortoise founders: Editor James Harding, publisher Katie Vanneck-Smith and chairman Matthew Barzun, the former US Ambassador to Britain (with Agatha the tortoise) Image copyright Charlie Clift
Image caption Tortoise founders: Editor James Harding, publisher Katie Vanneck-Smith and chairman Matthew Barzun, the former US Ambassador to Britain (with Agatha the tortoise)

James Harding's Tortoise Media will launch in January after securing initial backing for three years from a group of eight private investors.

The former director of news and current affairs at the BBC, who this week signed Chris Cook, policy editor of Newsnight, is making a pitch for consumers who feel overwhelmed by digital news and are willing to pay subscriptions for curation and expertise.

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Gambling: A tale of two families

Gambling laws are changing but many argue greater restrictions are needed
Image caption Gambling laws are changing but many argue greater restrictions are needed

The past year has seen a decisive shift in policy toward the gambling industry.

After a long review, the government announced that the maximum bet at Fixed Odds Betting Terminals would be reduced from £100 to £2. Further work is being undertaken on how to regulate gambling online.

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The New Epochalists

Announcing the recent launch of his Day One Fund to support pre-school pupils and defeat homelessness, Jeff Bezos used a word not often deployed by global CEOs. "In addition to Amazon," he said, "my areas of focus so far have included investment in the future of our planet and…" - wait for it - "civilisation".

Civilisation is a word Bezos keeps coming back to. "Humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilisation-scale problems", he wrote in a blog post this year. "We are likely to need more long-term thinking".

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Why Comcast wanted Sky so badly

Almost three decades after Rupert Murdoch founded the broadcaster, which includes Sky News, three American companies fought over its future Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Almost three decades after Rupert Murdoch founded the broadcaster, which includes Sky News, three American companies fought over its future

It ended with a blowout offer. After years of scrutiny from regulators, bids and counter-bids, the winning offer for majority control of British broadcaster Sky came in above expectations.

Comcast's winning £17.28-a-share bid for Sky smashed the £15.67 Disney were prepared to go up to. Why were Comcast prepared to pay so much? Because they are desperate and Sky is too juicy to ignore. Let's take those in reverse order.

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