Why Do Advertisers Hold Web Publishers to a Higher Standard Than TV?

Unlike Traditional Media, Buyers Evaluate Internet Sites for Their 'Whole Environments'

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Last week, I was flipping though the channels and caught a show on MTV called "16 and Pregnant," while the same morning I read in the paper about a new show on Spike TV called "The Psycho Dwarf" about a little-person wrestling troupe. I saw later in the week that MTV was proudly premiering a show called "Sexting in America." That same day, the home page of GQ.com had a naked model and a woman in lingerie, the homepage of Men's Health advertised a video for "What she wants in bed," and Esquire magazine advised me how to "Score with a Kardashian" and bet on the Super Bowl. It occurred to me that there exists a considerable double standard between the internet and other media as to how they are viewed and how media buying is approached for each one.

In all forms of entertainment, certain content tends to be more advertising-friendly than others. MSNBC has "The Keith Olberman Show," but it also has "Lock-Up." Fox might air "American Idol," but they also air "World's Craziest Videos" -- and their local affiliates air even less upscale content. GQ and Esquire often provide compelling editorial, intertwined between pages of scantily clad women as well. These entities continue to be regarded as premium for the types of audiences they aggregate. When a brand wants to reach an audience, they look at the different offerings and elect to associate their advertising with the most fitting content. Very few brands would feel uncomfortable running on MTV if they did not like the show "16 and Pregnant" -- they would simply run their commercials during a different program.

Logically speaking, that is the way media buying should work. The networks create great content, and advertisers should pick the programs that fit their brands the best. Unfortunately, that is not the way it works on the web. Simply put, pure play web publishers, with comparable demographics and audience numbers, are consistently held to a higher standard than TV or print entities. Many media buyers tend to look at websites for their "whole environment" rather than for the differentiated content offerings a website might provide. For whatever reason, they are not willing to associate their brand with just the content they are comfortable with while allowing the other content to co-exist peacefully next to it.

At Break Media, we run many highly trafficked, male-focused properties -- including a lifestyle site called MadeMan. Like Esquire and GQ, we have an editorial staff that writes articles focusing on a young male audience. However, we have to very carefully moderate the content that we create to maintain a complete environment advertisers will be comfortable within. While some of our content is of course edgy, we need to walk a very fine line on any content that has ads associated with it. We cannot create these articles and have a business.

Web publishers also run the risk of becoming known by the least advertiser-friendly content they have, while print and television are almost always known for the best content they provide. MTV, whose highest rated show is "Jersey Shore" and which runs "Underage and Engaged," is known for the "MTV Movie Awards." Comedy Central, which airs semi-explicit "Girls Gone Wild" commercials at night, is the home of the "Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report." On the internet, you might become known for one thing only -- even if you offer much more. YouTube is a perfect example of a property that offers a wide range of semi-professional and professional content, but continues to be associated with UGC.

It is unclear why marketers allow this double standard to exist. Perhaps it is a reflection of the long history TV/print outlets have with their advertising partners and a trust that has developed between them. Digital media, as much and as quickly as it has grown in the last few years, is still relatively new and evolving. Hopefully, as we continue to demonstrate out legitimacy in the marketplace, digital media companies can earn that same level of trust from brands as well. At some point, we should strive to be viewed also by the strength of our best content in addition to the weakness of our less valuable material.

The upside of this situation is that, by being held to a higher criterion, web publishers have been forced to work harder to provide content that appeals to both advertisers and users. We are compelled to be innovative in the content we create and the technology we build so that we can provide an even safer environment than the one television offers. In the long run, as media converges, these skills and knowledge bases will serve us well.

Keith Richman is CEO of Break Media.
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