Video Ad Spend On News Sites Dropping; COVID-19 Content Blackouts Termed 'Missed Opportunity'

Overall spending across the top 500 advertisers on premium news sites using the Connatix video tech platform declined by 17% between March 3 and 22, compared to the prior week — although several categories upped spending, reports the company. 

The largest ad-spend decreases occurred in the travel and leisure vertical, where spending virtually dropped to zero; ecommerce (-46%), QSRs (-45%) and automotive (-17%). 

Amazon’s ad spend plummeted 72%, and its video completion rate (VCR) dipped by 3%. 

With consumers organically flocking to Amazon.com more than ever to secure supplies for sheltering at home, Amazon has likely decided to tamp down ad investment for the present, Connatix notes. 

On the flip side, some verticals significantly increased their video ad spending — most notably consumer goods (+150%), pharma (+36%) and gaming (+34%). 

Many of the advertisers that increased spend continued to run on news sites during the week of March 16. 

Brands in a few categories saw higher VCRs: ISP (+8%), personal finance (+3%) and automotive (+1%). 

Top premium news publishers saw increased reader engagement, including impression spikes, high (in some cases doubled) click-through rates, and up to 20% increases in average session times. 

Yet, even with news sites' rising audiences and engagement, nearly all advertisers were blocking all coronavirus-related content, Connatix found. And some advertisers are avoiding news sites all together. 

These approaches are hitting premium news publishers at a time when they are most valuable and needed by consumers. 

For instance, during the second week of March, Connatix saw a 41% drop in video ad fill that is highly correlated with coronavirus ad blocking, according to Jenn Chen, the company’s chief revenue officer. (Also see MediaPost blog summary of revenue losses for newspapers.)

But from brands' perspective, defaulting to an across-the-board coronavirus content blacklisting approach or avoiding news sites out of concern for brand "safety" may be a misguided move, because they are missing "unique opportunities to reach hyper-engaged audiences” with helpful, reassuring brand messages during a time of crisis — and at lower-than-normal rates, she argues. 

Contrary to some assumptions, many articles and videos related to the pandemic actually elicit neutral or even positive sentiment, Chen points out. “For example, a video offering ‘self-care tips during quarantine’ is clearly going to evoke a more positive sentiment than an article featuring cold, hard COVID-19 statistics,” Chen notes. 

And while the amount of content directly related to the coronavirus of course varies by site, many are featuring relatively low amounts of such content.

“Take weather sites, for instance: Only about 30% of videos and article content within this vertical on our platform is directly related to the coronavirus — and much of that is helpful advice, Chen says. “In addition to the core weather content, these sites are offering health and wellness articles, tips for getting hard-to-find staples, and other useful, positive content.”

“It’s an unprecedented time, so it might be wise to evaluate if the usual strategies are indeed the right approach now,” she adds. 

For example, brands might consider more strategic approaches, such as semantic targeting or blacklisting by contextual combinations and negative sentiment indicators, Chen suggests. 

“I would encourage brands that are especially concerned about content sentiment, to find ‘brand-safe’ news through positive targeting,” she says. “For example, wellness content [see Mashable story above] or working-at-home strategies are very neutral in sentiment but also associated with ‘coronavirus.'"

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