5 Digital Publishing Trends to Follow in 2021

binary code in the sky over a coastal city

By Daniel Elad, Chief Strategy Officer at TheViewPoint

The digital world is on the brink of big changes. Publishers will see their workflows evolve significantly, at least because it will be their responsibility to provide reliable user data for targeting once shareable cookies leave the space. On top of that, they keep on facilitating advanced ad delivery and driving engagement with affluent audiences. To succeed in this shifting environment, digital publishers will have to commit to changes. So, let’s find out what those are and how to adopt them in the most effective way.

1.   A cookie-free diet for the web

Major ad players began switching third-party cookie support off on their services. Google announced its intention to ‘make third-party cookies obsolete’ as part of the shift towards a more private web by 2023. This update in the Chrome web browser (which, according to Statcounter, holds up to 65% of web browser market share) will heavily impact web ad targeting.

Before that, Apple announced updates to limit the ability to track user online and app usage activity. In March 2020, Apple completely blocked third-party cookies for Safari on both iOS and Mac OS operating systems. This year, starting from iOS 14.5, iPad OS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5 users are entitled to prohibit any third-party apps from activity tracking.


Despite the fact that most digital ad spend currently relies on cookies, big players are deliberately bringing down the curtain. Even though cookies won’t completely disappear from the web overnight, there will be large chunks of audiences who become ‘invisible’ as tech giants like Google disable third-party cookies by default on their browsers. In return, solutions like Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) by Google, trust tokens, or fingerprinting emerge.

Yet, these technologies are often considered beneficial only for one side, which is why smaller ad tech companies have focused on developing more fair and open alternatives. For instance, Unified ID 2.0 with The Washington Post onboard, ID5 endorsed by The Daily Mail, Discovery Channel, LAD Bible Group, Investing.com, La Provence, etc., as well as RampID™. These solutions use deterministic matching, in contrast to the probabilistic approach used for regular cookies. Deterministic means using registration forms and/or encouraging users to voluntarily leave their personal information (typically email) as ad identifiers. This approach has significant shortcomings as well but is believed to benefit all the transaction parties involved in the long run.

2.   Can we have two? Subscription bundling is there

Netflix and Spotify are the first media streaming subscription-based success stories on the web. Even though they were not pioneers in terms of the idea, their accomplishments proved the concept and pushed many other publishers like The New York Times and The Washington Post to join the subscription-based party. Today we have digital subscriptions for everything: music, movies, newspapers, delivery services, cartoons, video games, dog food, you name it – they’ve got it all!

While having a couple of subscriptions might not hurt one’s wallet, it might be quite pricey to maintain dozens of them to cover different needs and interests. In such conditions, the concept of bundled subs rose to the occasion. This is roughly how it works. Instead of paying 30 bucks for three separate newspaper or streaming channel subscriptions, one can go with the bundle offer that includes the same three media sources, but only for $20 in a single payment. The services will get $6.6 from each subscriber instead of $10, but common marketing efforts will likely increase total profits.

Big publishers see potential value from partnering with niche media publishers. Bloomberg, for instance, bundled with sport news provider, The Athletic, to complement its coverage in additional fields. For annual Bloomberg.com subscribers, there’s a free The Athletic six-month trial. Monthly subs have a three-month free access bundled with Bloomberg’s regular deal. More good examples come from the media streaming field. In 2018 Spotify partnered with Hulu to offer their music content to Hulu’s video audience (and vice versa). The bundle includes a regular Spotify Premium package and Hulu’s basic ad-supported service for $12.99 a month.

One famous company from Cupertino, California endorsed the tendency. At a September 2020 presentation, Apple announced their Apple One subscription bundle that included Apple Music, Apple Arcade, extra iCloud storage space, and Apple TV+ in their Individual bundle for $14.99, and additional Apple Fitness+ with Apple News+ for the $29.99 Premier package. The idea of Apple One is part of the company’s plan to minimize their financial dependence on iPhone and other device sales and move towards a subscription-based ecosystem instead.

3.   Transparent ad inventory distribution

Demand Path Optimization (DPO) is a solution meant to bridge ad buyers with selected ad inventory in the fairest and most transparent way. To ensure this for both buying and selling sides, the bidding process goes through a programmatic path, i.e. in a fair auction competition. DPO allows better bid path visibility so that anyone can see exactly how ads are purchased. This information can also be used as educational materials for other traders or to monitor the legitimacy of deals.

DPO is one of the ways publishers can encourage buyers to participate in auctions more proactively, because it greatly shortens the distance between transaction parties. Publishers benefit from DPO’s clear demand monitoring, which is a key to building well-performing filter plans and prioritizing favourable demand sources. For example, Bloomberg Media has been using DPO since 2019 to analyse how impressions are brought by advertisers to collect valuable information such as win rates, page load speed, response time, and other parameters to distinguish the most reliable partners to work with.

Other reported advantages DPO brings are decreased deal risks, higher revenues (through correctly selected paths), and reduced load on publishers’ servers. The latter makes the most of the header bidding system that suppresses bidding volumes.

4.   300-IQ content suggestions

Thankfully, artificial intelligence is quite far from taking control of nuclear missiles, however, it has already done this with content suggestions. Publishers like The New York Times with their proprietary content recommendation engine are the side to gain from AI-powered personalization most. Great content recommendations are one of the reasons why people binge-watch Netflix, YouTube, and other highly addictive media streaming platforms.

We all know how this works. Once you register on a platform and watch a couple of shows/videos or read a few articles per day, in a week the system will know more about your preferences than you would. Modern algorithms can ‘read’ user watch history, search requests, and distinguish content categories by adding specific tags to them.

The most obvious upsides of using content suggestion technology for publishers are increased engagement, enhanced conversion rates, traffic boost (through personalized email marketing and push notifications), and better credibility (as users will tend to recommend your service more). A great example is Biblio who use AI-powered content modules to deliver higher yields to their publishing clients – National Geographic, Mashable, and others.

5.   New advertising mediums

Lockdowns surged CTV (Connected TV) content consumption hours and brought this type of advertising to a new level of efficiency. Looking at the numbers, it’s safe to say that CTV has become the fastest-growing ad medium. According to eMarketer, this year total CTV ad spend will almost reach $11 billion.

The main reasons advertisers are eager to invest are yearly increasing audience charts, new content consumption behaviour, and the presence of unique cord-never and cord-cutter audiences to interact with ads. CTV devices also secure higher engagement rates for these audiences through unique interactive ad formats and innovative targeting capabilities. For instance, Suzuki successfully advertised their Swift car model on the UK’s Channel 4 dynamic TV, analysing user location data to show the nearest Suzuki dealerships.

Another medium – digital out-of-home advertising (DOOH) is expected to gain momentum as soon as the last COVID restrictions are lifted. Powered with programmatic, DOOH has the potential to change people’s perception of outdoor advertising permanently as we expect it to take over the streets. Through programmatic and location-related data, advertisers can modify their ads live, according to local conditions. That is, interactive panels people see around the city can display the nearest umbrella shops when it’s about to rain, the nearest diner at lunchtime, or trendy coats when it’s getting colder.

Daniel Elad, Chief Strategy Officer at TheViewPoint, a SaaS ad monetization platform for CTV publishers.