‘Leave the BS in the past’: Why many publishers aren’t mourning the death of the third-party cookie

In times of crisis, a problem shared can often be a problem halved.

Publishers are not short of challenges at the moment, with the imminent demise of the third-party cookie floating up to somewhere near the top of the list of concerns. While publishers have long talked about diversifying their digital revenue beyond display ads, Google’s announcement in January that it’ll remove support for third-party cookies within two years demonstrated that it’s really now time for publishers to walk the walk.

Rather than just being beholden to large platforms and browser companies to come up with a solution to the cookie conundrum some publishing executives at Digiday’s Digital Publishing Summit Europe in Croatia last week put forward more of a gung-ho attitude and vowed to work better together.

Publishing alliances have previously had a rocky history — but times have changed.

“I think publisher alliances will work now or have the opportunity to work now just because people are almost forced to do it,” said Jessica Barrett, director of programmatic and commercial innovation at the Financial Times. “If it’s a matter of your company going under or you have to work with your competitor, you’re going to work together.”

While Barrett was largely referring here to small-and mid-sized publishers in countries like Germany or Switzerland (where alliances are starting to gain some traction,) working with competitors could potentially make sense for larger companies like the FT in markets where it isn’t so dominant. A digital-subscription bundle between the FT and a publication like Economist could work in the U.S., Barrett offered as a hypothetical example.

Publishers also encouraged cooperation between each other in less formal ways, including when it comes to educating buyers about why premium websites are a more attractive and effective place to advertise than the long tail of the web.

Education might be important on the reader side, too, as more publishers move to encourage users to register with their sites as third-party cookies denigrate.

“People don’t have a problem with having to be logged into Facebook, that seems normal,” George Bouras, programmatic platforms and data manager at tech publisher IDG. “It would be really powerful if loads of publishers got together and said … you have to give us your email address and this is why, and you do so with other elements of your digital life.”

Ultimately, rather than focusing on short-term, technical cookie workarounds that could ultimately get blocked again by browsers once they cotton on anyway (remember the game of whack-a-mole between Criteo and Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention?) publishers encouraged each other to think more broadly about what should come next.

Perhaps life after the third-party cookie will look like life before the third-party cookie. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

“The industry was fine before programmatic came along, and we’d be fine without it. I’ve worked in programmatic for ~10 years, and while it has certainly advanced our industry in certain areas (like automation — remember faxing IOs?), it has also become a largely unregulated, overly-complex dumpster fire,” The FT’s Barrett wrote on LinkedIn earlier this week. “Let’s keep the best parts of programmatic and leave the BS in the past.”


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