Publishers reel as coronavirus pandemic drains ad sales
While newspaper sites and digital publishers have been reporting massive surges in traffic tied to coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, industry sources say ad agencies are often blocking their programmatic ads from appearing next to any stories about the virus.
Ad revenue was down 33 percent for digital publishers and 39 percent for legacy publishers, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and at least part of the problem is advertisers wanting to avoid all content tied to the global pandemic.
Integral Ad Science said that as the crisis exploded in March, “coronavirus” had overtaken “Trump” as the most-blocked key word for advertisers.
Even softer lifestyle sites mentioning coronavirus are getting hit by the all-encompassing ad blocking.
“It’s our job as an ad agency to do that due diligence,” Amanda Martin, vice president of enterprise partnerships at digital marketing service company Goodway Group, said in an interview with Digiday.
“Is advertising down as a general matter? Yes,” said Steve Brill, co-founder of NewsGuard, which tracks nearly 5,000 global sites and ranks 3,000 newsworthy sites as “green,” publishing primarily reliable content, and pans 1,200 sketchy sites it rates as “red,” featuring news content deemed unreliable.
It’s also uncovered a growing list of 147 sites it deems outright frauds. “Advertisers don’t necessarily want to avoid all sites,” Brill said.
On Thursday, NewsGuard unveiled an alliance with Peer39 that allows the advertising data company access to NewsGuard’s 6-week-old Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center, in a bid to provide an avenue for advertisers to run on news sites that could be deemed “brand safe.”
“Using simple key words — in this case, coronavirus or COVID-19 — to block ads on all pages containing those words has turned the advertising spaces on the most legitimate news websites into a killing field, where those publishing vital news about our world’s most threatening crisis are being denied the financial support they need at exactly the time that they need it the most,” said Brill.
“This is a case where NewsGuard’s ‘human intelligence’ — having trained journalists separate the hoax sites from the legitimate sites — works a lot better than this kind of faux artificial intelligence,” he continued.
“If the Wall Street Journal [owned by News Corp., which also owns The Post] ran a story on safe foods to eat in the coronavirus crisis, that would be blocked from running by programmatic ad-buying using blacklisted words,” said Brill.
Brill said he has already inked a deal with a “major advertising agency” to use the service.
Meanwhile, the Facebook Journalism Project, in conjunction with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association, unveiled the first 50 recipients of $5,000 grants to help cover unexpected costs associated with covering the coronavirus crisis.
Outfits receiving the grants include Our Time Press in Brooklyn, Queens Latino, Examiner Media in Mt. Kisco, NY, Metro Philadelphia, NJ’s Cape May County Herald, TAPinto Newark and TAPinto Camden, Wallkill Valley Publications in Newburgh, NY, and its sister publications the Mid Hudson Times and Southern Ulster Times.
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