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A Blog Post

Why ‘fake news’ is good news for real publishers

Probably already a frontrunner for phrase of the year, ‘fake news’ is the phenomenon everyone from politicians to publishers; tech companies to the man on the street, is talking about.

Whilst the blame for fake news has been laid squarely at the door of Facebook, indeed it’s forced the world’s biggest social media platform to fact check some of the content on its site, it has caused publishers to take stock and consider the quality of third party content on their own websites.

That content is invariably ad tech, from standard display units, to native advertising, video providers, and content recommendation. Are the ads being run trustworthy? This is particularly important in the programmatic age where they could have been served through a myriad of exchanges.

If not knowing where an advert has come from is a problem for publishers, the reverse is now true for advertisers – not knowing where your ad will actually be served has become a real issue. A recent Times investigation led to some of the world’s biggest brands pausing all programmatic advertising as their ads were found on websites apparently funding extremist groups.

Finding audience at the expense of losing control of the environment, suddenly doesn’t seem quite as smart.

Native: One size fits all?

Native advertising as a term encompasses everything that ‘mirrors the form and function’ of the property it sits on – from a promoted Facebook post or tweet to a sponsored article within the editorial feed, right through to content recommendation.

Because of this execution, trust has never been more important. And there lies the problem – how can a user uploaded misleading ‘get rich quick’ headline, clicking out to a dubious website be lumped into the same category as the lauded New York Times content for Netflix’s Orange is New Black?

Time to grasp the opportunity     

So where does this leave native advertising? There’s no denying how important it’s become for publishers – The Atlantic makes 75% of its ad revenue from sponsored content, Condé Nast Britain, over half of its digital earnings. But this is from high quality, clearly labelled articles – a world away from some of the clickbait washing around the web.

BI Intelligence estimates that Native ads will drive 74% of all ad revenue by 2021. Whilst this will be led by the dominant social platforms, one interesting nugget is that:

“Sponsored content, which is categorised separately from native-display due to the direct relationship between publishers and brands in creating the format, will be the fastest-growing native format over the next five years.”

The renaissance of traditional publishers    

Traditional publishers have a challenge to adapt to the digital world, but the one good thing to come out of the past few months is that, in the words of Luis Hernandez, ‘…fake news is making real publishers look good’. Sites with paywalls like the NYT have seen a surge in subscriptions and UK national newspaper sites a 16% year-on-year uplift to 31.5m daily uniques (Dec 2016).

Why premium sites need premium ad tech     

So here’s the question for publishers: You’ve worked hard to build the trust of your audience. Why would you do anything to diminish that by running poor quality ads, clicking out to some questionable places?

The real value for premium publishers is in running high quality, clearly labelled, stay-on-site sponsored content which maintains trust and delivers value to both the reader and the media owner.