Not too long ago, it was fashionable to bash A-list media brands like The New York Times and The Washington Post as dinosaurs who peaked in the Walter Cronkite era.
There was a solid case for that assessment.
On the business side, revenues fell precipitously as readers shifted from print to less-lucrative online advertising. In terms of influence though, newspapers still had power to set the agenda, but online had a leveling effect, in which digital-only upstarts like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post existed on the same plane.
Fast forward to the first half of 2017.
It’s the perfect storm for The New York Times – which recently posted its biggest jump in digital subscribers, Recode noted. Other A-listers like The Washington Post, whose annual digital ad revenues are now in the $100 million range.
On the one hand, the fake news issue around the election sent many readers looking for reputable news sources. On the other, a totally unrelated brand safety crisis has sent advertisers fleeing from user-generated content and back to trusted media brands.
This might look like a short-term boost, but this change is here to stay for the following reasons:
User-generated content has fallen out of favor
Pity the buyer at a programmatic exchange these days who specializes in user-generated content (UGC). Since the YouTube brand safety scare in February, major advertisers have turned away from such inventory.
That move has been swift and decisive. One YouTube creator known for ghost hunts and discussions about paranormal activity who previously had earned $6,000 in advertising revenues saw that drop to $1,600 in April, per the NYT. (That shift was less a reflection of the subject matter than a general shift away from UGC.)
Krishna Subramanian, a founder of influencer marketing firm Captiv8, told the NYT that a UGC video which hit 1 million views used to net $2,500 in revenues, but now it’s closer to $700.
It’s hard to see how that will change. No one – not even Google – has the resources to monitor every UGC video 24/7 for objectionable content. And AI isn’t up to the task yet.
Google and Facebook have tilted toward real news
The fake news scare hit the duopoly hard. After initially dismissing the issue, both Google and Facebook have since taken steps to expunge false reports from searches. Google has allowed consumers to report fake news and refined its search engine, per The Guardian, to “surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content.
Facebook, meanwhile, has put a “disputed” label next to fishy news stories and has asked users to report fake news. It also has tweaked its News Feed algorithm to identi fy suspicious news items. The company has also announced it plans to hire 3,000 extra moderators to police content on the site. That would bring the total to 7,500 monitors.
Buying from top-tier publishers has gained cachet
As brand safety has become a top-of-mind issue, advertisers have seen the wisdom of placing direct buys through programmatic. Some, like MediaMath, have introduced new “premium” tiers of programmatic that only give access to verified and brand-safe content.
Others have gone back to direct buys with publishers.
A-list media brands are to stay
Though it’s possible that the pendulum will shift back to the days of fake news and unsafe brand placements, it’s unlikely.
The mood among advertisers has been markedly different this year. Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard threw down the gauntlet for digital media in January when he challenged the industry to “grow up.”
Since that time, the reemergence of brand safety as a top-of-mind concern has forced advertisers to reassess their preference for cheap media and to give reputable news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post a second look.
Now that readers are doing the same thing, its YouTube’s motley array of “stars” that’s looking like dinosaurs.