Publishers Share Bleak Outlook of COVID-19 Ad Sales Impact in New Survey

However, there is some cause for optimism later in the year

tvs on a beach
There is near-unanimous agreement among publishers that ad sales revenue will be down this year, compared to original 2020 plans. Getty Images
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Key Insights:

Last month, the Interactive Advertising Bureau surveyed media buyers, planners and brands about how the coronavirus pandemic had affected ad spend. They painted a grim picture of the fallout, which was seconded by a followup IAB survey, this time with publishers giving their take on the industry. Their outlook is still bleak—though slightly less so than their buy-side counterparts.

There is near-unanimous agreement (98%) that ad sales revenue will be down this year, compared to original 2020 plans.

Among publishers surveyed, 69% have either already revised their ad revenue projections from March through June, or are in the process of doing so.

Meanwhile, 82% report buyers asking them to pause their advertising, while 77% have been asked by some clients to cancel their campaigns.

The IAB survey was conducted among 205 publisher, media platform and programmatic executives during the first week of April.

Still, this is some cause for optimism in the second half of the year. Only 30% on the sell-side said they are planning to re-forecast their third quarter revenue, while just 22% said the same about fourth-quarter revenue. The IAB attributes this to a potential information lag from the buy-side and a more optimistic point of view from the sell-side.

While digital news sites are surging during the pandemic, those publishers aren’t able to fully monetize the influx of traffic.

News publishers are experiencing more pauses and cancellations than non-news sources, and are twice as likely to have ads blacklisted because of coronavirus-related content: 17% of news organizations said they have advertiser-blacklisted inventory between March and June, compared to 8% of non-news publishers.

Among news publishers, 88% said buyers had asked them to cancel campaigns compared to 70% of non-news publishers; 88% of news publishers said ad buys are being adjusted, vs 76% of non-news publishers.

As they try to offer relief to clients, 67% of news publishers said they are working with advertisers through June to push their campaigns to a later date; 58% of non-news publishers are doing the same thing. And 52% of news publishers are creating different content adjacency/sponsorship opportunities that buyers can leverage (compared to 39% of non-news publishers).

Publishers are being hit harder by cancellations than programming specialists, with 77% reporting that buyers have asked them to suspend campaigns, while 49% of programmatic specialists said the same thing.

Sellers estimated that digital media revenue will be 21% off the annual plan from March through June, while linear TV ad revenue will be 27% off between March and June.

When asked which categories will be hardest hit between March and December, 68.8% of respondents picked travel and tourism, followed by brick-and-mortar retail (56.1%), restaurants (49.3%) and automotive (48.8%).

Last month, the IAB surveyed buyers about how COVID-19 has affected the industry. They were even less optimistic than the publishers, saying linear TV ad spent would plummet about 41% in March and April. Buyers also expect to spend 20% less in the upcoming upfront marketplace than they had initially planned.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.