We know this much: There will be an election next year. People will spend, eat, watch and use technology, and countries will engage in diplomacy — and conflict. The details will be what make the year interesting. We asked Washington Post beat reporters and columnists to think about big themes we’ll look back on around this time next December.
Mike Madden, Washington Post
The last few months of 2019 were filled with streaming news. From the nonstop marketing of Jennifer Aniston in Apple TV Plus’ “The Morning Show” to that ubiquitous Baby Yoda from Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian,” it seemed like the spigot might never turn off.
This will be a year of new digital programming — and new services to deliver it. Just two weeks into 2020, Comcast will unveil more details about Peacock, its new service with content from across NBC Universal properties, set to launch several months later. The spring will also bring HBO Max, the prestige-branded service with all manner of TV shows and movies from the WarnerMedia empire. Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus, both of which launched in November, will add more content throughout the year, too — as will Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.
Viewers will have an ever-wider choice of fresh programming. Want new seasons of fan favorites “Search Party” and “The Boondocks”? They’ll be on HBO Max. It’s the final episodes of “BoJack Horseman” you crave? Where else but Netflix? Looking for “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” to give you a fix between Marvel movies? Disney Plus has you covered.
Finding out when new episodes premiere, let alone whether they’re worth watching, will be a task far more complicated than your Twitter feed can keep up with.
And it will all be expensive. Turns out spending sacks of cash on new shows and movies — Netflix alone is expected to shell out in excess of $15 billion in 2020 — isn’t easy without ad revenue. Services have to charge, whether that’s the $5 a month for Apple TV Plus or the $15 for HBO Max. For consumers, that means piling on to a monthly entertainment bill or making tough choices about what to forgo.
Plant-based meat was so 2019. Big Beef put this interloper on the defensive, mostly in anticipation of what will surely be the food world’s biggest game changer in the year to come: cell-cultured meat, poultry and seafood products derived from muscle tissue grown in a lab with cells harvested from a living animal.
It is unclear which U.S. company will be first to market — chicken and duck from Memphis Meats in Berkeley, Calif., with investors such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Tyson Foods; Wagyu beef or chicken nuggets from Just (formerly Hampton Creek), whose investors include Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund; or bluefin tuna from Finless Foods — but Barclays analysts say “alt meat” could in the next decade capture 10 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry.
Much of it hinges on rates of adoption. The numbers of vegans and vegetarians aren’t growing much. These new products are geared toward omnivores and “flexitarians,” but as with genetically modified organisms more than a decade ago, some consumers distrust food that has been tinkered with in a laboratory.
As it happens, that will also be an issue with another trend this coming year: grocery store foods that are gene-edited with CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Romaine and white potatoes that don’t brown or bruise, and a gene-edited farmed tilapia that grows quickly, are among the foods improved via tiny DNA snips, essentially accelerating the selection of desirable traits that Gregor Mendel achieved via crossbreeding his peas. Whether consumers will embrace these new foods is unknown. For now, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed overseeing gene-edited animals as drugs, something the meat industry thinks will disadvantage American producers.
Few things unite President Donald Trump and the Democrats vying to take his place in the White House, but both are readying for battle against Big Tech.
Amazon, Facebook, Google and their Silicon Valley peers could face the first major consequences in the coming year from investigations by state and federal regulators into whether they undermine privacy, mishandle sensitive online content, damage elections or quash competition.
Amazon is in the cross hairs for the tactics it’s used to dominate e-commerce, Facebook for the way it gobbles up users’ data (and its corporate rivals) and Google for its dominance of the online ad business. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Attorney General William Barr has said the Justice Department plans to wrap up its wide-ranging look at search, social media and online shopping in 2020. That could result in calls for new regulations and potentially punishments — the most extreme being an attempt to break up one or more companies.
If Trump loses the White House, the pressure will mount: Democratic contenders, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have promised to unwind some of the mergers that helped the giants become so big in the first place, such as Facebook’s purchases of the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging platform WhatsApp.
Internet companies spent $55 million over the first nine months of this year to lobby Washington, and they’ll throw more political weight around as the threat grows.
Although risks remain, the U.S. economy appears unlikely to fall into a recession in 2020. Another year of decent economic growth will probably make it easier for even more Americans to find jobs — and boost President Trump’s chances of re-election. And the trade wars that dominated economic discussion in 2019 seem to be over, at least for now.
Growth is expected to be 1.8 percent next year, according to a closely watched survey of economists. That’s far from the boom that Trump promised and slower than this year’s pace of about 2.2 percent and last year’s rate of 2.9 percent — but the president and the Federal Reserve may have it in their power to nudge the figure upward.
Trump just reached trade agreements with China, Canada and Mexico. The deals are more modest than what he vowed he could achieve, but they signal that the president is hitting pause on his trade battles, a welcome relief for Wall Street investors and many business leaders. If Trump keeps the peace on trade, business spending could resume.
Although unemployment is at a 50-year low, the position of the middle class remains precarious. Jobs that pay middle-income wages are increasingly going away, replaced by positions paying over $100,000 or under $30,000. That socially destabilizing phenomenon will be a focus of the presidential race.
The motives of the millions who took to the streets in Santiago, La Paz, Algiers and Basra were as varied as their geography. But the demonstrators were united in what has become an epochal display of global discontent, an explosion of popular unrest that capped a decade of angst and anger. When they weren’t clamoring for greater freedoms and democracy, protesters were marching against corruption, inequality and state brutality. In their wake, presidents fled, prime ministers resigned and governments fell.
And the movements that flared in 2019 aren’t about to peter out.
Across Latin America, a creaking social contract seems on the verge of collapse: In Chile, widely viewed as one of South America’s most stable societies, weeks of protests against austerity measures compelled the center-right president to shuffle his Cabinet and announce reforms. But protesters remain on the streets, demanding a wholesale remaking of the socioeconomic order. Demonstrators in Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Haiti echoed the call for economic justice. An uprising in Bolivia chased out a long-ruling leftist president, while autocrats in Venezuela and Nicaragua cling to power despite popular challenges. More polarization, paralysis and violence may follow.
That’s all the more on view in the Arab world, where a stunning wave of protests unseated leaders in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq. But an entrenched and often corrupt old guard is desperately trying to stay in control. In Iraq, security forces and pro-Iran militias have killed about 500 people and are preparing for a deeper crackdown.
Iran hasn’t been spared, either. In November, authorities cut off internet access and killed potentially hundreds to quash protests that erupted after a rise in fuel prices. As Iran’s theocratic regime enters its fifth decade, a tanking economy and widespread public anger over political elites’ mismanagement and corruption only add to the sense of a brewing existential crisis.
In Hong Kong, a sustained pro-democracy movement remains grimly determined, defying the authoritarian leadership in Beijing and its local proxies. China has no intention of acceding to protesters’ demands, though, and 2020 could mark a bloody tipping point for Asia’s financial capital.