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David Pidgeon 

Prohibited Peppa Pig perplexes pound-pinched publishers

Prohibited Peppa Pig perplexes pound-pinched publishers

Overzealous brand-safety block-lists that ignore the context of journalistic content are costing publishers millions in lost ad revenues.

Terms such as 'sperm whale', 'shoot', 'Star Wars' and even a mention of children's TV show 'Peppa Pig' are being blocked by services designed to protect online advertisers from appearing next to harmful or unsavoury content.

The problem is now adding further strain to under pressure newsbrands, with a recent report by The Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore claiming UK publishers missed out on an estimated £170m last year due to ad blocking.

Anecdotally, De Groose also said some publishers had witnessed "disappointingly low" advertising yields last year, despite shaping public conversations around UK politics and delivering "record" online audiences.

"Regulated and editorially governed journalism is being bundled together with the increasingly wild west of unregulated content, and then sold to advertisers as one amorphous mass," she said at the IAB's Digital Trust Forum on Wednesday (Jan 22)

De Groose said the impact of block-lists is much more significant on premium publishers because journalists will always require the freedom to use the right words to tell their stories regardless of the consequences of ad revenue.

However, in the current digital model, there is "little attention" paid to the quality or the provenance of the content, she said.

Ironically, it was a report in The Times in 2017 that first drew widespread attention to online brand safety by exposing how adtech was unwittingly funding terrorism, white supremacy and pornography. With major brands suddenly implicated, block-lists became widespread.

However, De Groose said an important problem was tackled by a "knee-jerk reaction" that "reduced a complicated issue like brand safety to the lowest common denominator."

Reach, the publisher of The Daily Mirror, said many sports stories were being erroneously blocked because words such as “strip” and “shoot” were stopping ads from appearing against entirely safe sporting articles.

According to Integral Ad Sciences, articles about “Manchester” are also being routinely blocked due to the 2017 Manchester arena terrorism attack.

"Too often quality content environments and context are ignored," De Groose said. "Content verification systems are being unwittingly misused or misunderstood."

Unless the issue is resolved, De Groose said news online was in danger of becoming a "barren brand wasteland."

In a sign things might be changing, on Wednesday the Content Verification Working Group published a white paper calling for a standardised and joined-up approach that will help to mitigate the negative impact on publishers while retaining safeguards for brands.

Meanwhile, Reach is seeing a 40% uplift in stories cleared for advertising that would have otherwise been blocked by deploying an AI driven brand safety platform.

On Wednesday, a 'Content Verification Guide' was published, highlighting key factors to consider when implementing a brand safety strategy. Full details available via the IAB.

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