Media platforms rely on cookies, tiny files that can track us across different pages and sites. Cookies are beneficial for various features, including advertising, managing reader preferences and ensuring a consistent experience while you visit a site.
Such elements matter to all good websites, and are essential in the content- and experience-driven worlds of news and media. But cookies also stoke considerable concerns. If the idea of being tracked doesn’t sit well, you are not alone. As data privacy regulations have developed, so has animosity towards tracking cookies. On paper, they are a great technology. Yet, many companies abuse them to serve advertisers at audiences’, and publishers’ expense.
This practice is particularly problematic with third-party cookies, which are trackers originating from outside the site you’re visiting and can follow you across the web. Users have had enough, and tech companies are starting to react. Apple has already blocked third-party cookies from its devices, as have Microsoft and Firefox browsers. When Google announced it would follow suit on its Chrome browser, the final nail struck third-party cookies’ coffin.
“It’s going to be a huge issue for companies that rely on third-party data for their business.”
An advertising revolution
But not for Media24 and its news sites. South Africa’s most popular and trusted media platform, home to News24 and peer sites, has been preparing for the change.
24.com, Media24’s technology division, builds the sites’ advertising capabilities . Its dedicated Ad Tech team develops and maintains the platform’s various advertising and user preference tracking systems. It provides a vibrant environment where talented and ambitious technologists can work on the cutting edge of digital advertising and privacy.
“For us as a publisher, it’s an opportunity to increase our first party data currency in a way that upholds user privacy while creating an enjoyable experience,” says Allen, noting how Ad Tech is a very exciting space for the digitally minded. “There are very few industries in the world that go through the pace of change that digital, and particularly digital advertising, is going through. It even becomes a challenge to find the right people because it’s evolving almost on a weekly basis.”
While many sites may lament the death of third-party cookies (Facebook reported it would lose $10 billion in revenue due to Apple’s privacy change), Allen and his team see it as a fantastic opportunity. Change was necessary, prompting a leap forward.
“We work very closely with our advertising technology and data management partners. We talk to them every week and we’ve been preparing for the change. For example, there were certain areas we had to pivot to ensure our first party audiences remain intact, by providing our own publisher provided identifiers that acts as a replacement to the 3rd party cookie for audience targeting, frequency capping and other functions critical for ad targeting.”
Forward-looking media sites know that the future of news cannot be funded solely by advertising. Subscription models are gaining traction among some of the world’s most successful media outlets, such as The Economist and the New York Times. Media24 has also adopted this approach, launching a subscription model in 2020.
Yet many so-called paywalls have failed. The success stories distinguish themselves by being more than just a pay-to-read transaction. Readers expect value such as personalisation and perks, including newsletters and exclusive insights. Calibrating for these preferences can make or break a media site’s business model – another reason why sites must strategically implement cookies and tracking. Again, it’s a massive advantage that Media24 can rely on 24.com’s Ad Tech gurus.
“You can collect audience data in a very ethical way, and use that information to create better content without violating their privacy,” says Allen. “But that only works if you are collaborative. We don’t just build stuff. We work very closely with the editorial teams, the sales teams and the site developers. There is always something exciting in the pipeline and it always has purpose behind it.”
As part of the switch away from third-party cookies, 24.com deployed new data management platforms that don’t rely on that technology. Overall, 24.com’s agility, talented pros and close integration with the Media24 mothership deliver what every technologist dreams of: a platform with purpose and progress.
“If third-party cookies should fall off the face of the earth tomorrow, we would still be able to target our campaigns as efficiently as ever, because of the upfront development we’ve done and partnering with the right technologies. This, in my opinion, puts us in a very strong position as the industry moves away from third party cookies. "
Too often, technology experts are burned and burnt out by directionless, stale development environments. But for 24.com’s Ad Tech teams, there is no better place to be.
“It’s a very exciting time in the digital advertising industry,” says Allen. “Big changes are coming, and it’s never been more important for publishers to stay ahead of those changes in the coming months.”