What Google Chrome's cookie phaseout means for publishers

The Drum 30 Jan 2020 08:09
What Google Chrome's cookie phaseout means for publishers

We’ve entered an interesting era for the digital media industry — one marked by shifts, shake-ups, and rapid evolution. And on 14 January, Google put the nail in the third-party cookies’ proverbial coffin, announcing they would be phased out of the Chrome browser in the next two years.

It wasn’t shocking news — as noted, we’ve been talking about the end of cookies for quite some time. But while it definitely answered the question ‘When is the cookie going away?’ it also raised a number of others, particularly for publishers. Namely: What happens next? What will the impact be?

Put simply, the industry needs to pivot to a framework whereby consumer trust, consent, and a clear ‘value exchange’ are the foundational principles by which media companies and their technology partners build, operate, and innovate.

Before we address these implications, though, let’s reflect on what brought us to this point (and what will ultimately take us forward).

Prior to the announcement, Safari’s approach to third-party cookies gave rise to the arms race of fingerprinting (which is completely opaque to users and publishers, with no effective method to opt-out). In September, publishers began to worry that Germany was the ‘canary’ in the coal mine — when Firefox enabled ETP, German publishers saw an almost 30% revenue drop overnight. Immediate revenue declines of this severity make it nearly impossible for publishers to continue to operate and generate high-quality content. For marketers, publishers, and technology companies, the potential end of the third-party cookie hung like the Sword of Damocles over the entire industry. The future was unclear, and the present state sustainable.

The impact on publishers

Picture the login or signup modal to a publisher’s page (for example’s sake, let’s say The Drum, which employs this type of ‘modal’ today). When you log into The Drum, your login (an email hash) serves as a ‘key’ that unlocks great content, but there’s an opportunity to use that login ‘key’ against a second lock: Media addressability.

The opportunities ahead

With progress and change comes uncertainty, though, and we understand that the move away from cookies is a disruptive one. Acknowledging that this shift will be positive for our industry, it’s still a shift. And as tech partners, we understand that it’s our role and responsibility to ensure this transition is as smooth as possible for publishers (it’s part of the reason we’ve spent more than years building in anticipation of this change). Which poses the question: If partners can help facilitate the transition via technology, what can and should a publisher do today to prepare for the new normal?

It’s vital to maintain an open and heterogeneous advertising ecosystem where publishers can still monetise and marketers can execute and measure relevant campaigns. The new paradigm is (rightfully) trust and consent, both of which are forming the foundational framework on which all technological innovation is built.

Mike O’Sullivan is vice-president, product at Index Exchange.

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