How To Solve For Scalability Of Publisher First-Party Data

Rachel Parkin headshot

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Rachel Parkin, executive vice president of strategy and sales at CafeMedia.

Tick tock goes the clock. (Not that TikTok.) The countdown to the end of cookies is on. And with that, third-party data will cease to exist. As one door closes, this could finally be the opportunity for publisher first-party data to take center stage.

In a post-cookie world, third-party data won’t function as it does today, but it might not be missed. Third-party data, even if starting out with good intentions, often becomes a mishmash that may not be who advertisers wanted to reach in the first place.

Losing control has always been a thorn for publishers too, who have worried that distributing first-party data might result in data leaks or swipes. Without third-party data, it gives direct-from-publisher first-party data a new license to grow.

Moving publisher first-party data upstream

One pathway that enhances the value of targeted advertising, irrespective of any browser changes, is happening as publishers push first-party data directly to buyers.

A commonly accepted outcome of eliminating cookies is that advertisers will swing from programmatic buying back to direct sold IOs. They are swinging back to lean on publishers and their data to create a better, more customized alignment between advertising and consumers.

What advertisers lose in this route is scalability. Setting up and managing custom programs across publishers takes time and effort. And, that’s one reason why it may seem simpler for advertisers to shift more investment to the walled gardens and maintain the same sort of personalization with an easier and consolidated campaign set up.

Historically, private marketplaces (PMPs) emerged as a way to blend access to publisher first-party data and optimized performance with the ease of programmatic buying. And, the multi-publisher PMP soon followed to address scalability without the need to set up individual deals with each publisher.

What if we took the same approach to the open market? Suppose the open market became one very large multi-publisher PMP. If publishers could pass improved targeting and performance information (typically reserved for PMPs) through the open RTB bidstream, it would increase the value of open market ad inventory – without the need for any identity framework.

The solution of moving publisher first-party data upstream from the ad server is conceptually straightforward. Making the same site-level, page-level, person-level (with consent), and ad-unit level insights and targeting available within the bidstream gives buyers new levers to more easily and effectively find their ideal audiences.

Unbundling publisher first-party data from the ad server also creates a more competitive bidding environment. Now all buyers will have access to act on the same information, ultimately increasing demand for publisher inventory.

The challenges in swimming upstream

Enriching the open RTB bidstream with publisher first-party data will take a unified effort between publishers, SSPs, DSPs, industry trade groups, third-party measurement vendors, and advertisers.

The first thing to address are data standards. Publisher first-party data is only useful if advertisers can buy the same thing across all publishers, with the same definition. The IAB Content Taxonomy is a great starting point for standardizing data definitions of site or page context across publishers, and all the more so, if the next iteration goes that much deeper. The IAB’s initiative then provides a framework for the transparency layer that advertisers will want to evaluate that data is legitimate and trusted.

The next item to tackle is how to make publisher first-party data available to both supply-side and buy-side exchanges. has started to think about the vehicle for publishers to pass first-party data through to desired bidders. Beyond that, SSPs must be equipped to re-pass these signals onto DSPs. And, DSPs would need to build in the tools to process and make publisher data available for buyers to bid and transact on.

The last key to success is adoption. Publishers must be willing to make their data accessible in the open market. And, advertisers need to trust publishers and the quality of their data.

To get that assurance, we’ll need a system for monitoring data quality. We already have “cops” for measuring demographic on-target percentage and viewability. These very same measurement companies could add a new flavor for first-party data: on-topic percentage. That would be an easy way for advertisers to benchmark that contextual and keyword labels match the standards and optimize to the cleanest publisher data.

Swimming upstream is hard, but not insurmountable. The forthcoming changes to third-party cookies may expedite the timeline, but making publisher first-party data available in the bidstream is something that we absolutely can and should do regardless. It will increase the value of publisher programmatic inventory for advertisers. It will make the programmatic ecosystem a more level and competitive playing field. And, most importantly, it’s a way to keep the open web as we know it, healthy and thriving.

That’s a collaboration worth uniting for.

Follow CafeMedia (@CafeMedia_) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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