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Fake News Blindsided Publishers in 2016, So What Does 2020 Hold?

Publishers Rebound But the Brand Safety Mistakes of 2016 Again Loom Large

Brand advertising spending will hit a new record this year according to eMarketer, creating new opportunities for news publishers. But more spending will lead to more occasions for ads to appear in unsafe environments and it’s imperative that publishers listen to buyer concerns and plan accordingly.

Successful listening and planning requires education on what matters to buyers along with monetization strategies that lead to safer, high-quality transactions. The digital advertising market must remain dynamic and continually evolve for the betterment of partners across the ecosystem.

The seriousness of this mission is underscored by the memory of the fire advertisers received after their ads appeared alongside polarizing hoax news stories during the 2016 election. The nefarious but attention-grabbing content impacted how advertisers spent their ad dollars for many months after the political season.

A market on the rebound

Between 2016 and 2017, the overall news industry dramatically pulled back on programmatic ad spending, leading to a fall of roughly 44%, according to eMarketer. In contrast, the overall U.S. programmatic market grew by 41%.

However, the impact was disproportionate. Ad spending with the top 10 news publishers only dipped 16%, leaving smaller publishers to bear the brunt of the impact, according to Pubmatic. CPM’s on these premium news publishers grew 35% year-over-year, indicating that advertisers opted for higher quality inventory to safeguard their brands.

After the political tug-o-war and post-election sentiments diminished, advertising confidence and spending returned in 2018. The same top 10 news publishers saw 62% growth in programmatic ad spending year-over-year. The long tail of news publishers, however, remained flat between 2017 and 2018 and did not rebound until 2019.

From January to May 2019, spending on the same premium news publishers more than doubled over the same time period last year. Programmatic ad spending on all news sites grew 86% year-over-year—almost three times faster than overall industry growth—indicating that the long tail of smaller news outlets rebounded as well.

While some of this growth may be attributed to the natural momentum of digital advertising, it’s clear that advertisers had once again grown comfortable with spending their ad dollars.

Taking a proactive approach to brand safety in 2019

As the presidential primary season ramps up across the country, it’s critical that publishers and buyers remember the lessons of 2016. Taking stock of the impact that polarizing content can have, advertisers should be more discerning with their ad dollars and leverage programmatic practices like private marketplace (PMP) placements.

These marketplaces provide a safe haven from undesirable activity. Indeed, in the wake of the elections, there was tremendous growth in overall PMP buys, with a 78% increase year-over-year.

It seems that advertisers haven’t forgotten the benefits of PMPs—spending grew 19% year-over-year in Q1 2019.

While brands can choose safer channels to spend their ad dollars, publishers should take a proactive stance to maintain their market share, too. They need to be in touch with their top buyers to get ahead of fake news concerns, manage expectations and implement strategies around these issues. A real opportunity exists today for publishers to build trust with buyers so they can take advantage of the web traffic surge in stories to come well through November of 2020

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