Could This Be a “Golden Age” for Publishers and Advertising?

As we move toward a cookieless future, it will take focus, discipline and transparency for publishers and advertisers to emerge in a better position, says Chris Guenther, News Corp‘s SVP and global head of programmatic.  

“As we think about advertising and this era that we‘re entering, this could be a golden age for publishers and advertising, if we do it correctly,” Guenther says. “If we approach these changes around privacy carefully and give users control, I think it will help keep advertising viable and relevant — both for the user and our [advertiser] clients.”

That means not rushing after “every cent that falls through the exchange,” which would devalue advertising and the user experience, Guenther says.

In the second installment of a two-part interview, CafeMedia spoke to Guenther about the impending impact of third-party cookies, how he thinks about first-party data and his plans to test cookieless technologies.

How do you think news publishers will be affected by the loss of third-party cookies?

I look at it as an opportunity, but I think that there will be disruption, and there‘s always risk — hopefully, only short-term risk — in disruption.

Our digital ecosystem has been built around the third-party cookie, and it‘s not just about targeting. It‘s also measurement and frequency capping, so other parts of advertising have been impacted by it. It‘s impacting a whole stream of vendors we work with. There are alternatives emerging, and we‘ll see what happens. But it‘s not like the rug‘s been completely pulled out from under us. Apple removed third-party cookies. At this point, ITP [Intelligent Tracking Prevention] was two years ago.

The opportunity is that people come to our sites. People are not going to an SSP [supply-side platform], and they‘re not going to an adtech vendor. They‘re coming to us, and we have that trusted relationship with our users. We take that very seriously. We can‘t abuse it. Privacy is critically important, not just for regulatory reasons but also, in general, to keep the faith of our users that they can trust us with their information. They come to us willing to share information in a PII [Personally Identifiable Information]-compliant manner, and that information can then be used for advertising, again, in an appropriate manner.

I think we‘re going to be this gatekeeper, this owner of data. Again, there‘s a responsibility associated with that. And I think that will mean that we can work more closely with the buy-side and potentially remove some of these middlemen that create opaqueness. Data leakage, black boxes — these things aren‘t healthy for our users, and they‘re not healthy for our ecosystem. If things are done correctly, some of that lack of transparency will be removed at the end of the third-party cookie.

I like to view it as a positive. I think we can achieve what‘s important for our users, and we can achieve what‘s important for our advertisers in a way that‘s much healthier and more transparent than it is currently.

With this deprecation of third-party cookies, where are your audiences in all of this?

The average user isn‘t aware of the third-party cookie and the role it plays. Most of the functionality that they take advantage of is based on the first-party cookie — when they‘re logged in, what can we do around content personalization to make the site even more useful? These are things that are going to continue to make their experience as informative and helpful as possible, and they‘re not all dependent on the third-party cookie. It will be the same people, seeing the same information, with the same level of engagement — that‘s going to continue once the third-party cookie goes away. What will be impacted is our ability to deliver advertising — which funds the content users read — and the onus will be on us to explain that value exchange to readers.

What are you doing to increase your logged-in users?

Like many other publishers, it‘s important to have that logged-in user, someone who‘s a declared identifier, which allows us to have a better understanding and create a better experience for them.

This is a more personal opinion, but I don‘t believe in just slapping up a paywall or a registration wall in front of someone just to get their email address for something they‘ve already done or content they‘ve already consumed. You can‘t disrupt that. I think if you want to get someone to share their email address, you have to keep offering them something in return. What‘s the value exchange? What‘s the utility? I think that‘s a healthier engagement with the user, both from our perspective and from their perspective. We‘re leaning in on that.

How is News Corp thinking about first-party data right now?

This is something we‘ve been working on for a number of years. What we‘re trying to unlock as we look at our first-party data is: What do we have on our sites? How are we tracking? How pervasive is our internal identifier across our properties? For our data points, is it behavioral? As [users are] consuming our content, can we infer people who are enthusiasts and have a deep interest? Is it declared? As they register, what data are they sharing with us?

There‘s a whole spectrum of data points that take someone from being completely unknown to, on the other end, registered or subscribed with a number of data points associated with them. Throughout that whole journey on our sites, it‘s about collecting data in a privacy-compliant manner in a way that is natural with the user experience and their expectations.

Are you testing FLoC or other technologies?

We are reviewing all the different options out there. We‘ve talked about industry efforts, whether it be cohort or deterministic targeting; we‘re evaluating what‘s out there and will be using our different business units as testing rounds to try different approaches.

I think that we have to look at these things with one main criteria: Are they privacy-centric? Are they privacy-compliant? And I look at that both from the user perspective — are they taking user concerns about privacy seriously? — and from a data leakage perspective. Is someone taking our data as a publisher, our environments and users, and are they essentially building a business off of us? I think every publisher looks at it that way.

There‘s a lot of promises being made by some of these solutions. I think everyone has to be cautious and methodical, to focus less on the near-term money grab and more on the longer term.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.