Ubaid Zargar

Online publishers forge ahead to embrace the cookieless future

The impending demise of third-party cookies has prompted a wave of adaptation and innovation within the industry.

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing, a seismic shift is underway that promises to reshape the way online publishers operate. The impending demise of third-party cookies has prompted a wave of adaptation and innovation within the industry, as publishers strategically prepare to navigate the uncharted waters of a cookieless future.

With privacy concerns and regulatory measures on the rise, the era of third-party cookies has reached its twilight. These cookies, which have long been the cornerstone of online tracking and targeted advertising, are slowly being phased out. The result is a transformative shift that calls for online publishers to rethink their strategies and find alternative approaches to maintaining revenue streams and delivering personalized experiences.

The topic, being of interest to many, was discussed in length in a session at the recently concluded 4th edition of Digipub, hosted by afaqs!. Experts from the industry shared their perspectives on the advent of a cookieless world, and what it means for the publishers online.

The panel was moderated by Sandeep Amar, who is the founder of Publishers Digital Lab. The speakers on the panel included Gaurav, COO, Jagran New Media; Kunal Singla from Amar Ujala; Shridhar Mishra, CRO - Digital, Zee Media; Sunny Sen, Founder & CEO, ConsCent.

Sandeep Amar opened the discussion by highlighting the historical significance of third-party cookies and their role in targeted advertising. He pointed out, “While Safari and Firefox have already abandoned third-party cookies, Google, driven by substantial revenue concerns, has been hesitant to follow suit.” 

Amar explained that the revenue stream derived from remarketing and retargeting in e-commerce, estimated at around four to 5000 crores, has motivated Google to maintain third-party cookies. However, Google's attempt to transition to a "privacy sandbox" has been met with skepticism due to concerns over its effectiveness in safeguarding user privacy.

The end of third-party data could also reap consequences for the revenue streams of many publishers. Gaurav Arora explained the potential consequences for publishers. He noted that the ad rates might be inversely proportional to inventory, suggesting that the scarcity of premium inventory could lead to increased rates once the industry adapts to the new landscape. 

Arora acknowledged that while the initial transition could result in a 30-40% drop in revenues, publishers might discover ways to recover as they explore new avenues for collecting first-party data.

Kunal Singla, offering a distinct perspective, viewed the transition as a fortunate turn of events. He highlighted the value of "first-party data in fostering deeper user engagement." Singla elaborated on the shift from individual-level targeting to cohort-based targeting, which empowers publishers to tailor content and ads more effectively for distinct audience segments. He also accentuated the potential of AI in enhancing engagement and optimising the utilisation of first-party data.

Shridhar Mishra addressed the substantial impact of the cookieless future on publisher revenues, stating that "cross-device targeting, retargeting, and other performance metrics will be adversely affected." To salvage this situation, Mishra emphasised the importance of publishers focusing on building robust first-party data strategies. He also underlined the significance of creating a "unified ID that is measurable, readable, accessible, and targetable by various platforms."

Sunny Sen succinctly encapsulated the significance of first-party and zero-party data. Sen stated that "the availability of such data allows publishers to customise ad inventory and subscription offers based on user interests, thereby elevating the value of ad slots." He drew from his discussions with News Corp to illustrate how a focus on these data types can maximise revenue through personalised content and experiences.

As the digital landscape undergoes a profound transformation, online publishers confront a landscape filled with both challenges and opportunities. The consensus among the panelists is that adaptation to the cookieless future mandates an emphasis on user engagement, the development of robust first-party data strategies, and the strategic use of technologies like AI to enhance value and revenue, all while maintaining user privacy.

Watch the full discussion below

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