How TV News Advertisers Cope With Controversial Topics, Hosts

Decades ago, TV advertisers used to have what was called “hit lists” -- TV shows they weren’t going to buy because of controversial, violent, inappropriate or sexually-themed content.

In the late 1980se/early '90s, daytime syndication talk shows -- full of racy content -- as well as network shows such as Fox’s “Married with Children,” NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and NBC’s “Miami Vice” were on certain marketers’ lists.

Now, with the fractionalization of traditional TV everywhere, picking and choosing TV shows has taken on a new process -- trying to find any meaningful size audience for marketers. Lists are still around. But the focus has lessened.

Some of this has to do with TV advertising avoidance — fast-forwarding, time-shifting and advertising-free TV content. TV marketers now have other problems besides picking and choosing which content they consider appropriate for their brands.



A recent article in The Wall Street Journal says marketers such as Fidelity Investments and others are insisting their ads do not appear near articles or videos that contain any of a long list of words, such as “bombs,” “immigration,” “racism” and “Trump.”

TV kind of still works the same way — but more on an analog/manual basis. And after the fact. Think about some TV news network shows: Fox News Channel gets hit by advertisers after some controversial stuff said by Fox hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.

While many advertisers depart these shows, it's always a temporary thing. Those marketers just move over to another news programs on the network. No big deal, since other Fox network shows have similarly large viewerships.

The bigger issue for a TV news network, a social-media platform or a digital version of a newspaper, is when those marketers leave for a long period of time.

Digital marketers can now key on specifics words — in a headline perhaps — they don't want to be near. This is something a good algorithm can handle, especially in near real-time when it comes to growing programmatic ad-technology platforms.

In the future, one would believe linear TV networks could work the same way — with a programmatic, near real-time platform. Say a newscaster/guest/pundit goes way off script and says something crazy. Then, in the following commercial break, a TV commercial, under the control of a TV network/marketer algorithm, can tell the system to skip that commercial.

Though perhaps not a perfect system, this will encourage what marketers truly are seeking: media brand safety on a wide-scale basis. But maybe not so soon.

National programmatic TV ad systems are still years away from becoming the dominant linear TV ad platform. Until then, media spillage over brand-safety concerns will continue. On many platforms.

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