Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Among the Myriad Industries Harrowed by Coronavirus Effects, Journalism Is Uniquely Impacted

Todd Spangler, Variety:

Ad spending is falling off a cliff amid the COVID-19 pandemic — and Facebook and Google, the two heavyweights in digital advertising, are expected to bear the brunt of the downturn in terms of sheer dollars lost.

The two internet giants together could see more than $44 billion in worldwide ad revenue evaporate in 2020, Cowen & Co. analysts estimate. That said, both Google and Facebook will continue to be massively profitable even with double-digit revenue drops.

Craig Silverman, Buzzfeed News:

Many advertisers use lists of sensitive or controversial keywords to avoid placing ads — and spending their ad dollars — adjacent to content they consider unsafe for their brands. But the addition of coronavirus-related terms to these keyword blacklists has choked off revenue as publishers struggle to capitalize on soaring audiences amid catastrophic revenue declines.


In March, Integral Ad Science, an ad verification company that works with the brand to improve the quality of its ad placements, automatically blocked 309,726 — roughly 36% — of ads the brand attempted to place on the New York Times’ website. In January, only 3% were blocked, and in February, 6%. Thirty-four percent of the ads the company attempted to place on USA Today’s website were blocked in March, as were 45% of those on the Washington Post’s website, and 29% on CNN’s website. In total, nearly 2.2 million ads for the brand were blocked from appearing.

Daniel Bernhard, the Star:

Even before the COVID-19 crisis struck, private media outlets were so beleaguered that they required special tax assistance just to stay afloat. Despite this support, Postmedia and Torstar, Canada’s largest producers of daily newspapers, are in dire financial straits. As of Thursday, you could buy all Torstar stock for just $21 million. As the economic downturn intensifies and businesses of all sizes suffer horrendous financial consequences, the few advertising dollars that remain are drying up overnight.

For its part, the CBC is so underfinanced that it cancelled all local TV news broadcasts last week. In a video town hall with CBC employees, Barb Williams, executive vice-president of English services, said the move was necessary to keep the network from “fading to black.”

The bleak irony of the coronavirus pandemic is that it is necessary for frequent and comprehensive coverage at all levels — local media is just as important as national media. But those articles are not being supported by big advertisers, many of which are resistant to their new products being promoted alongside articles about a global pandemic.

This effect is compounded by an overall spending pullback by advertisers, largely because the entire economy is, technically, in the shitter.

Drew Curtis of Fark:

Late last week, a fellow Farker who is CTO of an adtech company we’ve been working with closely hit me up with a warning. He said that as of last Thursday, they’re seeing industry-wide cancellations. Companies aren’t waiting until the 2nd quarter — they’re pulling ads -now- on existing deals. Understandable given the current situation, but it doesn’t help Fark at all.

Curtis, in a second post:

However, there’s more bad news — also last week the IAB, which is the primary trade group for online advertising among other things, released the results of a survey of ad buyers to try to figure out what effect the lockdown will have on ad revenues. The short version is it’ll be worse than 2008, which is pretty dire because in 2008, Fark’s revenue dropped to near zero. There’s more info and data from the IAB survey here.

It has become a cliché to say that we need great journalism now more than ever, and it is also untrue: we have always needed great journalism.

We desperately need local press that can tell us what is happening at city and regional levels, but the publications that are best positioned to cover this have long been dangling by a financial thread. Big and comparatively wealthy national publications, on the other hand, are necessary to see the broader scope of this pandemic, but stumble at effective reporting.

Practically every industry is going to suffer due to this pandemic. I cannot imagine ranking which organizations are more deserving of financial assistance than others. But it would be a horrific loss if media organizations were not a focus of some kind of help, plus a long-term plan to try to stabilize the industry.