Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

NDA publishing roundtable: part four, life post-cookie

The roundtable, chaired by New Digital Age Editor and Bluestripe Partner Justin Pearse, included contributions from Jason Creane, Commercial Director, Permutive; Chetan Damani, MD,; Jane Wolfson, Hearst UK, Chief Commercial Officer; Emily Brewer, Head of Publishing, Teads; Piers North, Group Digital Director, Reach PLC, Louise Crosby, Digital Sales Director, News UK; Chloe Grutchfield, Co-Founder, Redbud Media.

Publishers have been playing whack-a-mole with the disruption that digital has brought as they strive to remain viable in an ad world dominated by Google and Facebook — never more so than now, with the demise of the cookie. 

Through both legislation, such as last year’s EU General Data Protection Regulation, and privacy-friendly changes to web browsers Safari, Firefox and Chrome, a cookie’s worth has never been so low and could soon be obsolete. 

The changes have had an immediate impact on publishers’ revenue, compounded by the way the advertising ecosystem has evolved around the cookie and the third-party businesses it has spawned. 

Reach plc’s Group Digital Director Piers North said GDPR was a misguided attempt to make the web giants more accountable, yet disproportionally hitting the rest of the web harder.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing,” he said. “The problem it tries to address is real but the law remains opaque. As a publisher you want to create great content free at the point of use, and in return we serve you ads. GDPR has made that difficult. It feels like it was aimed at the big tech companies, but they are actually the ones making the most out of it — it’s a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.” 

Hearst UK took a “very tough stance” on GDPR, according to Chief Agency Officer Jane Wolfson, and that had an immediate, albeit temporary, revenue hit. “It was a big, big thing to get through but we’re in a good place now,” she added. “The consumer won’t be aware of this all unless it goes wrong. They won’t know the amount of effort we’re taking — it’s all about the integrity of our sites.” 

Redbud Media co-founder Chloe Grutchfield said it shone a light on the flaws inherent in a system that has been built ad hoc, piecemeal and often without due diligence.

“There are so many cracks in our systems, such as vendors who don’t have audits in place to ensure they are stopping companies who are not GDPR-compliant from dropping cookie on European devices,” said Grutchfield. 

“We have technologies that are constantly flawed because we have allowed a lot of small start-ups to have access to our inventories very easily. There are too many players and [Google] Chrome is going to force change and make the cracks in the system worse.”

Could technology also help? Jason Creane, Permutive EMEA commercial director, said publishers could gain from the changes by reclaiming their direct relationships with readers. Tomorrow’s software would be built from the ground up with privacy at heart, rather than designing run-arounds to ‘trick’ the system. 

“We’ll see more edge computing, for instance, which is private by design,” he said. Data held on a device rather than the cloud as overwhelmingly happens now, is more private, secure, reduces latency and is considerably faster, added Creane.

Read part three here.