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The Near Team

5 mins read

Third-party cookie blocking: Threat or opportunity?

Since the rise of digitization, the biggest challenge for publishers has been one-dimensional: how to build channels of revenue? Most of them rely on advertising as a solution and advertisers, in turn, rely on data to work efficiently to influence media buying. Content monetization is a constant challenge and the past couple of years were rough with several browsers blocking third-party cookies. There now seems to be more pain on the way with Google announcing that they will block third party cookies in Chrome.

For more than two decades, marketers have been dependent on third-party cookies for data-driven marketing activities such as targeting, retargeting, display advertising, and behavioral marketing. So what happened back in 2019 that changed everything? In September 2019, Mozilla announced ​that as part of the ‘Standard’ setting in the Firefox browser, Enhanced Tracking Protection would automatically be turned on by default for all users worldwide and would block known “third-party tracking cookies”. In August, ​Google had already announced​ its anti-tracking policy preventing extensive tracking of users on the web through cookies and other covert techniques like tracking pixels, link decoration, and device fingerprinting.

Aside from Mozilla and Google, Safari added even more restrictions. ​Apple has ITP or Intelligent Tracking Prevention as a feature ​within the Safari browser that restricts user tracking using cookies. This feature limits publishers and advertisers to track users across domains. On top of this, new regulations such as GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are not in favor of data collected by third-party cookies.

Till now, data collected through third-party cookies has been one of the most important ingredients for the advertising ecosystem in the publishing industry.

What are the problems publishers are facing?

In today’s programmatic world, DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) act as a media buying platform that support advertisers and marketers in purchasing ad space across publisher properties in the form of display, video, mobile or search ads for companies. DSPs mainly rely on DMP’s (Data Management Platforms) to target relevant audiences. DMPs primarily rely on third party cookies to create these segments.

We expect DMPs to be hugely impacted by the recent regulations to block third party cookies by browsers. As the third-party cookies get disabled, audience-based buying will potentially decrease and this can, in turn, bring down revenues for publishers as well. ​In a study conducted with the top 500 global publishers,​ the average publisher revenue decreased by 52% for the treatment group.

A huge challenge for agencies and advertisers in this situation is that they need clarity of data and defined methodologies to invest or collaborate with publishers. Since third party cookies are not a clear option anymore, the question now is – how will ads be targeted and what is the new fold data strategy of publishers to collect relevant user profiles?

The Opportunity: First-party Cookies and Real-World Data

Even with third-party cookie blocking and related developments, there is still an immense opportunity for publishers to bring the audiences within their ecosystem by using the right marketing intelligence tools – publishers now have even better chances to ​get valuable insights through real-world data​ and first-party cookie solutions as they work towards monetization:

  • First-party data is the new goldmine:​ The use of first-party data gives the audience a seamless user experience and offers publishers privacy-compliant data that is authentic and willingly provided by the users. With first-party data, publishers not only own the data but they also re-capture the ability to ‘channelize revenues’.
  • Create audience identifiers: ​A few visionary publishers are creating a common ID for their users across devices using log-ins which helps in unifying users across devices. This can help solve the cross-device issue and restrictions on frequency cap across multiple devices. For instance, Newscorp, Immediate Media, and Insider Inc have already created single new IDs for individual users (News Corp has, for example, 590M global anonymized user IDs)​. This allows publishers to identify the same user across all their properties.
  • Build own data-ecosystem with data partners: ​For publishers​ ​with million-plus users, the first step is to build their own ecosystems to control audience activity through data. This can help publishers charge a higher CPM for the inventory. Specialist partners can help build these segments with more persistent IDs through cross-device technologies. This integration is often as easy as putting a tag on the publisher’s web-pages. Once this is done, the data partners can sync their data with publisher data using the publisher’s identifier. This can help publishers create segments that are non-endemic. Additionally, with the right data partner, publishers have the option to ingest their own first-party data and then combine data on the platform to understand the real-world audience behavior of their digital customers. It enables them with insights such as brand affinity, dwell time, propensities-to-visit brands of the consumers. From our past experiences, Near has had match rates of more than 50-60% with most publishers. A high match rate ensures that the publishers can get a higher CPM for most of the inventory.
  • Increase in Contextual Advertising:​ In contextual advertising, the ads seen by the readers/audience are based on the content they consume on the internet rather than their behavioral profiles. For instance, in traditional contextual advertising, when readers consume content on football, the ads that might follow them would be of top football merchandise brands based on consumption patterns in the digital world. However, when we combine online habits of these consumers with real-world data points such as how many times they visit a merchandise store, what are the products they buy, and which locations of the store they prefer – the advertising can be precisely targeted. With the help of real-world data points, contextual advertising can be as effective as targeted advertising.

How to monetize data?

The two main ways to monetize remain: direct media buying and programmatic (where variants of programmatic include Open RTB, Private MarketPlace, and Programmatic Guaranteed). While we expect the Open RTB may get affected by third-party cookie blocking, publishers can use their audience for PMP, PG, and Direct Buys. The growth in investments in programmatic guaranteed deals and private marketplaces (PMPs) is directly related to the increasing focus on data privacy and ownership. ​By 2020, four out of every five programmatic dollars in the Un​ited States​ will flow to PMPs or guaranteed deals. PMPs are growing at the rate of 21% y-o-y and are likely to reach $13.5 billion, or roughly half of all real-time bidding spend. These ways of monetization can help publishers get better CPM rates and advertisers don’t have to pay DMPs (whose data could become increasingly questionable due to third-party cookie restrictions).


Publishers should take the first available opportunity to educate agencies and brands about the value of their first-party data. Working with specialist data partners can only enhance this.

Published in What’s New In Publishing.

What’s New In Publishing

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