Media Briefing: Publishers are still prepping for cookie deprecation despite Google’s delay 

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Pressure is still on to leave third-party cookies behind

Google’s announcement last week that it was delaying the removal of third-party cookies from its Chrome browser – again – came as a shock to few, if any, publishers. 

And while it’s never fun to sweat about a perpetually moving deadline, by and large the five publishers that spoke with Digiday for this story are maintaining a “glass-half-full” mentality. That’s because this delay extends the runway publishers need to make cookie-less solutions viable for both their businesses and their advertisers.

“We’re still planning to move as much of our inventory as possible away from any reliance on third-party cookies,” said Emry DowningHall, svp of programmatic revenue and strategy at Unwind Media. “It doesn’t change anything in terms of what we’re prioritizing internally, either. It’s just a longer timeline to test, get results and iterate.”

There’s also the scenario that deprecation does continue incrementally this year. “[Google] has stated that cookies won’t be fully deprecated by the end of the year, but they could still ramp up the 1% significantly. We’re still trying to ramp up with testing as much as we can and hopefully some of these alternative solutions can be further vetted and improved by the time this actually happens,” said Jeff Olson, Apartment Therapy Media’s svp of revenue operations. 

On the other hand, some publishers worry what another delay will do to the industry’s ability to take third-party cookie deprecation seriously. 

“Plenty of publishers can sit back and sweat less about making their Q4 numbers, as Chrome rates will remain stronger than had the third-party cookie been deprecated,” said Justin Wohl, CRO of Snopes and TVTropes. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for the industry or the development of cookie-less technology, he argued.  

“Without the pressure, alt-ID innovation [and] authentication efforts, they all get deprioritized. Privacy Sandbox testing/developments will also suffer. Those who have already allocated resources to testing will continue to work on what they have; anyone who didn’t start yet certainly isn’t going to jump in and start testing/development of their own with the news,” Wohl wrote in an email. 

Financially worth it 

All of the publishers said that this delay isn’t changing how they’re embracing cookie-less solutions and how they’re pitching advertisers on third-party cookie alternatives. 

And the extended timeline is also a bit of a blessing when it comes to making sure cookie-less solutions like deterministic IDs are effective. To work at scale, deterministic IDs require a substantial amount of audience authentication — meaning getting site visitors to log in and remain logged in at any given time — which isn’t an easy chore

The good news, DowningHall argued, is that because revenue lifts are already being measured by solutions like UID 2.0 and RampID, it makes sense to invest further in developing audience authentication strategies and first-party data collection, even without the pressure of the cookiepocalpyse.

Gannett’s first-party data sales products launched in July 2023 and despite third-party cookies still being available to advertisers, Kelly Andresen, president of national sales, said the adoption rate of those solutions have been growing. Revenue generated in Q1 for Gannett’s first-party data solutions exceeded the total revenue they generated in the half-a-year they were available in 2023, she added. 

“That means demand even when advertisers don’t have to make that change,” Andresen said. 

It’s not just helpful in the programmatic advertising market to be prioritizing cookie-less targeting solutions, however. Olson said that ATM is still pushing its email capturing efforts forward despite the delay because there are benefits to improving direct-sold campaigns too. 

“Email can power [deterministic IDs like] UID 2.0 [and] RampID, which are helpful in terms of increasing our CPMs but … but we also are able to garner better match rates with direct brands that are looking to activate their own first-party data on our platforms. … We’re trying to get higher match rates for those brands activating on our sites as well,” said Olson. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late 

Cookie deprecation from Chrome is inevitable, which is something that the publisher execs all agreed upon. 

“Whether it is Q4 of this year, H2 of next year, whatever — the writing is on the wall that the cookie is going to be deprecated, and as long as you agree with that, then any investment in first-party data strategies or non-cookie reliant monetization methods are going to be better for your business long term,” said DowningHall. 

For Jeff Burkett, vp of ad innovations at Gannett, that means testing cookie alternatives can’t pause. Having the solutions available for buyers both now and when third-party cookies are finally gone is the only way to try and convince those ad dollars to remain in the open market. 

“We need the buyers to be testing, to start to make some of their own decisions to get themselves ready because the real fear that I have is if buyers aren’t ready, when this does actually happen, that just means these dollars move from the open web and move into other places like CTV and the walled gardens. And that is really not a good situation for publishers to be in,” said Burkett.

What we’ve heard

“AI is really big … and it’s going to be a way where people can find what they want easier and quicker. If we get it wrong, we’ll get disintermediated and people will get our stuff one way or the other — in the way the AI companies have scraped everything we’ve ever done anyway … and our businesses will collapse. If we get it right, it could be a golden age of news experiences for people in this country and around the world.”

Mark Thompson, CEO and chairman of CNN Worldwide at the IAB’s Spotlight on News panel at the Newfronts 

News publishers’ pitch non-news content to marketers

At this week’s annual IAB NewFronts event, news publishers’ pitch to marketers really was not centered around traditional news content at all.

During a Spotlight on News session on Monday, which featured CEOs from the BBC, CNN, NBCUniversal, The New York Times and NPR, news execs focus on the other content their publications produce — and are putting more resources into this year — including lifestyle, culture, games and sports. It explains why The New York Times has invested (and added ad inventory) in The Athletic, and why The Washington Post has launched new verticals like wellness, for example.

The publishing execs addressed issues of news avoidance and distrust, as well as concerns around brand safety, but ultimately placed emphasis on all of the other content that they can offer beyond war or politics.

“We’ve made … the mistake in recent years of getting over-associated with divisive politics and some very tough issues,” said CNN chairman and CEO Mark Thompson. “I think there’s something for us about how we present our agendas, and how we allow advertising partners to meet us across our agendas and select climate, lifestyle, entertainment news, business news, health, longevity, wellness, and so on. So I think there’s something about not being too narrow in our own perception of what news is.”

The other big argument being made on stage is the size of the audiences that publishers of this ilk command. “We are representing companies that have scaled products that reach and deeply engage millions of people across all the important dimensions of their life,” said New York Times Company CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.

But according to Deborah Turness, CEO of BBC News and current affairs, “Our greatest competitor is news avoidance. I think we live in a polarized world with divisive politics and culture wars. Add to that a couple of massive wars, real wars, and then you have this kind of toxic mix and people are starting to move away from news. But we’re making such amazing moves now to build out more lifestyle and culture and create an experience, adding podcasts, long-form, documentaries.” 

This seems to be what brands want, especially during times of difficult news cycles, according to Susan Schiekofer, chief digital investment officer at GroupM North America.

“Our clients, when there’s just tons of strife in the U.S. — and it’s going to come again with the new election — they do tend to make sure that they’re not on the front page, but there’s lots of other places. There’s auto news, sports, entertainment, gaming, lifestyle. So there’s a ton of places to still support news media if a client wants to avoid the hard news,” said Schiekofer onstage Monday. — Sara Guaglione

Numbers to know

8: The number of daily newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital that are suing OpenAI and Microsoft for illegal use of news articles to power the companies’ AI chatbots.

1 million: The number of subscribers that French news publisher Le Monde is hoping to generate for its English-language iteration, Le Monde in English, by 2025.

$5 million – $6 million: The amount of money that Google will pay News Corp per year to fund the media company’s tests with AI products and content. 

$33 million: The amount of money that newsletter platform Beehiiv raised in its Series B funding round.

What we’ve covered

The Athletic to raise ad prices as it paces to hit 3 million newsletter subscribers:

  • The Athletic is about to hit 3 million total newsletter subscribers — nearly a 20% increase from this time last year. 
  • As a result, prices for its newsletter ads increased in 2023, and will rise again this year.

Read more about how The Athletic is monetizing its newsletters here.

Google, Vizio and news publishers pitch marketers with new ad offerings and range of content categories:

  • IAB spotlighted news publishers to get more advertisers to support this content category amid challenges like keyword blocking.
  • Digiday interviewed Condé Nast’s global CRO Pamela Drucker Mann to hear how the publisher is pitching marketers this year.

See the recap of the Newfronts day 1 here.

Samsung, Condé Nast, Roku focus presentations on new ad formats and category-specific inventory:

  • Condé Nast’s presentation focused on its audience reach across specific content categories, live and vertical video on social platforms
  • Roku talked up its home screen ads, a new hub for Olympics coverage and a partnership with The Trade Desk

See the recap of the Newfronts day 2 here.

Earnings from social and search players signal that AI will be a long-play investment

  • Google, Microsoft and Snap all reported results this week that exceeded expectations.
  • And while CEOs celebrated solid results, leaders in social and search also warn it will take a while to scale the business side of generative AI across those areas.

Learn more about the investments into generative AI here

Why some publishers aren’t ready to monetize generative AI chatbots with ads yet:

  • Publishers are testing generative AI technology for all kinds of functions, but monetizing those offerings is slow going. 
  • Some publishing execs told Digiday they’re not ready to do so by adding advertising to these generative AI products just yet.

See why publishers aren’t adding advertising to AI experiments just yet here.

What we’re reading

Dow Jones’s union authorized a strike vote:

The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees (IAPE), which represents more than 1,400 employees at Dow Jones, authorized a vote to strike for the publisher’s members, the first step in the process that would ultimately allow members to walk off the job, Insider reported.

Jeff Zucker’s venture company withdraws its bid for two U.K. news publications:

The New York Times reported that Jeff Zucker withdrew his bid for The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator after U.K. political leaders and media execs expressed concerns over the involvement of Emirati financiers that were helping to back the acquisition.

The Financial Times signs new a content licensing deal with OpenAI: 

OpenAI’s ChatGPT will now be able to pull real-time information from the FT’s published content to inform answers to the chatbot’s user inputs, NiemanLab reported. Links to the cited articles will be included in the ChatGPT responses. 

Vulture gets into the daily gaming game:

Following in Worldle’s footsteps, Vox Media’s Vulture launched its daily puzzle game, Cinematrix. According to Fast Company, the movie trivia puzzle is regularly the site’s most visited page. 

The European Commission is investigating Meta for violating election integrity rules:

The EC is looking into Facebook and Instagram for allegedly breaking the Digital Services Act (DSA), which sets guidelines for large platforms’ approach to online governance and content moderation, TechCrunch reported.

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