Digiday+ Research: Cookie deprecation eclipses the economy as publishers’ biggest challenge this year

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Publishers have been struggling with the challenges brought on by the economy for the past few years, and that’s probably not going to change much in 2024. However, the industry is facing another challenge this year that might just put the economy on the back burner for a bit: the death of the third-party cookie.

This is according to Digiday+ Research surveys of more than 120 publisher professionals.

Let’s cut to the chase: Digiday’s surveys found that publishers’ biggest concern this year is the deprecation of the third-party cookie. This is after years of being overwhelmed by economic challenges. In other words, publishers are finally confronting the reality that cookies are actually going away (and the fact that the industry as a whole isn’t quite prepared).

Nearly a third of publisher pros (31%) said late in the fourth quarter of 2023 that third-party cookie deprecation is the biggest challenge the industry will face this year. That’s a huge jump from the 6% who picked third-party cookie deprecation as the biggest challenge for 2023.

Meanwhile, 29% of publishers said economic trends will be the industry’s biggest challenge this year, making it the No. 2 concern for publishers in 2024 after the death of the cookie. For context, a whopping 70% of publishers told Digiday in Q4 2022 that economic trends would be their biggest challenge in 2023.

But all of this is not to say that the economy isn’t among the major concerns for publishers this year. It’s quite the opposite, really — after all, an entire industry doesn’t forget so easily after going through the things the economy has put publishers through in recent years.

Digiday’s surveys found that the economy hurt publishers in 2023 even more so than it did in 2022. Nearly three-quarters of publisher pros (73%) said in Q4 2023 that economic trends hurt their companies’ performances last year, up from just short of two-thirds (62%) in 2022.

And the degree to which the economy hurt publishers even increased last year over the year before. More than a third of publisher pros (35%) told Digiday at the end of 2023 that they strongly agreed that the economy hurt them last year, compared with less than a quarter (21%) who said the same in 2022. The percentage of publishers who said they agreed only somewhat that the economy hurt their companies remained fairly steady over the last two years: 38% said this in Q4 2023 and 41% said this in Q4 2022.

Even with third-party cookie deprecation top-of-mind for publishers this year, Digiday’s surveys found that not much has changed when it comes to the extent to which publishers are worried about the economy even into 2024. Fifty-six percent of publisher pros said they agreed that economic trends will hurt their companies’ performances this year, which is only a very slight change from the 59% who said the same last year.

It is worth noting though, that the percentage of publisher pros who disagreed that the economy will hurt their companies this year did jump over last year. It’s still a small percentage — 19% of publishers said at the end of 2023 that they disagreed that economic trends will hurt their companies’ performances in 2024. But that percentage is still much higher than the 6% who disagreed that the economy would hurt them in 2023.

Digging deeper into the data, though, the picture is a bit murkier. Most of the publisher pros who said they disagreed that the economy will hurt them this year disagreed only somewhat (13% of all respondents said this, compared with 6% the year prior). Meanwhile, 6% said in Q4 2023 that they disagreed strongly that the economy will hurt their companies’ performances in 2024. This is actually an increase from Q4 2022, when not one respondent to Digiday’s survey said they disagreed strongly that economic trends would hurt them in 2023.


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