‘We see a world where publisher data replaces third-party data’: News U.K. puts its data at the nucleus of post-cookie push for media budgets

Illustration of a broken cookie jar.

If and when third-party cookies go the way of the dinosaur, News U.K. will have left nothing to chance. 

Like so many of its peers, the publisher believes the value of its data — and subsequently its commercial ambitions — are inextricably linked to the fate of those cookies. The scarcer those cookies go, the more valuable the data owned by publishers like News U.K. becomes — it’s essentially the next best alternative an the publisher is doing all it can to make sure advertisers remember that. 

To do so, it has overhauled the way it collects, sorts and monetizes its audience data across all its titles, including The Times, The Sun, Talk Sport and Times Radio, via its own first-party data platform Nucleus. The publisher is pitching the data platform as a way advertisers can work directly with its own data, whether its from login, registrations or first-party cookies, in a privacy-centric way. They can then model data sets from their existing target segments or modify them based on News U.K.’s proprietary preference, opinion and emotion signals. It launched earlier this summer and already all of the publisher’s biggest sponsorships include data from the platform as a way for advertisers to see the recommended audiences. 

“When we talk to advertisers we’re being challenged on what we know about our audiences and can we create segments and offer data which offer a unique insight,” said Ben Walmsley, commercial director for publishing at News U.K. “That doesn’t come from data that is freely and readily available to anyone who can buy it via third-party data sets and cookies.”

Not only is Nucleus trying to fortify News U.K.’s own ads business, but it’s also sharpening how content is personalized across its sites. The data even allows the publisher to personalize e-commerce and content to those audiences. “At the foot of certain articles now you’ll see content recommendations or recirculation units, which are powered now by Nucleus,” said Walmsley. Previously, those recommendations would’ve been powered by an ad tech vendor. “We still work with some of those vendors, but the means or delivery is based on what we know about our audiences,” said Walmsley.

As much as Nucleus sounds like a typical data management platform, its features are limited to the publisher’s data only unlike a DMP. Indeed, this data will only directly impact direct media, programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace-style deals. The overall aim is to increase spending on News U.K. properties, regardless of buy type.  

“We see a world where publisher data replaces third-party data to a large extent, particularly at the premium end where we would typically operate with other larger publisher brands looking to drive mid to upper-funnel impacts for marketers,” said Walmsley.

As much this shift in spending is being compounded by the protracted death of third-party cookies, it’s also spurred by deep-rooted issues around measurement. Historically, the measures of performance were transposed onto premium publishers. That’s changing now. Increasingly, publishers are measured by how they’re able to drive mid-funnel and brand uplift objectives. “It’s incumbent on publishers to be able to prove their effectiveness to that effect and as we get better at doing that we’ll see more migration [of spending] back to premium publishers as advertisers and agencies recognize that spending more money and focusing on performance metrics isn’t helping them properly understand the impact of campaigns,” said Walmsley. 

That a publisher like News U.K. is looking to thrive in the absence of third-party cookies comes as no surprise. Third-party cookies limited how much control they had over the way they made money from audience data because so much of it was being used by other companies.

Take Future PLC. The special interest publisher has launched its own data management technology on the basis that publisher data is the next scalable alternative to those cookies. In many ways, the delayed death of the third-party cookie has given publishers like News U.K. and Future more runway to figure out how they get more advertisers to buy more of their data. Doing so, however, is easier said than done. 

“We’ve seen a noticeable decrease in urgency since the announcement [on Google extending the deadline for its cookie ban],” said Walmsley. Still, it’s to be expected given how uneasy so many of those advertisers were with the original deadline. The way Walmsley sees it, the additional time is a net positive. “The way we see it, our investment in Nucleus isn’t about trying to replicate the status quo in online advertising. Instead, we’re trying to link together all our different properties so that we can start to have a true understanding of our audience across all our platforms.”

Nobody was ready for cookies to disappear next year per Google’s original deadline so the extension is arguably a good thing for the industry including publishers. But it means that publishers must lean in on properly collecting audience data, under the umbrella of consent and setting up the right framework to enable collaboration based on this audience data. More fragmentation doesn’t mean that advertisers must fly blind —  it only means that new infrastructure is required to connect data in safe, privacy-preserving ways.

What we see now is a rebirth of the ad network model, which makes sense for any publisher that leans in on first-party data,” said Vlad Stesin, co-founder and chief product officer at data connectivity platform Optable. For a long time, publishers have relied on third parties to make sense of their inventory, whether it’s third-party data companies or ad tech vendors. Now, forward-looking companies are creating a new generation of walled gardens, where consent and transparency are taken seriously — and where first-party data collection must happen in a privacy-safe way that still yields real results for advertisers.

Some would say that this is all throwback to the early days of online advertising, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a context where advertisers are eager to get quality at scale.


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