Most publishers say advertisers have paused campaigns, IAB survey says


The Los Angeles Times building is seen on February 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

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The vast majority of online publishers in the U.S. say they’ve had advertisers cancel or pause ad campaigns with them as the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown hurts advertisers, according to results of a new Internet Advertising Bureau survey. The advertising cutback is resulting in widespread layoffs and cost cuts even as media consumption is skyrocketing.

The effects are being felt across ad-supported websites, as well as companies who provide technical infrastructure to support selling ads.

The IAB said it surveyed more than 200 U.S. ad-supported publishers, programmatic providers and media platforms who are both members and non-members of the organization. The survey examined both publishers covering hard news as well as other ad-supported media, like cooking or financial advice sites. 

Of those, 98% of respondents said they’re expecting a decrease in revenue in 2020.

Among news publishers specifically, 88% of the survey respondents said they’d had ad buyers ask to cancel campaigns, while 86% said advertisers had asked to pause advertising.

Meanwhile, 70% of non-news publishers said they’d had ad buyers ask to cancel campaigns and that 79% had been asked by ad buyers to pause advertising. 

Advertisers have pulled back significantly as the pandemic because of budget uncertainty in the months ahead, and because some, like companies in the travel space, have little reason to do sales-driven campaigns when much of the globe is under stay-at-home orders.

The reaction by news publishers has been swift. Last month, Buzzfeed announced pay cuts for the majority of staff. On Tuesday, the L.A. Times told staffers it had lost a third of its ad revenue and expected to lose more than half its ad revenue in the months ahead, and is furloughing employees and cutting the pay of senior managers. CNBC reported earlier this week that Vox is planning to furlough about 100 employees as it anticipates ad revenue to decline significantly.

The pullback has not only affected news publishers. IAC said in a letter to shareholders earlier this month it was seeing advertisers pull back spend at Dotdash, which operates verticals like financial content site Investopedia and health and wellness information site Verywell. The company said traffic was up “driven by both consumer need for the content and the reality of increased usage as people stay home and spend more time on devices, though not enough to offset declining ad rates.”

Overall, all respondents to the survey — including publishers and ad-tech companies — predict their digital ad revenues will be down an average of 19% to 25% in the March through June timeframe.  

Black-listing of terms was also a factor for news publishers. Many advertisers work with ad-tech companies that have prevented promotions from running alongside coronavirus-related content. The IAB survey found that 17% of news publishers said they were being adversely affected by blacklists, but pointed out that figure might be low because some publishers might just be not getting the business and not be sure why. 

In an earlier survey, the IAB surveyed nearly 400 media planners, buyers and brands responsible for U.S. ad spend, and found that 74% believe the coronavirus will have a greater impact on ad spend in the country than the 2008-09 financial crisis. They also said nearly a quarter have paused all ad spend for the rest of the first and second financial quarters. 


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