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A publisher’s conundrum: balancing responsible journalism and revenue

A publisher’s conundrum: balancing responsible journalism and revenue

How much are are publishers really sacrificing revenue when they remove objectionable content?

YouTube made headlines when it de-platformed Russell Brand for violating its Creator Responsibility Initiative. In doing so, YouTube put an end to Brand’s ability to earn advertising income on its platform, while also waving goodbye to a sisable chunk of advertising revenue itself.

Arguably, Brand shouldn’t have been allowed to monetise on the platform at all. He was dropped by mainstream media long ago after a string of well-documented scandals.

But, for the past few years, Brand has been peddling misinformation on alternative, less-policed platforms, and it took allegations of sexual misconduct and a tide of overwhelming public opinion, for YouTube to take action.

At the time of his de-platforming, Brand had an audience of 6.6 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. The harsh reality is, creators like Brand still have the freedom to be provocative and controversial, despite being dropped by mainstream media, and can continue to garner huge audiences and generate significant advertising revenue.

And yes, YouTube demonstrated its commitment to enforcing high standards of creator policies and guidelines and fostering a brand-safe environment by de-monetising Brand.

However, not all publishers are in a position to wield such power and survive so easily.

A two-tier system

When publishers act swiftly to remove objectionable content — as they are held to far higher standards than user-generated platforms — they are effectively punishing themselves: losing audience and consequently ad revenue, while other platforms continue to flourish, free of similar restrictions and able to attract advertising budgets.

Publishers could choose to publish their quality content behind paywalls, but these nullify the positive societal impact of offering well-written, fact-checked content that informs and educates everyone, regardless of financial means.

Paywalls risk creating a two-tier system, limiting access to quality factual content to those who can afford to pay for it, and driving those who can’t to sites that do not uphold the same stringent standards of premium publishers. This leaves audiences vulnerable to manipulation by bad actors, and ultimately harms society at large.

Driving impact through quality

A better solution would be to willfully direct advertising budgets towards quality media. Yes, quality may cost more, but it should cost more! It’s better. Studies, including our own, have shown that high-quality environments create a halo effect for advertising and drive superior engagement. The eyeballs may be fewer, but the impact is greater.

Furthermore, premium publishers have spent years building relationships with their audiences, and as a result can offer advertisers valuable first-party audiences that cannot be found elsewhere. In the context of increasing privacy regulation around the world, this is hugely valuable and will only continue to be more so.

Supporting quality media with advertising budgets not only benefits the publishers creating quality content, but also advertisers and their audiences. By working closely together — on a foundation of mutual values and ethical standards — publishers, advertisers, and technology partners can navigate this increasingly complex landscape, building a responsible supply chain and ensuring that profitable advertising serves a greater collective purpose.

Achieving this requires an industry-wide effort, with each individual playing their part to create a well-oiled machine of truly considerate journalism and responsible advertising.

Emma Newman is chief revenue officer EMEA at Pubmatic

philip bird, sectors research manager, Equans, on 17 Oct 2023
“Quality content will always attract a quality audience with superior engagement.”

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