Advertising remains a minority-interest for New York’s journal of record, but The Times still wants to take greater control over its digital offering. All this comes at a time when automated ad trading is preparing for a seismic overhaul as the publisher evaluates ad-tech vendors for privacy credentials.
Like many, publishers had a rough 2020. It started in January when Google announced it would remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser in 2022, fundamentally changing the $85 billion online display advertising market. Then the pandemic hit, causing marketers to halt spend and avoid advertising on sites that covered the outbreak, which put extreme financial strain on publishers.
The New York Times seems to have weathered the storm, though. The company posted record-breaking subscription growth, and it propped up a first-party data marketplace to adapt to privacy changes around online ad targeting.
Pranay Prabhat, senior director of digital ad technology, recently explained the title’s new first-party data program for its direct-sold business, which no longer relies on third-party cookies. It has dedicated a headcount of approximately a dozen employees achieve this task.
So, while the publication is a subscription-first business, the company is still evaluating what the deprecation of third-party cookies and new privacy regulations mean for its business. Prabhat explained to Adweek how The Times is evaluating online advertising in a time of uncertainty amid new privacy legislation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Adweek: What are your plans on the programmatic side, especially considering the slow development of Google’s privacy proposals?
Pranay Prabhat: We will not be waiting for all the proposals to be fleshed out. Next year we do want to be more active and chiming in as … we understand the different bird proposals more. The biggest challenge which I have right now is just to get a hold of every single new proposal coming up. There are just too many right now.
Those are some active explorations in terms of the audience capabilities. But on the contextual capabilities, we just want to get moving forward so that we are better prepared for that side of things once the third-party cookies go away.
Do you have plans to adopt The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0?
I think that their solution is comparatively better than multiple identity solutions, at least the ones I’ve seen in the market right now. I will say, the open-source nature and some of the independent nature of that solution is definitely interesting.
But at the same time, we have a very, very high regard for privacy and thinking about user identifiers, and I think those are the areas where we are still pretty skeptical about any of these solutions. But having said that, … we will study them more and come up with some conclusion.
Moving to a first-party data model is an expensive undertaking. How can smaller publishers expect to do something like this?
For the smaller publisher, what I would say is that generally over the last 20 years, as far as I have researched, we have been relying a lot on external capabilities and vendors coming in and providing solutions. One way or the other things have not worked for quite long. Ultimately you have to replace it or do something else or maybe figure out a new solution.
So maybe it’s time for people to bring in some of that expertise in-house and start focusing on how you can understand your content, understand your audience better, build capabilities to be able to just make the ad serving work. … If you have more control, you’re prepared for these big changes better, rather than just keep scrambling around different vendor solutions.