Immediate Media claims 135 percent digital ad revenue spike after reducing reliance on third-party cookies

Magazine group Immediate Media has found a way to drive up the scale of its targetable audience inventory while reducing its reliance on third-party cookies to boost scale. It’s a formula that prompted a 135 percent digital ad revenue spike in the last three months of 2018, the publisher said.

The specialist-interests media owner, which has 1,300 staff and publishes consumer brands including BBC GoodFood, TopGear and Radio Times, has grappled for years with the same issue many publishers face: scaling its first-party data audience segments to entice ad buyers.

Both the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation and browsers like Apple’s Safari and Firefox now blocking third-party cookies have incentivized publishers to push harder to find ways to reduce reliance on third-party cookies. As such, rather than shovel additional reach onto its existing portfolio of 75 consumer brands by supplementing its first-party audience data with third-party data — Immediate Media has decided to wring more value out of its existing audience.

To do so, it scrapped its legacy data-management platform in favor of one that doesn’t rely on third-party cookies and that can identify fleeting visits from readers who come for a specific piece of content, like a recipe, then leave. The previous DMP took between 24 and 48 hours to identify those fleeting visitors — too long a gap to be able to serve targeted ads to them, according to Dominic Perkins, digital ad strategy director of Immediate Media.

The new DMP, supplied by Permutive, has unlocked a larger set of audience data as a result of being faster and not reliant on third-party cookies, added Perkins. Before the transition to this DMP last year, Immediate Media could only identify 20 percent of its audience. Now it can identify 80 percent, increasing the amount of targetable inventory that can be sold by a factor of seven, according to the publisher. Immediate Media had 11 million monthly unique users across its titles last November, according to ComScore.

The additional data insights give the publisher a stronger pitch when speaking with agencies looking for first-party audiences but at a scale they’ve not previously been able to offer, added Perkins. “The whole point of quality content is to generate really good behavioral insights,” he said. “We are the owners of the content and, therefore, that data. It is something we can build out more than any third-party data segment and be very transparent on what that data segment looks like.”

For instance, on BBC Good Food, data on what ingredients and recipes users are viewing can create new segments, like vegans. On other titles, such as its Radio Times, the DMP can create segments based on which types of TV channels and content people have searched for or clicked on — like whether they’re most interested in Netflix content over Sky’s. The media owner has gathered an additional 120 new data points per user and created a user ID for that visitor. That enables Immediate Media to then offer an unduplicated view of that user and their habits across all their sites.

Ad buyers can choose how they use the data — either as part of a direct-sold deal, or programmatic guaranteed deals — a type of deal for which there is increasing agency appetite, according to Perkins. The publisher is also willing to sell the data separately to its own inventory, enhance open marketplace buys, and as the backbone for second-party data partnerships.

The arrival of GDPR has triggered a renewed thirst among agencies for ad inventory they feel confident is compliant with the law. Agencies like GroupM want to establish even closer relationships with premium publishers with how they can deal directly so as to mitigate any potential risk of buying non-compliant inventory. A such, agencies are on the lookout for how they can access more first-party data.

“Our buying principles do prioritize first-party data ahead of third-party data,” said Ryan Storrar, svp and head of media activation for EMEA at Essence. “Deals where we are buying a specific audience defined by a publisher’s first-party data are those that we prioritize because we have a greater level of confidence in the quality of the data as publishers are accountable for the collection and segmentation.” With that in mind, Immediate Media’s ability to increase the scale of its first-party data selling, is “compelling,” he added.

GDPR isn’t the only reason publishers are pushing for ways to capitalize more on their first-party data. Apple’s anti-tracking ITP update, which blocks the use of third-party cookies  for ad tracking on its Safari browser, has also played a part. The update is partly why an increasing amount of the web is becoming invisible to those still reliant on third-party tracking pixels, according to Joe Root, co-founder of Permutive.

“Cookies aren’t dead, they just can’t be read in the same way now,” said Root. “The trend where browsers have prioritized giving users more control of their privacy is a good thing, but it has created this hidden web of advertising, where between 40 and 50 percent of the web is now invisible. Permutive was built not with third-party cookies in mind but instead for a world that is browser dominated,” he added.

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