After more than 15 years of heavy investments in their
online efforts, news organizations are still having a hard time getting the big
advertisers on their traditional broadcast, cable TV and print platforms to
place online ads on their main websites, according a major study of online
advertising at 22 major news organizations by The Project for Excellence in
Journalism at the Pew Research Center.
The study focuses on a key issue for traditional news organizations: How can
they fund more of their newsgathering operations from the rapidly growing
online and digital advertising sector? The question is a critical issue for the
future of newspapers and magazines seeing a slump in print advertising and
circulation figures. But it is also an important one for TV news organizations
who face rapidly mounting costs from their digital efforts at a time when they
face increased competition from online news sources.
So far the answers to that question are discouraging, the study found.
While news organizations have worked hard to persuade their print and TV
advertiser "to buy space across multiple platforms, there is little
evidence that they had succeeded" because "the kinds of products and
service being advertised online were quite different than in legacy platforms,"
the study found.
Worse, the study found that "in-house ads, ads selling or promoting a news
organization's own products, fill more space across these news websites than
another advertising category," making up 21% of all ads captured during
the study, Pew found.
The study also argued that news organizations are doing a relatively poor job
of attracting the fastest growing types of online advertising.
For example, the 22 news web sites tended to rely heavily on static banner ads,
rather than rich media or video ads, which EMarketer expects to grow by 43% in
2012. In contrast, the banner ads widely seen on news sites will increase by
The study also found that very few news organizations were offering targeted
ads based on consumer behavior, another increasingly lucrative online practice.
"Just three of the 22-CNN, the New York Times and Yahoo News-employed high
levels of targeting, delivering different ads to the researchers based on that
person's recent online activity," wrote the authors of "Digital
Advertising and News: Who advertises on news sites and how much those ads are
Overall the study found that the top advertising categories online were
in-house ads (21%), followed by financial (18%), toiletries/cosmetics (5%),
leisure time/activities (5%), corporations (5%) and job search (5%).
The breakdown is based on the volume of ads, not the money they may have
In-house ads were most prevalent on the websites of magazines, accounting for
half of all ads, followed by newspapers, where they accounted for 21%. In-house
ads were less prevalent on the websites of TV news organizations, with
Foxnews.com carrying the most at 12%.
Financial services were heavy advertisers on some TV sites, accounting for 45%
of the ads on ABC.com, 30% on CNN.com, 25% at MSNBC.com and 21% at Foxnews.com.
CBSnews.com slightly under-indexed with 15%, compared to the 18% average for
all 22 sites.
The study also found significant differences between the prevalence of
different types of advertising on cable TV news channels and their web sites.
While financial services was the biggest category for cable news online sites,
it was the 5th largest category on cable TV news channels in
terms of the volume of ads. In contrast, movies, which were the largest cable
TV news category, were relatively rate online.
In terms of network TV news, prescription drug ads accounted for 16% of the ads
on network morning and evening news, but "they were just half that on the
web," the study concluded.
Online the network TV news sites also relied heavily on financial ads, which
made up 31% of their total analyzed, while those ads accounted for only 4.3% of
ads on the network TV shows.
Overall, video ads were also relatively rare. "They were most common on
cable news websites but they still made up only 2.5% of the ads," the
authors noted. "Video ads made up even less on network TV sites, 1.2% at
CBSnews.com and less than 1% at ABCnews.com."
Overall the study analyzed 5,381 ads on the main websites and legacy outlets of
22 different news organizations. The initial phase covered ads in various days
between June 28 and July 1, 2011.
The researchers also followed up with various sites on their targeting efforts
on Jan. 27, 2012.