Publishers in quarantine: the effect of Covid-19 on digital media consumption

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TailWind brings you Covid-19 insights from GlobalWebIndex a leading market research company operating in 45 markets inclusive of MENA. Tailwind, a TDG Company, is the exclusive partner for GlobalWebIndex in the region, bringing local businesses powerful consumer insights.

The coronavirus outbreak is definitely a newsworthy event and due to the lockdown initiatives, internet is the main source of information for COVID-19 updates. As a result, digital journalism is experiencing huge demand. Quality journalism is in even higher demand, as the public expects the most accurate facts regarding the pandemic.

Although there’s been a huge surge in traffic for news websites as they are considered across demographics to be more trustworthy than media platforms, surprisingly publishers have reported multiple lay-offs and cut revenues (source). Do these layoffs indicate that brands aren’t committed to supporting publishers with their consumer demand?

The outbreak is bringing back the “social” aspects of social media

The pandemic has made social media the protagonist of this era. Reportedly, WhatsApp and Facebook are the top social platforms to connect with friends and family during this time. 69% of consumers in US are using Facebook and 66% say they’re using Facebook messenger. WhatsApp continues to take the top spot in the UK across generations, gender, and income – rising to 77% among millennials and those in the highest income bracket.

Additionally, COVID-19 is transforming people to embrace being avid news readers. Reportedly, 49% of U.S. and 39% of UK consumers are reading more news stories on social media as a result of the outbreak – this is the primary motivator to use social media across markets, gender, and income right now.


News consumption is spiking, but online media are fighting for their lives

Across all demographics, Facebook is used the most for information about the virus. Nevertheless, respondents expect that social media should provide fact- checked news and detect fake news. As it seems, the platforms are yet to deliver on these expectations, as only 14% of the respondents acknowledge that the information they receive as trustworthy.

Recently, progress was made in combatting fake COVID-19 related news by hiring Arabian speakers to fact-check published articles (source), but Facebook’s credibility is taking a hit again as claims for dangerous ads related to COVID-19 misinformation ensue (source). Our data shows that news websites are considered more trustworthy than social media, as it is critical for respondents to have the most accurate COVID-19 news.

Indeed, people are flocking on news websites to read about COVID-19 updates, but publishers seems to be penalized for that. Although, all major publishers report a huge surge in traffic, they see their revenues falter due to the aggressive COVID-19 keywords blocking, many ad verification companies are using (source). With the majority of the respondents in our study to be unwilling to pay for a subscription on news websites and major brands slamming the brakes on programmatic ad spend, it is only normal for publishers to struggle keeping up with the demand for quality journalism.

Advertisers’ crucial role during the pandemic

So how should advertisers react? Is it suitable for a brand to appear along a COVID-19 article? As reported, on a study analysing over 2 million pages, reportingly 60% of the content with COVID-19 related keywords was classified as safe (source). This potentially means that aggressive use of COVID-19 keywords, might be hurting not only publishers, but also brands.  We reached out to Fusion5’s, Natale Panella, Head of Digital, to ask their input about advertisers’ stance during this crisis “Advertisers should reward genuine journalism and prioritize publishers with high quality content, by reaching consumers through a balanced approach consisting in audience and semantic targeting. Blocking through automation without analyzing the content sentiment through the right technology might lead to a missed communication opportunity for brands. Agencies should guide brands to leverage such opportunity in increase content consumption, reaching consumer at high scale, without penalizing high value journalism at any cost.”

This is in line with recent requests from publishers from all over the world asking brands to be mindful when using COVID-19 related keywords to block content (source).

It seems more critical than ever for individuals to have accurate and trusted information around the pandemic and therefore is even more urgent to help quality journalism survive at this difficult moment. As COVID-19 has touched every aspect of our lives, it is understandable that it also dominates the news sphere as well. Advertisers should take that in consideration, as they can connect to very engaged audience out there by carefully choosing the publishers they want to “back up and don’t block”.

Tailwind and  GlobalWebIndex are strongly committed to keeping Covid-19 insights free to all during this challenging time. For more insights and upcoming research, you can find all of GWI’s Covid-19 related free resources here .