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Articles, News

The Top Issues in Media, According to You: Data & Cookies, Referral Traffic, and More

By OpenWeb

To identify key concerns and opportunities that are top of mind in our industry, we routinely take the pulse of our community. Heading into 2024, we asked our database of media professionals, including respondents from across our network of 5,000 partners in publishing and media, for their top concerns. 

Here’s what we heard:

Data & Cookies34.4%
Referral traffic volume20.3%
Lower budgets / reduced resources (internally)10.9%
Advertising revenue (reduced demand)9.4%
User retention8%
— Changing privacy and data regulations
— Supply path optimization
— Increased competition
— Upholding brand safety standards

Behind the Numbers

Cookies & Data

It’s no surprise that data and cookies were the top concern cited by publishers. In some ways, however, this is a good news data point in that nearly two-thirds of respondents are not worried about cookie deprecation. Clearly, publishers have spent the past few years thinking about how they will move forward in a cookie free world.

In our 2024 Media Trends Report, we noted that publishers have multiple strategies for replacing third-party cookies with smart first-party data strategies. For instance, many publishers have long relied on third-party cookies to personalize their homepages to the interests of their users. In the absence of third-party cookies, they now (or plan to) offer free subscriptions, and will use first-party data to do that personalization. 

To encourage those users to register, publishers are focusing more attention on content and distinct user benefits. The result is a better, more trusted experience for the user and the publisher alike.

Referral Traffic

Generative AI has been a concern for many publishers for many reasons, one of which is referral traffic, a revenue source that is already on the decline. There are now numerous tools — ChatGPT, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), Perplexity.ai — that provide users with answers that may reference a publisher’s content from those AI sites. As a result, users won’t need to visit the publisher’s site, thereby eliminating the publisher’s opportunity to monetize that content with advertising.

However, there is reason to be hopeful: some SEO pros have noticed an uptick in ranking among sites that feature a large amount of user-generated content, like Reddit and Quora.

One way that publishers can battle against lost of traffic? Create a thriving community by leveraging tools like OpenWebOS. OpenWebOS provides a suite of tools to both build a community and harness first-party data. The goal is to create spaces where users want to return to on a daily basis, generating lots of original content—and a truly unique experience that keeps readers coming back.

Lower Budgets / Declining Resources

Lower budgets have been a topic of concern since 2023.

For many in media, the question goes back to the Pareto Principle—or a version of it. If 20% of your audience is generating 80% of your revenue (or at very least creating outsized value), you have two paths to pursue: (a) find ways to make that segment even more valuable, and (b) explore new ways to convert more of your audience to that highly-valuable share. Most publishers are doing both.

Interesting examples abound. Take for instance the New York Times, who have expanded their product lines steadily and build subscriber communities based on interest, such as its Games portfolio.

Other publishers are leaning into events to make up for declining revenue. “The strategies vary, from increasing the volume of events and turning their events businesses into standalone brands to turning experiential franchises into pop-up commercial content creation studios. But the goal remains the same for publishers: to keep revenue flowing,” writes Kayleigh Barber in Digiday.

Meanwhile, every day it seems we read about publisher layoffs, which is concerning. In January alone, over 500 journalists were laid off, a trend that CNN notes has “devastated” news organizations.

What’s really disturbing about this trend is that it comes at a time when unique and excellent content are key to attracting and retaining users.

Declining Advertising Revenue

9.4% of publishers said declining revenue is their top concern. Once again, this is a bit of good news in that 90% of publishers are not concerned about it, despite the growth of retail media, declining cookie targeting and measurement, and the emergence of multiple third-party replacement strategies. 

Advertising spend will continue to increase in 2024, rising 5.9%. On top of that, political advertising will bring in another $10 billion. 

User Retention

Finally, 8% of respondents cited user retention as a top concern. This adds up: with referral traffic on the decline, retaining a loyal audience is more important than ever.

However, if this number seems low may, we realize it may be skewed. After all, we asked the OpenWeb community. On the whole, this self-selected list is actively investing in developing a loyal community. While our data has shown the importance of community engagement for building audience loyalty at scale, this data may reaffirm those findings.

What Do You Think?

What’s your opinion on these findings? We’d love to know. Get in touch.

Let’s have a conversation.

Right now OpenWeb has a limited number of partners we can work with in order to provide the highest quality service to each and every one. Let us know you’re interested and stay informed about how OpenWeb is empowering publishers and advertisers to change online conversations for good.