News & Opinion

Funding content: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It's time the industry gave more thought to the advertising supply chain and the purpose investment plays.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a children’s charity event where the audience was made up of familiar faces from across the broad spectrum of today’s media industry.

The CEO of the charity made a very simple, but challenging observation. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this: “How have we created a world where it is now safer outside of our homes than it is in them?”

An unintended consequence of connecting the world for good – the ability to reach significant numbers for bad. Going unchecked, this is having very damaging effects on our society.

“If we have designed this world, surely we can re-design it?” the CEO asserted. “If we choose to, we can change it.”

The message was stark. The sanctity and safety we should be providing for our children just isn’t there when it comes to the online world that we have created.

We all know we need to clean it up. And faster.

At the ISBA conference earlier this year a similar message was delivered, but it went much closer to the bone.

Clarke Jarrett, Commander of Counter Terrorism, played hate videos from extremist groups and talked about the flow of advertising money funding terrorist content.

It was another stark message that illuminated the unintended consequence of the digital ad market.

Last week at Mediatel’s Media Leaders lunch three leading journalists – Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips, The Times' deputy editor Emma Tucker, and The Daily Telegraph's associate editor Camilla Tominey (pictured) – spoke passionately and vociferously about the importance of our uniquely plural news.

In their 40 minute slot they covered the importance of the right sort of content and the role news brands play representing and reflecting the nation, championing truth and safeguarding our democracy.

As you’d expect, there were some opposing views amongst the three editors. However, the overriding message was clear to everybody in the room - the purpose of news brands is more important now than it’s ever been and there were some strong and unifying areas of consensus:

  • There is so much rubbish content out there and for that reason it is not only a great time to be a journalist, it’s a critical time for journalism.
  • The appetite for news is high – people want context, expertise, analysis from sources and journalists they trust.
  • News brands are working hard to ensure the quality of journalism online is the same as in print.
  • A well-informed public is fundamental to society, otherwise you lay yourself open to all sorts of problems.

Ad revenue into news brands has halved in a decade, even though total news audiences are up 10% and digital news readership now sits at a total audience of 19 million people daily (up 14% year-on-year according to PAMCo).

This highlights the broken system we have built. Demand for news is at record levels, but the ad money that was once there to fund it just isn’t there. And that’s despite our audience weekly reach now being on a par with Google in the UK.

The digital advertising market we have built does not differentiate inventory. Quality content gets blended with some, at best, very average content in order to make money out of the long tail.

The impact is huge.

Paradoxically, we are at risk of losing titles who are fighting to survive at a time when the demand from readers for quality trusted content are at their highest levels ever.

The unintended consequence: bad content funded ahead of good.

If we don’t do something this downward spiral will continue. If we have built it, surely, we can change it. We must change it.

Truth, trust and transparency are the bedrocks of British journalism. Against a backdrop of fake news, brand safety issues and opaque commercial deals our news brands offer a safe and thriving environment for both readers and advertisers.

I realise the news industry has much more to do to tell a more purposeful story about our content. And we will. But we also need the advertising industry to wake up, because right now it feels very much like there’s a blind spot, despite all the facts.

To change things, we need to think about the supply chain and the purpose ad investment plays.

I’ll leave you with one action we can all employ straight away. Or more of a moral question.

When you launch your next campaign ask yourself what kind of content your advertising is funding: the good, the bad or the ugly?

This article was originally posted in Mediatel.

by Hannah Ohm Thomas 09/10/19

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