Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has stepped in to the ad industry’s fight for brands to stop blocking their ad campaigns from appearing next to stories about coronavirus.
It follows Newsworks estimates revealed last week that news brands could lose £50m in ad revenue over the next three months if advertisers continue to use keyword blacklisting (also known as "blocklists") – a tool that automatically blocks ads from appearing alongside content that mentions certain words, such as "coronavirus" or "Covid-19".
Many news titles have had a surge in online readers during the current lockdown. Earlier this week, Havas Media Group’s Covid-19 Media Behaviours Report revealed that The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Guardian have all seen an uplift over the past week.
Dowden has written a strongly worded letter (seen by Campaign) to some of the major brands stating that there is a "need for pragmatism and to do everything possible to prevent an irreversible decline in news publishing".
He wrote that the impact on ad revenues for news brands would have "far-reaching" consequences for everyone, including advertisers.
Dowden referred to news brands as a "fourth emergency service" because they provide "verifiable" information.
He referred to industry guidance that was issued by ISBA, Newsworks, the Association of Online Publishing, the Internet Advertising Bureau and the IPA on 26 March around how advertisers can work with agencies to fix this problem. He said that he wants to see "a rapid, positive change in the proportionate and sensible use of blocklists".
If this does not happen, Dowden noted that the government will have to "consider all possible options". He has invited brands to a roundtable to discuss the matter.