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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

It is time for publishers to take back control

January 26, 2022 | By Lucie Laurendon, Product Marketing Lead, Supply – Smart AdServer @LucieLaurendon

The adtech ecosystem hasn’t always been easy for publishers to navigate. Managing complexity around data privacy, dealing with opaque fees, and working around anti-competitive behavior has become standard operating procedure. And 2021 brought no relief with more change than ever introduced into the ecosystem.

Big players have caused big waves

Last year, publishers had to deal with Apple implementing their ATT framework under iOS 14.5, which changed the way apps collected data about end-users and shared it with other companies for tracking purposes. This major move had a strong impact on IDFA tracking. It resulted in lower opt-in rates, less ability to serve personalized ads, and a shift in spending from iOS to Android where lower CPMs were available. All of this led to a decrease in revenue from iOS users.

Google followed with their announcement to postpone cookie deprecation after they were challenged by both the UK competition authority and GDPR to release their privacy sandbox. And, revenue was further impacted with European authorities taking a stronger approach to enforcing GDPR. We saw consent rates drop from 94% to 85% after the French data privacy authority (CNIL) required websites to ask users to accept or decline consent at the same level.

With each of these changes, publishers were forced to relinquish more control and adapt. In this climate of uncertainty, publishers are left questioning who they should trust. But that may be about to change. 

The tipping point 

As the industry awaits the resolution of ongoing legal battles—such as the Google antitrust lawsuit filed in Texas—we’re set to reach a tipping point. While any outcomes are impossible to anticipate, we can look to what’s happening in Europe for hints of what to expect. 

Last year’s ruling by the French Anticompetitive Authority resulted in Google sharing a set of commitments focused on increased access to data and transparency. This opened the door for publishers to partly regain their choice of tech partners without compromising revenue. Google also agreed to a test run with a select group of French publishers to validate their commitments. These tests are currently underway and the proof points are expected to be released soon. This could provide additional confidence in the increased level of control they have promised. However, we will have to wait and see.

In addition, publishers have historically innovated to create solutions when faced with roadblocks. A perfect example is the evolution of header bidding as an industry standard in response to pain points imposed by Google. As publishers began looking for additional ways to make the most of their non-consented traffic last year, we saw new targeting solutions emerge. We expect these to become more widely adopted in the year ahead as they allow for even greater revenue and control over content, data, and audience relationships. 

What’s a publisher to do? 

There’s still a lot of uncertainty around what lies ahead when it comes to the industry as a whole. But those who are ready to embrace change have never been in a better position to thrive with all of the independent players and options available to help take ownership of first-party data or content, their most critical assets.

Curation is a great start for reducing reliance on a big tech walled garden. In addition to offering better brand safety, it streamlines the value chain through a more transparent deal process to offer enhanced accountability and efficiency. This means fewer intermediaries and fees. It also allows you to avoid data leakage and provides more control over your inventory through direct deals with buyers.

From there, another big step is protecting yourself from data leakage. By partnering with an independent SSP, you will be able to input first-party data in clean rooms. This safe and secure environment can serve as a basis for privacy-safe targeting with no risk of data leakage. And it can also be leveraged for audience extension and creating direct deals and PMPs. This way you will be able to leverage the full value of your first-party data and generate a new revenue stream.

Then, once you are ready to embrace large-scale change, the independent players can help you replace your full-stack to create your own private garden. This approach gives you full control of your data and revenue while opening the door for the creation of publisher networks or alliances to increase scale and better identify audiences. Independent providers can offer more innovation than the big tech player solutions. In instances where the walled gardens act as an adblocker and do not monetize non-consented traffic, an independent player allows you to provide buyers a path to targeting this traffic through performance and contextual targeting.

Change takes time. But, as the landscape finally begins evolving in their favor and more transparent solutions emerge, publishers are well-positioned to be in the driver’s seat as we enter this new era. 

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