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Pew: News Media Poor At Managing Online Presence, Upselling Legacy Advertisers

Published on February 13, 2012

A new study of advertising in news by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reveals that even the top news websites have little success getting advertisers to move online from traditional platforms. They are in fact “Doing a crummy job of capitalizing on online advertising’s growth,” as blogger Andrew Beaujon of the Poynter Institute describes.

Pew examined 5,381 ads on 22 homepages and landing pages at different news operations. Those operations included 11 newspapers, four magazines, three cable news outlets, three commercial network broadcasts and two online-only outlets (Yahoo News and The Huffington Post). The research took place between June 2011 and January 2012.

Most news sites did not feature ads targeted by consumer behavior. Only CNN, the New York Times and Yahoo News delivered different ads to the researchers based on online activity. Targeting is of course a key component to ad value for Google and Facebook.

While these news operations tried to get advertisers to buy across multiple platforms, few succeeded. As an example, on CNN’s cable channel, the top three categories of advertisers were motion pictures and television; insurance; and telecommunications. On CNN.com, the top three were financial ads, toiletries and cosmetics, and job searches.

In-house ads fill more web space than any other ad category, at nearly 21% by number. At Time.com, that number reached 56%, but it was less common in sectors that do not require subscription (e.g., cable news).

Ads from the finance industry were three times more common than second-place toiletries and cosmetics. This is in sharp contrast to their limited presence in print and in broadcasts. Financial ads comprised 45% on abc.com, versus 13% in the morning and evening broadcasts studied.

The news organizations rely most heavily on static banner ads, while pop-ups and animation are rare; so are video ads, a fast-growing category that eMarketer predicts will increase by 43% in 2012. Banner ads by contrast will grow just 18% and will likely level off.

Revenue from digital advertising in the United States is expected to grow by 40% and overtake all other platforms by 2016. But as the Pew researchers describe it, “How much of that growth will go to underwrite news remains in doubt and throws into question the financial future of journalism as audience continue to migrate online.” The job for news outlets is to in essence modernize to target readers, and attract (perhaps upsell) legacy advertisers.