Cookies, CTV, and Consent: Key Talking Points for the Ad Industry in Q1 2024

By Nick Pinks, CEO, Covatic

The first quarter of 2024 has been an eventful time for digital advertising. Cookies are out, privacy-first technology is in. Linear TV is declining further, while CTV continues to grow. And the industry is under more and more pressure to show its accountability when it comes to the use of consumer data and AI. In this article, I take a look at the latest trends, innovations, and industry shifts that have been dominating discussions over the past three months, and what impact these will have on marketers going forward.

Regulation, regulation, regulation

The move towards greater user privacy and increased regulation when it comes to personal data has been gathering pace for some time. Since the EU’s GDPR ruling in 2016, the trend has only been heading in one direction and Q1 of 2024 saw further key developments.

Google began the year by making good on its promise to remove third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users in January. A complete phase-out is expected by Q3, as the digital giant replaces cookies with its Privacy Sandbox – which it claims has privacy-by-design at its heart.

Not all of these changes are being made proactively and there is increasing pressure on Big Tech to clean up its act when it comes to privacy. The DMA, for example, has recently taken the internet’s six digital ‘gatekeepers’ – Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, ByteDance, Meta, and Microsoft – to task when it comes to tracking user data without consent.

And the shift to more user-focused data privacy is not going to be all smooth sailing. Already the IAB has commented on the Sandbox’s effectiveness, while the Competition and Market Authority has stated that Google can’t proceed with cookie deprecation until its own concerns are addressed.

Despite these current roadblocks, marketers still need to prepare. Alternative targeting solutions that prioritise consumer privacy are a must-have and ultimately pave the way for the advertising industry to provide more responsible, relevant, and addressable ad campaigns.

The market for solutions is vast. ID-based offerings aim to replace cookies, but can fall short in key areas like addressability, reach, quality of data, and user privacy. Alternative approaches, however, particularly those leveraging on-device data, remain poised for significant growth, and could prove to be more effective than traditional tracking. It’s likely that marketers will eventually employ a range of targeting methods that are privacy-focused without impacting their ability to reach consumers.

CTV’s smart evolution

The ascendency of connected TV (CTV) over the last few years has been no secret – but the start of this year has seen the sector reach a tipping point. Audience habits have been shifting across the globe, with the US market leading the way; racking up 238 million monthly viewers, who increasingly watch less linear TV and more CTV.

CTV’s importance to advertisers is also growing. With its potential for targeting with precise segmentation based on demographics, interests, and viewing habits – coupled with robust first-party data from streamers and retail partners – CTV allows for real-time campaign optimisation and interactive purchase opportunities, resulting in a more impactful ad experience. It’s no wonder that global advertising revenue grew 5.8% in CTV in 2023 to $889 billion.

One key factor fueling CTV’s explosive growth is live sports. According to a recent study, 3 in 4 CTV users watch live sports via streaming apps; with 38% of users signed up to three or more streaming services so they can catch their favourite team or player. Already this year we’ve seen the Super Bowl become the most-watched broadcast in US TV history, with 126.6 million viewers tuning in to watch the game on linear and streaming across CBS, Univision, Nickelodeon, and Paramount+.

Live sports are also the perfect co-viewing experience, bringing together friends and families across demographics. With big events such as the UEFA European Football Championship and the Paris Olympic Games around the corner, programmers and advertisers will strive to better understand co-viewing patterns as a way to effectively reach these fans.

We saw first-hand how the titans are moving forward while at NBC Universal’s fourth annual tech conference, One24 – hosted at 30 Rock’s Studio 8H, the home of “Saturday Night Live” – which included an announcement about their new groundbreaking programmatic offerings ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as expanded shoppable experiences. Kudos to the NBC Universal team.

Changing online dynamics 

The way users access their favourite online services is evolving. As the previously mentioned privacy regulations come into play, publishers and other companies will therefore have to find new ways to monetise their businesses. Increasingly, both subscription-based and ad-funded models are being explored.

Back in October, Meta announced that its European users could choose between using Facebook and Instagram with ads or paying a monthly fee for an ad-free experience. This ‘subscription for no ads’ model is definitely a way to generate income; whether it also allows Meta to comply with EU privacy regulations remains to be seen, and regulators are scrutinising this in relation to the Digital Services Act (DSA).

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently announced that it is looking into the ‘consent or pay’ model as a way to even the playing field, inviting publishers, advertisers, and other stakeholders to share their views on the topic. It will be interesting to see how this develops throughout the year, and we as a company have submitted our views as part of this process

What’s on the advertising agenda for Q2?

Looking forward, there are already a number of key stories starting to take shape: potential regulation for generative AI, the question of TikTok’s future in the US, and whether the authorities in Europe and America will seek to curb the power of the digital giants. Plus we are likely to see more ad spend – and therefore more interest and development – in newer sectors like CTV and audio advertising.

As the space – and the technology that supports it – continues to emerge and evolve, marketers must keep in mind one thing before deciding whether to embrace any change: their customers. They need to deliver the experiences they want, which will require them to truly understand the audience they want to reach. The old adage ‘right person, right time, right place’, still rings true.