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Why a Unified ID is Critical to the Open Internet, Journalism, and TV

March 15, 2021
Article
Jeff Green
CEO, Founder & Chairman

There is an index for the equities markets that tracks volatility. It’s called the VIX. It is used by many as a gauge of fear or stress in the market. If there were a VIX for advertising (maybe there will be someday), it would have doubled or tripled since Google wrote its blog post a week ago regarding its approach to identity technology and the replacement for cookies.

Since that post, I’ve spent a lot of time with clients and partners that have worked with us to develop Unified ID 2.0 (UID2), correcting misinformation, and interpreting Google’s recent moves. I’ve also spent time with Google, more than usual, in the last week discussing the future of identity and our partnership. I’ll come back to the partnership, but spoiler alert -- It’s in good shape.

Most of the biggest brands and content owners that I’ve talked to this week don’t believe Google is proposing a solution for consumer privacy on the open internet. If anything, it has accelerated moves among the biggest brands, agencies, publishers, and TV content owners to adopt UID2 in order to do that work.

Google is protecting itself. That’s ok, and to be expected. They have one of the largest and arguably most sensitive pools of personally identifiable information (PII) on the internet within their own four walls, so promoting themselves as privacy-centric is smart. Living up to it is honorable.

But let’s be clear. Google is not proposing a solution for the open internet. Google is not announcing that they are ceasing the use of PII. And Google will continue to rely on PII and their billions of email-based logins to target ads on publishers that they don’t own.

I believe Google is sincere in raising the bar on privacy in its ecosystem. Like almost everyone, I tell Google everything. When I have a problem, I google it. If I need advice and information --whether it’s about my health, my relationships, my children, or anything else -- Google is there to help me. So we should all be glad that they are focused on making things more secure. The jury is out on whether FloCs accomplish that or might make it worse, but that isn’t really the point of their post last week. They are trying to secure their ecosystem. Their ecosystem.

But what about the rest of the internet -- The one where all of journalism and this amazing new era of CTV content lives -- and pretty much everything else for that matter?

Last year, the ad tech community came together to create a replacement for cookies. It was an unprecedented industry-wide collaboration. Why? Because we’d all learned from the past. GDPR was fresh in the memory. As an industry, most publishers waited to implement GDPR changes until CPMs dropped. And then together we played catch-up, working to implement changes that should have been carefully and deliberately implemented along the way. The industry learned its lesson. And this time, it’s better prepared.

The governance organizations for advertising, such as the IAB and PRAM, all wanted a replacement to cookies, but it had to meet certain criteria – and those criteria were all-encompassing. It needed to be more secure, give consumers more control, explain the value exchange of free content on the internet more effectively, enable third-party governance, maintain efficacy for advertisers, and preserve yield for publishers.

Thanks to this unprecedented and timely collaboration, UID2 checks all these boxes. And it’s never been more necessary.

Think about the current state of TV. We truly are living in a new golden age of TV content. And that’s played an important role in keeping most of us sane during the past year as we’ve been working from home. Personally, I never want to see the “now showing ad 1 of 3” to turn into “now showing ad 1 of 10”. But without data-driven advertising, it will. Most consumers can’t afford new TV subscriptions without offsetting the cost with ads. If we turn $30 CPMs that come from targeted ads into $10 CPMS that come from untargeted ads (or ads from only FLoCs), we’ll be back to a linear-like ad load with a linear-like efficacy. And in that world, we won’t be leveraging data to optimize the experience for consumers, advertisers and publishers.

For this reason, it was very telling that one of the first adopters of UID2 was Nielsen, the gold standard in media measurement. As they innovate their measurement tools for a cross-channel advertising environment, they are deploying UID2 because it will become a new common measurement currency across all digital channels on the open internet.

Think about journalism, which has often struggled with the shift to digital, but is currently coming out of recovery and poised to thrive. 10 years ago at a conference in San Francisco, I spoke to hundreds of leaders of the biggest newspaper companies in the US and reinforced that their success would be dependent on their ability to put programmatic advertising next to their content. I believed that then and I believe it now. Without targeted advertising, journalism will struggle and the number of journalists doing important work will massively shrink to a few scaled outlets.

This is why I’m so encouraged that one of those scaled outlets — The Washington Post and its technology arm, Zeus — has adopted UID2 well in advance of the phasing out of third-party cookies early next year. That means that the hundreds of smaller news outlets like the Miami Herald, The Seattle Times, and The Dallas Morning News that use Zeus can get higher CPMs from targeted advertising.

As a consumer, the health of journalism and the quality of TV content is important.

As the CEO of The Trade Desk, I also want to live up to the principles I outlined in our S1 before we went public. “Our mission is to help our clients compete in the marketplace of ideas—the place in media and public discourse where ideas and messages compete in the open market for the mindshare of men and women around the world.”

I also want to live up to the small sign that my grandfather hung on his office wall -- “God bless my competitors, because they make me better, faster, and stronger.”

I want there to be a marketplace of ideas. I want a competitive marketplace. I don’t want a monopoly -- or an oligopoly. I want to help other companies thrive, and I want the market to be vibrant. That’s what motivates me.

That is the beauty of the open internet. It is an open market where competition inspires creativity, innovation, progress, and efficiency. And when companies compete, consumers win.

In the wake of Google’s announcement last week, some even suggested that the ad industry should embrace walled gardens, monopolies, and concede the internet to Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. None of those companies are even asking for that. In fact, quite the opposite. They’re not focused on the open internet.

And this is why a unifying ID is so important. UID2 is for the open internet. It’s for TV, and news, and consumers. As a consumer, I prefer fewer, more relevant ads. Most consumers do. And we don’t want all of our data in any one company. UID2 was designed with a philosophy to give consumers control. Data doesn’t move unless a consumer wants it to. Unless the consumer gives consent. Even the use of the ID requires consent that has to be given explicitly to each site or app. There is no central data base or company that controls it. The consumer does.

Key to this consumer control is a log-in for the open internet based on an email address, similar to how consumers log in to the fastest-growing channels of the digital ecosystem today, such as CTV. This puts the consumer in control in a way that was never possible with cookies and would never be possible if the internet only consisted of a series of walled gardens.

Regarding our partnership with Google -- they are not a monolithic, singular entity with a uniform point of view. Google is one of the world’s largest companies with different divisions that have different goals and interests. There are many at Google who love TTD, perhaps because we are evidence of a competitive market, and some who don’t like us as much, perhaps for the same reasons.

But our partnership with Google Ad Manager and its ad exchange is strong. Our discussions this week have focused on how GAM can continue to support its publisher base by giving those publishers the power to utilize IDs that preserve data driven advertising, such as UID2. I suspect it is not lost on most AdExchanger readers that in a world without cookies or unifying IDs, there is little need for ad exchanges. And Google did not announce that is it shutting down Google Ad Manager. They also did not announce a spinning out of Double Click or that they are reducing DV360 to a buying tool for YouTube. And so this collaboration continues. We’re a happy client and expect that to continue.

Ultimately every big tech walled garden is dealing with increased privacy scrutiny. As a result, none of them will take actions that will hurt the open internet. If anything, they’re trying to stay out of it.

For the rest of the ad tech industry, that makes our mission very clear. We must develop an alternative to cookies that preserves the value exchange of relevant advertising for marketers; helps consumers make better, more educated decisions; and enables TV content owners, journalists, and publishers to monetize their content and create more of it.

And that’s why there has been so much positive UID2 momentum from all corners of the industry in a very short period of time.

I’m glad the advertising VIX is up a bit. It is driving the biggest players in media into action.