Is The Media Ad Biz Ready For A New Data Future?


It’s pretty hard to talk about the present or future of the media advertising business – or any other for that matter – that doesn’t get you to AI and data management pretty quickly. What are the best sources for the data I’m going to need to run my business? How do I properly analyze the data that I collect? How do I make sure it gets into the hands of the internal and external executives who demand it?

Two industry reports in the last week paint a “tale of two cities” portrait of the media ad business’s response to these increasingly complex challenges. On the one hand, the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s State of Data 2024 depicts a market increasingly not only accepting but implementing the needs for a successful digital advertising data future. On the other hand, the 4As (the voice of the ad agency world) released a report declaring that the next-generation TV data measurement world is “not ready for prime time.” It reminds me of a famous phrase from President Harry S Truman: “Give me a one-handed economist!”

Neither ad buyers nor sellers disagree about the ad environment and the imperatives for change. For the digital ad business, it’s the looming end of cookies that have facilitated easy online audience tracking for 20 years as well as the related push for increasing privacy regulation from state, federal and international governments. For the traditional TV business, it’s about moving beyond the perceived vise of monopoly Nielsen ratings to a richer data world that more precisely calculates the scale and value of the TV audience. Of course, for marketers from PepsiCo
to GM, media publishers from Disney to The Wall Street Journal and every agency you can think of – yes, everybody – they need both traditional and digital siloes to work more effectively together.

The IAB’s report is based on surveys and interviews with “over 500 advertising and data decision-makers” throughout the ad ecosystem and provides an optimistic framing of industry attitudes and actions. IAB acknowledged a recent past of the industry’s “lack of preparedness” on data privacy and next-generation audience measurement, but now sees an industry “fully recognizing the permanence of these challenges” and implementing steps to meet them.

IAB presents an array of responses to suggest the attitudinal and executional shifts underway in the business. According to the study, with an expectation of continued legislation and the end of cookies nearly three-quarters of industry execs surveyed expect to see a reduction in their access to browser history and personally identifiable information. Interestingly, however, while 94% now expect that cookies will eventually end, only 42% think it will happen in 2024. So, there may be a rude awakening if Google follows through on its announced timetable.

Over 80% of the IAB respondents acknowledge that the current and looming challenges in the data marketplace are impacting the makeup and structure of their organizations. As a result, 71% of brand, agency and publisher execs are increasing their first-party datasets in reaction to the changing environment, versus only 41% two years ago. Almost 90% of ad buyers report that they are redesigning their personalization strategies, ad investment costs, and mix of data across first-, second-, and third-party sources. Finally, more than two-thirds of ad buyers intend to up their spending on contextual rather than privacy-challenged behavioral targeting (good news for quality publishers).

Thus, the change alarm has finally sounded for most of the media ad business. On the other hand – sorry Harry – the 4As report suggests the yellow brick road to the future may have a lot more masonry work ahead. The 4As report focuses on the transition to next gen measurement in TV rather than digital advertising, but for marketers, their agencies, and most media publishers, they need to innovate effectively on both sides of the media equation. Yet according to the 4As analysis, “while advocates paint a picture of readiness to transition to the next set of solutions, and while they imply the industry is mere months away from progressing to big data solutions promising improved accuracy, flexibility and measurability, we see hurdles that will take more time to overcome.”

On the 4As list of “short-term concerns” about the data innovation timetable are a set of practical considerations. This includes the timetable to provide independent accreditation for the myriad of Nielsen alternatives, with a conclusion potentially “years away.” Agencies squeezed on ad pricing by publishers and financial commitments from strapped marketers may lack resources to perform “multiple currency metric assessments.” And contractual commitments may restrict or prohibit adoption of multiple currency providers.

Over the longer term, the 4As points to concerns such as the lack of flexibility today in being able to “plug and play” multiple currencies to permit more dynamic decision-making for clients. Agencies (as you’d expect) note the increased cost associated with multiple currencies that will undoubtedly be passed on to advertisers – are they willing to pay? And if multiple currencies produce multiple results (again, as you’d expect) how will all of that be reconciled?

Clearly, we have lots more talk and lots more action about the transition to a new media future, a period that the IAB’s CEO David Cohen has referred to as the “in-between years.” In reading these two nearly simultaneous reports together, maybe the biggest question is not even what the data future will look like, but how long will it take to get there? It doesn’t feel like the industry has a lot of time to sort that one out.


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