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The IAB NewFronts puts a spotlight on news publishers and women’s sports in a critical year for both

A pair of hands holds binoculars through a laptop, with the reflection of news websites in the lenses.

Illustration by Dave Cole / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

Faced with an ever-changing identity landscape, competition from social media sites and outdated brand-safety lists, news publishers are frustrated and tired.

They finally got their time in a spotlight session at the annual IAB NewFronts in New York this week, alongside companies’ usual announcements of enhanced ad offerings (mainly centered on connected TV (CTV)). Also new this year: the first-ever NewFront dedicated solely to women’s sports as brand and media interest surges.

David Cohen, CEO of the IAB, tells The Current that the company chose to highlight traditional news organizations this year due to the upcoming election and ongoing challenges for publishers, including brand-safety lists. The U.S. needs a healthy news industry for a strong democracy, Cohen tells The Current, but the best way to get through to marketers is business-first. According to Magna’s latest forecast, the publishing industry’s ad revenues are projected to decline by 4.2% in 2024.

“News is not only good for the country, good for society — it’s actually good for your business, and I think that actually resonates slightly more with marketers,” Cohen says. “Not only is it good for fighting disinformation and misinformation, but it’s actually good for your business to drive it forward.”

On the first day of the NewFronts, legacy publishers like The New York Times, The Guardian U.S., BBC, NBCUniversal, CNN and Condé Nast linked arms to stress the value of their audiences, which they pointed out include young Gen Zers.

“People who think that young people aren’t interested and engaged in news should visit any American campus right now,” said Mark Thompson, chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, referring to protests at college campuses across the U.S. that are protesting Israel’s military action in Gaza.

A large issue for publishers continues to be marketers’ brand-safety protocols, some of which haven’t been updated in years. Deva Bronson, EVP and global head of brand assurance at Dentsu, gave an example during the Monday panel. As she was onboarding a recent client, she realized the name of the singer Ariana Grande was still listed as blocked from the time a suicide bomber attacked her Manchester concert more than seven years ago, back in 2017.

“This is a critical, industrywide issue — and one that all publishers are facing,” said Tim Wastney, SVP of sales, marketing and brand partnerships at BBC Studios.

Fears about brand safety arguably have an outsized impact on the news industry. That dynamic spurred the IAB to launch its News Trust Halo initiative, which polls audiences on their reactions to ads appearing on news content. Cohen shared the latest findings this week: 69% of consumers polled say advertising alongside “disconcerting news” has no negative effect on how a brand is perceived.

“We’ve overcorrected and caused a number of problems,” said Bronson. “Have we seen direct evidence of brands being affected by adjacency to breaking, violent or controversial news? I don’t know that we have.”

CTV and retail media offerings

In typical NewFronts fashion, seemingly all platforms and brands that presented — everyone from Google and Roku to Samsung and T-Mobile — announced enhanced ad offerings, with areas like CTV and retail media especially strong and AI once again on the tongues of most presenters.

Google, for instance, announced new AI capabilities in its DV360 platform, and is making its Publisher Advertiser Identity Reconciliation identity solution open-source, working with the IAB. Other important announcements from the week: Vizio, soon to be acquired by Walmart, is bringing video ads to its home screen; Samsung introduced a gaming ad format for its ad-supported video on demand service, Samsung TV Plus; and Roku introduced video ads to its home screen, branded content hubs called Showrooms, and a new partnership with The Trade Desk allowing advertisers to use Roku’s audience data to target ads.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, is introducing its own retail media network where advertisers can buy ads programmatically on any of its 20,000 screens at T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile retail locations across the U.S., and then also run across mobile, CTV and 60,000 rideshare screens through T-Mobile’s 2022 acquisition of Octopus Interactive.

Cohen believes it’s a trend the industry will continue to see: “Retailers are finding that there’s a whole new business in being in the publishing world.” In its latest Internet Advertising Revenue Report, the IAB found that retail media ad revenue hit $43.7 billion in the U.S. 2023, among the highest growth rates, at 16.3%.

Women’s sports

On the last day of NewFronts, fan intelligence firm Sports Innovation Lab presented the first NewFronts dedicated to women’s sports, with the introduction of a new media marketplace for advertisers looking to break into the growing market. In 2023, brands on average were spending 9% of their media budgets on women’s sports in 2023, with 83% saying they planned on increasing that to 10% of budgets in 2024, according to an October report from Sports Innovation Lab.

Already, major marketers like Nike and State Farm have been latching onto superstar players, such as the WNBA’s new recruit Caitlin Clark. Women’s elite sports are projected to surpass $1 billion in global revenue this year for the first time, according to Deloitte.

Sports Innovation Lab isn’t alone. GroupM is launching an upfront marketplace for brands like Ally and Universal Pictures to get into the game.

The Current is owned and operated by The Trade Desk Inc.