7 predictions that will shape how we shop, play, and show up in 2021

Note: Verizon Media is now known as Yahoo.

While it feels good to see 2020 in the rearview mirror, what surprises does 2021 have in store as the sequel to the year unlike any other? With so many forces in play including vaccine rollouts, economic re-starts and sweeping industry changes, forecasting what lies ahead can be a challenge - but there are some trends that point to 2021 as a year of growth and opportunity.

As the world optimistically welcomes 2021, we know we’re in for another unique experience as we discover what next year’s new normal looks like. Here are some observations and thoughts on what to expect and, more importantly, how to navigate.

Adtech is hot again

Wall Street is back in love with adtech, as public companies exceed expectations. We’re seeing reports of big filings coming from private companies, and M&A has returned to the category after it fell off a cliff in the first half. What’s going on? 

A lot, actually. The record pace of cord cutting and CTV adoption is continuing to accelerate budget flows from TV to advanced TV. Digital Out-of-Home assets are popping up in more places, expanding opportunities for omni-channel buying as cities gradually open back up. And the massive rise in ecommerce in all its forms has heightened the urgency for more ease and efficiency to make campaigns more effective in 2021 and beyond.

The price of privacy

From shifting consumer privacy preferences to global legislation to changes in the way browsers operate, it’s becoming more challenging every day for brands to effectively engage with their audiences in meaningful and respectful ways. 

Marketers and publishers need a solution to bridge the identity gap and deliver growth while honoring privacy preferences and maintaining a good consumer experience. Industry leaders that have built an identity graph using a diversity of owned, consent-based, cross-channel, first-party data will be in the best position to help marketers lean into alternative identity, targeting and measurement solutions beyond the cookie.

Look for a host of identity solutions to be tested (and validated) in the market this year.

Everything is connected in the omnichannel media journey 

Consumers were flocking to steaming services well before the pandemic. But now, without a doubt, CTV is the epicenter of ad sales. Competition among SVOD services will radically alter ad spends away from TV Upfronts and give continued rise to AVOD services (advertising-based on demand). In fact, we’re likely to see some subscription-based services testing a hybrid model with ads in 2021.

And that’s just the world of TV screens. Digital-Out-of-Home is set to explode next year via a combination of pent-up demand for going out, as well as the growing availability of DOOH inventory through programmatic channels. Add native formats, dynamic ads, AR, audio, and more to the omni-channel mix, and advertisers have no shortage of meaningful opportunities to connect - and no shortage of complex decisions to make. 

But perhaps no industry experienced more radical change in 2020 than retail. With 90% of shoppers preferring home delivery over an in-store visit, online retailers must innovate to stay relevant. We’re likely to see more AR-enabled commerce, as well as richer forms of interactive video and dynamic online storefronts from industries you’d expect (fashion, tech) and some you might not (medical, health and wellness, grocery).

Get ready for the year of immersive experiences

AR and VR are being used to bridge the physical distance divide from concerts to classrooms, and the expansion of 5G will lead to more innovative form factors to deliver immersive XR experiences.

We’ve seen it in the sports world, where fans embraced the NBA’s bubble via a VR through Oculus that digitally transported people to games. Even when fans return to arenas, don’t rule out continued room to line up in the virtual stands. As processing for content experiences moves to the edge of the cloud, it will bring stadiums into the home in XR with interactive replays and stats and gaming as the action happens. 

These types of digital touchpoints will ultimately become the norm in 2021, enhancing and, in some cases, replacing many in-person experiences outright. 

Latency clouds are lifting

Smartphone usage is expected to account for 50% of global internet traffic in 2022, with nearly 80% of that mobile traffic for video. The deployment of 5G is central to that growth, as greater bandwidth and speeds will also trigger greater demand for high-quality video content, services and experiences. To fulfill that demand, CDN (content delivery network) architecture is critical. 

A CDN shares and loads video content from a data center closer to the user’s network edge. This reduces transmission delay and loads from a sole data center. With CDN technology capable of delivering high performance video experiences and distribution with low latency, demand for it will skyrocket in 2021 as 5G scales further.

You’ve Got Identity

What will replace the cookie in 2021? Email. Yes, good old email is the de-facto successor to the cookie as the battle rages on between open source identity and proprietary identity.

Open source would commoditize identity away from the walled gardens, which sounds great in theory. But there are concerns around the quality of this data, who 'polices' usage and the potential regulation by legislators.

We’re looking at a 2021 where open source and proprietary data can live side by side, with identity differentiated by direct consumer consent and association to deterministic signals that can be shared in a privacy-centric way. We're building something similar with our own identity graph, Verizon Media ConnectID.

The 5G Revolution Marches On

The nationwide availability of 5G in the US has set the stage for transformative, immersive, engaging and personalized experiences. Get ready for the great disruption with this window into what’s to come: 

  • Live Sports- Users will get more control over what they watch - from stats that show up on the screen, to preferred camera angles, to fantasy-team view - and where they watch (virtual private stadium with friends, anyone?). 
  • Commerce- XR-enabled personalized storefronts designed for each individual shopper will remove friction, guarantee best price and offer a unique buying experience.
  • Education- While online education platforms have been evolving over the last decade, the advancements in XR, Edge Compute and 5G have set the stage for personalized learning at scale.
  • Healthcare - Augmented surgery, remote healthcare, ML powered detection - this is just the start. We are seeing the beginning of a transformation - one where healthcare expertise is available everywhere and more lives can be saved. 
  • Manufacturing - Technologies will enable defect detection and remediation at the source. This will not only reduce waste in a process, it will improve product safety.
  • Transportation - Connectivity, MEC and deployment of IoT sensors will enable not only real-time monitoring of goods, it could also enable real-time route adjustments to accomplish inventory and/or profitability goals.

The world has changed so much in one short year. Let’s transform it again for the better in 2021.

Advertise with us

Let’s work together to make your next campaign a success.

Get in touch

More insights


Lean on me: tips for meaningful mentor relationships

Jen Whelan, VP, Head of B2B Marketing, Yahoo, shared The Secret Sauce of Problem Solving and her top tips for building career-defining mentor relationships at the Advertising Week APAC 2022.


The four tools you need to create a more fulfilling career

Yahoo’s VP and Head of APAC, Paul Sigaloff, sat down with globally renowned author and blue flame business thinker, Rishad Tobaccowala, to talk about tools you need to take control of your career.


Meet the top performing ad creative of 2021 in Yahoo HK

A good creative ad could effectively make a sale, gain new customers and boost brand value, that's why Yahoo Creative Studios team has charted the Top Performing Ads of 2021 for you