IAB Spotlight On: News @ NewFronts Highlights Marketers’ Role in Supporting a Healthy Media Ecosystem

Spotlight on: News at NewFronts

NewFronts week kicked off on Monday, April 29 with a new twist – “IAB Spotlight On: News at NewFronts”. IAB brought together leading news organizations to discuss the importance and power of news and to push marketers to rethink their approach to (not) supporting news with their marketing dollars. David Cohen, CEO, IAB began the discussion with some dire statistics. There are more unemployed or underemployed journalists today than ever before in our history. He talked about “news deserts” where certain cohorts of people have limited access to news. This is especially true for local news where more than 200 counties have no local news and another 1,500 have only a single news source. This leaves people seeking news in non-traditional and often non-trustworthy environments.

CEOs from five leading news organizations (BBC, CNN, NBCUniversal, The New York Times, and NPR) spoke about the importance of a healthy news ecosystem. Each said that strong journalism equals a strong democracy. When discussing how the news model must change as consumer viewing migrates from linear/print to digital platforms, they spoke about how news is a very broad umbrella for many happenings in life. One panelist even said, “News is life; it’s about everything.” The headlines often steal eyeballs and create the impression that news is always polarizing. But the CEOs talked about how news is about storytelling across many genres: sports, cooking, travel, business, health, parenting, and much more. Under the news umbrella there is something for many different audiences.

The news organizations also acknowledged that they must approach storytelling in new ways to meet people where they are today. Their key message was that they are innovating. They are moving into streaming, long-form storytelling, and niche content with authentic personalities. They are driving local, national, and international storytelling. But their message was direct that they need advertiser funding to stay in business. While they each now have multiple revenue streams (NYTimes even has a gaming revenue stream), they need marketers to support their content to drive their business.

After the CEOs spoke, we heard from the buy side of the business. And advertisers’ message was clear – news can be a powerful vehicle to reach their audience and it is incumbent upon all marketers, ad tech, and publishers to ensure the proper tools exist to protect marketers from appearing next to content that does not reflect their brand values. Marketers are more than willing to support news if they can be assured that their brand will only be in environments that they deem appropriate. One agency executive spoke about how she had a new client who hadn’t reviewed and updated their news guidelines/block list since 2016. No wonder marketers are hesitant to support news when their guidelines are so far out of date.

The final panel of the day was a CRO panel that focused on what publishers are doing to help protect marketers. Some publishers are adding semantic targeting and enabling negative sentiment targeting in blocklists. This will help marketers from having too blunt of a tool to protect their brand placements. News offers a wide variety of content and brands now have a better way to control their brand placements.

This “spotlight” on news is important for our industry. The CEO from BBC shared that outside of their building, there is a statue of George Orwell, author of 1984, with the following quote etched onto it: “If liberty means anything at all, it must mean telling people things they do not want to hear.” That is the value of reputable, trustworthy news. It’s fine to talk about news being about everything and much more than the headlines – but headlines grab people’s attention. And if we learned anything from George Orwell, it is that the unimaginable can be real if we stop talking about what matters. In Animal Farm, Orwell famously said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This is the dystopia that can arise when we live within our news echo chambers and resist the willingness to go beyond what is in front of us and confront good and evil in equal measure.

I for one loved this new format that emerged from the IAB NewFronts this year. Shining a spotlight on critical issues that drive not only our industry, but our survival seems like a great innovation. Kudos to all that participated in this endeavor.

IAB Spotlight On: News @ NewFronts (Watch VOD)


Pam Zucker
Chief Strategy Officer
at IAB