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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Publishers push past the cookie and take control of their data destiny

February 22, 2022 | By Todd Tran, Chief Strategy Officer – Teads @teads

The start of 2021 seems like a lifetime ago by any measure. But if you work in the world of digital advertising, the landscape certainly looks very different today than this time last year. Back then we were expecting 3rd party cookies to be removed from Google’s Chrome browser imminently resulting in a rush to prepare for this new world.

Google may have postponed their deprecation timeline. However, the reality is that – thanks to updates from Apple and existing policies from the likes of Firefox – the online digital landscape globally is already 40% cookieless, rising to 60% in markets such as US and UK*. Last February, we surveyed of 419 of the world’s top publishers to see how they were preparing for the cookieless world and we recently conducted the survey again to see how much had changed.

Over the past month, 449 of the world’s best publisher brands, representing a cross-section of both small and medium sized publishers and the largest media companies, responded to questions about their plans for the deprecation of the cookie and which industry initiatives they’re looking at implementing and the results are illuminating.

Education progressing but confidence isn’t high

The number of publishers who have limited to no knowledge of cookies and the cookieless future has fallen from 10% to 6% and those who have a strong understanding of new initiatives has risen from 24% to 31%. However, those in the middle who are unsure of new solutions and how they affect their business are still far ahead in the majority at 63%, relatively unmoved from 66% 12 months ago. While it is good to see there’s movement in publishers’ education, there’s a long way to go if they are to thrive in today’s cookieless world.

Google can wait, media can’t

What’s plain to see is that 12 months of changes have sent a clear message to publishers: The time for action is now. Do not delay. When asked how platform and regulatory changes in 2021 impacted their planning for the cookieless future, 78% said that such changes either had no impact or had accelerated their plans.

While this might seem counterintuitive at first glance, it’s fantastic to hear that publishers are not waiting for others to dictate their future when it comes to 3rd party data. Media titles need to move quickly to create clear and sustainable offerings for advertisers that aren’t susceptible to changes. They must lean into their strengths vs social platforms, which currently have the lion’s share of digital budgets.

Ain’t no party like your 1st party

The most encouraging outtake from the survey however is that publishers are doubling down on sustainable revenue practices that are within their control. We asked: “Do you see the deprecation of 3rd-party cookies and/or IDFA/Device IDs as a threat or an opportunity for publishers?” The good news is that we’ve seen a 100% increase year on year. Half of all respondents now say such changes “…give us the opportunity to differentiate through our 1st-party data and the quality of our content”. 

In similar fashion, when asked about which data/targeting solutions are they likely to adopt, only 27% said that a privacy sandbox would be considered. Most (63%) see 1st party data as an answer, 59% appropriately see contextual within their offering, with unique ID seeing a good percentage at 43%. 

This focus on owned data and content may not be revolutionary for those who’ve been fighting the battle for quality journalism for a long time now, but it’s exciting to see it within this context. Indeed, many of us in media have played this record before. However, 3rd party cookie deprecation changes this landscape dramatically.

Publishers’ who have stayed the path, developing deep connections with their audiences and building trust (at a journalistic and UX level) will have significant advantages as we move into this new world. And while the exact “how” might not be worked out, it’s fantastic to see the digital media landscape increasingly bullish as the privacy debate plays out.

The goals are set, now it’s about execution

While this all sounds great, there are some visible hurdles that need to be cleared. Logins could be an opportunity to develop sophisticated targeting solutions for brands. However, only 45% say they have a strategy for increasing the use of logins and 93% of global publishers say 50% or less of their users actually do so. Logins pose questions across the publisher journey. In fact, 45% worry about the impact on user experience and 49% are worried about the impact on traffic.

Others also show concerns about monitoring inventory monetization capabilities (33%), technical implementation of logins (31%) and conflict with subscription models (18%). The directive here? While logins should be part of publishers’ solution for a cookieless world, it cannot be the only tool they use. They must also adopt solutions such as a cookieless tag to supplement this to provide greater scale for advertisers. That there’s no time to waste, cookieless is here and digital media can press home their advantages, but there’s a lot of work to be done before they’re ready. 

In 2021, we said that publishers need answers in order to be fully ready for a cookieless world, and while a lot of those questions still yet to be answered, the question about whether publishers can thrive in a sustainable data world does seem to be resolved.

It will require more tests, increased implementation of technologies and a press to find concrete answers today that can resolve the questions being asked. There are already viable solutions in market and it’s time for publishers to properly get started, if they have not already done so. But once those challenges are overcome we should be left with better user trust, better media outcomes and better monetization opportunities for publishers – which sounds like a sustainable media ecosystem to me.

*Source: Teads global platform data (October 2021)

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