There can be little doubt that there is currently an un-equal system in place in the media landscape, in which mainstream publishers and media owners are held to a higher standard than alternative or user generated platforms.
The Russell Brand scandal earlier this year threw this issue into sharp relief. When allegations of sexual misconduct hit the press in September, YouTube finally took action and put an end to his ability to earn advertising income on its platform – resulting in a substantial loss of advertising revenue for both Brand and YouTube.
But, one could argue that Brand should not have been allowed to monetize on the platform in the first place. He had been ousted by mainstream media years ago, after to a series of well-documented scandals. However, in the intervening years, Brand has been disseminating misinformation on alternative, less-policed platforms. It wasn't until allegations of sexual misconduct caused a surge of public outcry that YouTube finally took action.
Here’s the rub for mainstream media owners; if they enforce their quality standards and policies, they pay a heavy price.
At the time of his ‘de-platforming’, Brand boasted an audience of 6.6 million subscribers on his YouTube channel. The sobering reality is that creators like Brand, or celebrity chef Pete Evans who had a following of 1.5 million on Facebook before he was finally dropped for peddling debunked myths about covid and vaccines, have the freedom to be provocative, controversial and downright wrong, even after being dropped by mainstream media. They can continue to amass substantial audiences and generate significant advertising revenue for the platforms that continue to host them.
On the other hand, when mainstream publishers remove objectionable content, they see their audiences diminish. They find themselves in a position where they are producing world-class, responsibly produced content, but their audience reach doesn’t compare with newer platforms. What follows is a smaller portion of advertising budgets going to mainstream publishers resulting in less money being available to fund the continued creation of quality content.
Advertising revenue is sorely needed by mainstream publishers and media owners... advertising keeps the lights on... so what to do?
Mainstream media owners could put their quality content behind paywalls, but paywalls nullify the positive societal impact of offering well-written content that informs and educates, to everyone, regardless of financial means. Paywalls risk creating a two-tier system, limiting access to quality, fact checked content to those who can afford to pay for it, and driving those who can’t to sites that do not uphold the stringent standards of the premium publishers. Leaving these audiences vulnerable to manipulation by bad actors and ultimately harming society.
A more viable solution is for advertisers to intentionally direct their budgets toward quality media. While high-quality environments may come with a higher price tag, the impact is more significant. Studies, including our own, illustrate that premium content creates a halo effect for advertising, resulting in superior engagement. Additionally, premium publishers have cultivated relationships with their audiences over years, offering advertisers valuable first-party audiences not 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 the quality content, but also advertisers and society at large. By working together, publishers, advertisers and technology partners can navigate this landscape, building a responsible supply chain and ensure that advertising serves a larger purpose – advertising for good.
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