The Carefully Sculpted Reality of the Meeker Trends Report

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with the complete deck from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report, as I do every year when it comes out from her team at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. This year’s edition weighs in at over 350 slides, and it covers everything from telecommunications to cloud computing. I’m not the only one who eagerly awaits this deck every year. In fact, Techcrunch calls it “the best way to get up to speed on everything going on in tech.

I spent a fair amount of time with this impressive report in preparation for another annual event, the episode of The Marketing Companion (the podcast I do with Mark Schaefer) that we devote to our favorite tidbits from the Meeker report (you can listen to that very show here.) A couple of things struck me this year that I’m not sure I had spent much time thinking about in previous years.

First, why is this report so eagerly awaited? Why do so many publications cover it, and why do people like me devour it for the latest information on trends in tech? The short answer is that is is both authoritative and exhaustive. In other words, the rare example of quality AND quantity. At 355 slides, it has the metric tonnage to provide the grist for hundreds of insights. And the research itself is generally beyond reproach; Meeker and her team at Kleiner Perkins maintain very high standards for sourcing primary research, and I have a pretty good nose for that.

These two elements, as Mark points out in our podcast, contribute to an extraordinary sense of trust. We trust the Meeker report — no small accomplishment in a time when so much questionable information is shared online. Want to create a compelling, unimpeachable piece of content marketing? You’ll find no better template than the Meeker report. As a producer of primary research, I can tell you that the best way to get coverage for research, is to do great research. The truth will out. By aggregating and contextualizing hundreds of disparate pieces of quality primary research, Meeker has created the ultimate piece of curation, and those efforts have clearly paid off.

But I noticed something else this year. I just as easily could have noticed it in previous years, but I didn’t, so shame on me. It started when I looked at the section on Media, and noticed that there were four graphs about music streaming. Three of them were straight up Spotify graphs. A number of things struck me as odd about this.

First, why was there no mention of Pandora, which generates the largest ad-supported music revenues in the space and by itself is roughly half the streaming business in the US?

Why were there charts about streaming music in a 2017 Trends deck, when they were probably more relevant to a 2007 Trends deck?

And why are there three graphs about Spotify, period (and a fourth in the section on subscription video) when there aren’t very many other companies that can claim sole ownership of even one graph in the report?

So I took a look at the portfolio for Kleiner Perkins. Sure enough, there’s Spotify.

Now, am I saying that the research is wrong, or bad? Absolutely not. It’s impeccably sourced. I believe everyone of those Spotify graphs.

But again, why are there four entire graphs devoted to Spotify in the Meeker report? Would it be at all useful to Kleiner Perkins if Spotify, a company currently losing a lot of money, were seen by the tech world as the vanguard of a hot trend?

When you start looking at the Meeker report in this way, you cannot unsee what you find.

Why is there a whole huge section on the healthcare vertical, but not other verticals, like financial services? Did you know KPCB has about 40 life and health science companies in their portfolio?

Why are there 95 slides devoted to China and India, but none to their fellow BRIC member Brazil, or to the surging EU?

Why was the entire China section sponsored by Hillhouse Capital, investors in dozens of Asian companies, including Baidu and Tencent?

Why are there graphs about Tencent’s gaming portfolio, including a graph on Honor of Kings — a single game?

Why are there *72* slides about gaming, from a company invested in EA, Zynga, Mobcrush, and Magic Leap?

Why is there a slide about Peloton? Is this really a trend? Would it be valuable to KPCB if it were?

Again, to be clear — this report is really good. If you want the lowdown on trends in videogaming, you’ll find it here. More than 20% of the report is about gaming, and the data is impeccably sourced.

But the list of topics covered by no means covers the gamut of the tech space. And many, many of the companies mentioned in this deck as the standard-bearers for Internet Trends all have one very important thing in common…

So, all of this is to say that I encourage you to read the full report. And I encourage you to trust the actual stats on the actual graphs. But take the report for what it is — an extremely effective piece of content marketing, promoting the trends and interests of a company selectively invested in the space. Nothing sinister here — I fully believe KPCB saw their portfolio companies as a part of future trends first, not that they are trying to engineer these trends after the fact.

But think deductively, not inductively. Think critically about what has, and has not, been covered in this deck. Think about how much the report’s heft and quality lowers your defenses. And consider how much of the deck is about Internet Trends, and how much is a statement about KPCB’s portfolio. There is much to learn from the Meeker report. It’s just not what you think.

SVP, Edison Research. Co-author of The Infinite Dial, The Podcast Consumer, The Social Habit, and other widely cited studies. Newsletter