The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism analysed the websites of 22 newspapers, TV networks and digital news publications like the Huffington Post, and concluded that "even the top news websites in the country have had little success getting advertisers from traditional platforms to move online."
Pew found that most news organizations are highly reliant on banner ads, and have failed to diversify into video or pop-up advertising or to target ads at specific users as Google and Facebook do.
The report initially found that of the 22 news organisations in the study, only three - CNN, The New York Times and Yahoo News - made "significant" use of targeted ads. A follow-up analysis six months later found that two more sites - the LA Times and The Atlantic - had increased their use of targeted ads, but the proportion of customised ads compared to blanket ads was still small.
The study also noted that news organisations didn't seem to have persuaded advertisers to buy ad space across multiple platforms: the same news organisations were advertising very different products online and on their traditional platforms.
What's more, the same companies seem to be advertising online across different websites. According to Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, who is quoted by Media Post, this "could be a signal that these are very inexpensive ads, perhaps even sold through third-party networks sharing in whatever revenue the ads are bringing in".
Pew also found that news organisations tend to advertise a higher proportion of their own products online than on any other platform. On time.com, for example, 56% of ads were related to Time products.
After in-house ads, the study found that the next most common online advertisers were from the financial industry. Pew states that financial ads are almost three times more common than the next biggest online advertising category, toiletries and cosmetics, and that financial ads were far more common online than in the legacy media.
Two other findings from the study: firstly, discount or coupon ads were not particularly popular across the news organisations, despite earlier hopes that they might drive significant revenue; secondly, a high proportion of ads on news sites appeared in a format that is powered by Google, who then shares in the ad revenue.