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Newspapers Media

'Coronavirus' keyword blocking projected to lose UK news publishers £50m ad revenue


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

March 31, 2020 | 4 min read

Newsworks, the body representing UK newspaper publishers, is estimating that over-zealous digital brand safety measures around the keyword ‘coronavirus’ is going to cost the industry £50m in lost advertising revenue in the next three months at a time when its coverage is arguably needed most.

Local newspapers unite with front page takeover

'Coronavirus' ad keyword blocking costing UK newspaper publishers £50m revenue in 3 months

To raise awareness of these damaging measures, just part of the wider revenue attrition blocklists are causing the industry, Newsworks has launched the #BackdontBlock initiative.

In conversation with members, the group said: “If the pandemic lasts for another three months the total loss to news brands is expected to be £50m.” The pandemic is projected to last more than three months, and plans are being made to account for the next six.

The news industry is asking advertisers to remove blocklists from trusted UK news brands to ensure they can continue to fund journalism. The new economic conditions have seen numerous newsbrands have to make cuts to journalist wages, BuzzFeed and Vice were early out the gate, and the PA has just furloughed a quarter of its staff.

Newsworks, the News Media Association and the Society of Editors, as well as the Association for Online Publishers, Internet Advertising Bureau and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising are all behind the scheme to quickly mobilise buyers to remove the measures.

Tracy De Groose, executive chair of Newsworks, who wrote the letter on behalf of the industry, said: “While we have seen a huge surge in demand from readers for trusted, accurate reporting, advertising ‘blocklists’ are preventing adverts from appearing alongside online stories with the word ‘coronavirus’ in them.

“Our unified industry appeal to advertisers is incredibly simple: back, and don’t block British journalism. Please remove ‘coronavirus’ from your blocklists. Readers are relying on us right now, and we are relying on advertising to help ensure the public receives information and advice from the very best sources.”

News Media Association deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson added that “advertisers should be supporting this vital public service provided by the media”.

It isn’t a new problem. There’s an array of keywords that are removing the ad revenue from vital news media – while the safety measures don’t tend to exist in lower-quality publications.

LGBT+ titles have been hit hard by keyword blocking in particular, many of the topics on their agenda by their very nature spark the defenses of the blocklists. But we’ve seen football coverage with the word ‘shoots’ (avoiding gun crime stories) and Game of Throne stories alluding to ‘bastards’ and ‘killing’ all lose their share of revenues.

Due to the disruption of newsstands, newspapers are becoming ever more dependent on home deliveries and digital consumption. Nonetheless, they remain a strong voice during the pandemic. Two weeks ago, local UK news titles all came together to remind the elderly in lockdown they have not been forgotten. '‘When you’re on your own, we are there with you' read the pages of titles across Reach and Archant.

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