With continued advertising softness, publishers have been seeking ways to diversity revenues and protect profits. Similar to what we have seen in other sectors, with employee costs being such a major expense, job cuts have been the most common strategy to increase flexibility in these uncertain times for publishers. As a result, 2023 has become a year of efficiency and we have seen significant layoffs in the industry, a trend which started late last year. Major layoffs have been seen in both traditional and more digitalised publishers, despite more resilient growth in the latter. Notably, US-based Gannett laid off 200 employees in December with further redundancies in January 2023 while UK-based Reach recently announced a third round of layoffs.
Looking at more digital players, BuzzFeed announced a 12% job cut last year, with further reductions in April along with the closure of its renowned Buzzfeed News division, and Vox Media cut 7% of its workforce in January after multiple rounds in 2022. Vice Media also laid off over 100 employees in April shortly before filing for bankruptcy. Newsroom unions are pushing for better terms for editorial staff that have been heavily impacted in these rounds but have limited power to change the situation until the sector headwind eases.
Meanwhile, publishers continue to face challenges – most recently many have been affected by Google's latest algorithm change, which is impacting rankings and traffic. In other news, a study found that TikTok is posing challenge to Google's search dominance in certain topics, and X has opted out of the MRC brand safety audit amid rising advertiser unease. In the UK, LBG Media has rolled out a new tech-oriented site, after seeing rising interests in tech related news amongst their audience base.
News of the week
Unions advocate for better terms in the latest round of media layoff
Several media companies including G/O, Vice, Vox, CNBC, Reach and Conde Nast have recently announced plans to slash editorial roles. This new wave of job cuts follows several previous rounds over the past year amidst a challenging advertising landscape and ongoing inflationary pressures. Despite stronger unionisation of newsrooms since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, unions have not been able to halt these layoffs. However, they have been able to negotiate the terms of these layoffs, including the number of people impacted and severance packages. The recent layoffs have led to criticism of company leadership decisions by newsroom unions. For example, at Condé Nast, the union led a protest accusing management of ‘lack of communication and transparency’ following its decision to lay off 5% of its workforce, including 25% of union members, earlier this month. Negotiations with the company are still in progress. Digiday
Elon Musk’s X opts out of MRC brand safety audit amid loss of advertisers
X, formerly known as Twitter, has opted out of independent auditing by Ernst & Young for its Media Rating Council (MRC) brand safety credentials due to resource constraints and technological challenges. This decision comes amidst concerns about the platform's brand safety, with advertisers hesitant to invest in a platform that cannot independently verify its safety claims. It is unclear whether X has a full brand safety team in place after it lost two safety executives this year, albeit X's CEO, Linda Yaccarino, insists on the platform's safety for advertising brands and its commitment to combating antisemitism and discrimination. However, recent events, including the endorsement of what appears to be antisemitic comments by owner Elon Musk, have led to a dozen of big brands, including IBM, Disney and Comcast, suspending their advertising on the platform. Insider Intelligence forecasts show that X's worldwide ad revenue for 2023 is expected to drop 54.5% from last year, and further decrease by 4.3% by 2024. Digiday
TikTok challenges Google’s position in ‘how to’ searches
Rise at Seven, a search-first creative agency, conducted a study analysing thousands of keywords across various industries on TikTok and Google. The study found 100 keywords or phrases users search more on TikTok than Google. Google continue to dominate on terms such as “near me” and “what’s on” but searches for “how to” are on the rise for TikTok. According to Rise at Seven, 73% of top keyword searches on TikTok were informational, while 21% were commercially motivated. In addition to this, TikTok has been developing ecommerce focused offerings, and is increasingly more so positioning itself as an ecommerce platform. Therefore it is not only threatening Google but also Amazon position in the marketplace. Campaign
Latest Google algorithm update impacts news websites’ traffic
The Press Gazette believes that the recent updates to Google's search and Discover features, implemented since September, have had a significant impact on news publishers, affecting both their traffic and revenue streams. It believes that traditional websites that prioritise scale, often built around SEO explainer-style articles, seem to have been hit the hardest. In contrast, sites with fewer ads and a superior user experience have seen less impact. Press Gazette, found that the worse 15 sites affected by search visibility decline was owned by Reach PLC. It has been particularly impacted due to its strategy of focusing on scale to drive digital advertising revenue. In light of these changes, SEO experts have recommended that publishers reduce the volume of commercial content and enhance user experience to maintain traffic levels. Google has clarified that they are not targeting specific pages or sites. However, they have suggested that review content that includes in-depth research is likely to rank higher than simple summaries that don’t add much value. Pressgazette
LBG Media launches Unilad Tech website
LBG Media has recently launched a new website, Uniladtech.com. This will expand the presence of its existing social media account Unilad Tech, which boasts 18.1m followers across various social media platforms. The new website will cover a wide range of topics including gadgets, hardware, space, AI vehicles, and tech companies and personalities. Over the past year, the audience for tech content on LBG Media’s existing websites has nearly doubled. Furthermore, LBG’s panel, Ladnation, revealed that 62% of its audience is interested in staying updated with the latest tech news. Uniladtech.com is designed to cater to the social generation, presenting content in a style that is ‘relatable, easily digestible, and shareable’, according to LBG’s director of editorial strategy, Jon Birchall. From a commercial perspective, the new site offers a unique opportunity for brands to reach a highly valuable tech audience, with bespoke creative solutions offered, as well as direct display and video advertising. Pressgazette