UK newspapers are set to lose as much as £50m in online advertising revenue as brands use so-called blacklists to prevent their ads appearing next to stories about coronavirus.

Newspapers could lose £50m in online ads as brands dodge coronavirus articles

Blacklists are used by advertisers to avoid their digital campaigns appearing alongside inappropriate stories. Typically, blacklists will be stocked with trigger words such as ‘death’, ‘crash or ‘bomb’, and automatically stop ads running in potentially problematic stories that feature them.

Publishers have said that words related to the Covid-19 pandemic have also been added to blacklists.

This means that while record numbers of readers have flocked to news websites for updates on the crisis, publishers are unable to turn larger audiences into revenue.

In a joint letter published today, industry bodies urged advertisers to remove coronavirus-related terms from their blacklists for trusted UK news brands.

“While we have seen a huge surge in demand from readers for trusted, accurate reporting, advertising blocklists are preventing adverts from appearing alongside online stories with the word ‘coronavirus’ in them,” said Tracy de Groose, executive chair of campaign group Newsworks.
“Our unified industry appeal to advertisers is incredibly simple: back, and don’t block British journalism.”

Visits to UK news websites have surged 51% since the start of the year amid booming demand for the latest information about the pandemic, according to figures from Comscore.

But news publishers are also fighting a decline in income from print circulation and advertising caused by declining footfall and reduced ad spend.

De Groose added: “We understand many marketing budgets are under real pressure now. All we ask is that when you launch your next campaign you check you’re not unknowingly blocking trusted news brands from your plans.”

News publishers have previously criticised what they perceive as the overzealous use of advertising blacklists, with seemingly innocuous articles sometimes falling foul of the technology.

A report published earlier this year revealed a large number of articles about the Rugby World Cup last year were subject to blacklists due to words such as “attack” and “injury”.

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