Publishers are already feeling pain from Apple’s move against ad tracking

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Apple is cracking down on ad tracking through Safari, and the first publishers to feel the pain are those who rely heavily on programmatic advertising.

Programmatic publishers’ ad rates have taken a hit since Apple updated its Safari browser last month to prevent third parties from tracking users for more than 24 hours after a user visited a website. Although Apple’s move hurts publishers reliant on third-party data that advertisers depend on to target niche audiences at scale, publishers that sell their inventory directly say they aren’t affected by the Safari update.

“It has already had an impact on our revenue, and that will only be compounded as adoption [of Safari’s update] increases,” said Paul Bannister, co-founder of CafeMedia, which sells more than half of its impressions programmatically. “It’s hard to quantify what it will end up as since it’s so early still and lots of other variables are at play, but it’s a [measurable] impact.”

Because users didn’t update their operating systems all at once and Apple released the update near the end of a quarter, when ad rates tend to be higher, gauging the impact of Safari’s tracking change isn’t as simple as comparing monthly CPMs. Apple did not reply to an interview request for this story.

Bannister said CPMs on Safari are about 10 percent lower than what he’d expect them to be heading into the fourth quarter. CafeMedia gets about a third of its mobile traffic from Safari, which is in line with industry averages, according to NetMarketShare.

Since Apple’s Safari update, Ranker saw the gap between its yields on iOS and Android (which doesn’t use the Safari browser) increase by 8 percent in favor of Android, said Ranker CEO Clark Benson, who estimated that Apple’s move could potentially lead to a 1 to 2 percent drop in overall ad revenue. This indicates that advertisers heavily reliant on audience targeting “have shifted slightly away from Safari visitors,” Benson said.

Danny Khatib, CEO of Granite Media, said CPMs are down 15 to 20 percent on Safari since the update. For educational publisher Slader, the number of bids it receives for the impressions tied to its Safari traffic is down about 15 percent compared to last month, said Slader co-founder Scott Kolb. Both publishers emphasized there is a lot of noise in the data since the Safari updates are recent, and it’s very difficult to isolate the impact of Apple’s move. But several publishers that rely heavily on programmatic indicated that in general, it is harder for them to make money off their audiences since Apple updated Safari.

The reason the Safari changes are affecting programmatic publishers has less to do with automation itself and more to do with audience targeting.

Compared to last month, CPMs on Purch’s website Live Science are down about 15 percent for Safari users, said Purch CTO John Potter. But on Purch’s website Top Ten Reviews, CPMs are down less than 5 percent for Safari users.

A small drop in CPMs was expected due to the change in fiscal quarters. But Live Science had a bigger drop because it relies on audience targeting, which Apple’s new limitations on third-party trackers affect. On Top Ten Reviews, the ads are sold to match the content and not the audience, which is why the review site’s CPMs haven’t been affected as much, Potter said.

Reps from New York magazine, Remedy Health Media and two comScore 200 publishers requesting anonymity said they haven’t noticed any impact from the Safari update. All of these publishers sell the vast majority of their inventory through direct sales, so they aren’t dependent on retargeting.

If publishers can make direct connections with their audiences, they can wean themselves off third-party trackers and mitigate the impact of Safari’s update, said an engineer at a business publisher requesting anonymity. But obtaining first-party data from users by getting them to sign up for a new product or fork over login information is a long-term project that might not deliver immediate results.

“Publishers should focus on what makes them unique, regardless of how Apple is changing their software,” said Namit Merchant, COO of ad tech firm “We believe that publishers should focus less on audience and more on content to differentiate themselves from the duopoly.”

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