February in Programmatic: Five Things You Should Know
by Lloyd Greenfield
Welcome to February’s “Five things you should know”. Every month we round up five of the biggest developments in programmatic with a “Too Long; Didn’t Read” summary, the key actions you need to take, and links to more detailed articles for further reading. Our intention is that this is a useful resource for everyone trying to keep on top of the developments in our fast moving industry.
Chrome’s SameSite update took effect (4th Feb):
TL;DR: Although this change was announced last year, it took effect from 4th February. The Chrome default cookie setting has changed from “SameSite=None” (allows third party cookies) to “SameSite=Lax” (only sets a cookie where the domain in the URL of the browser matches the domain of the cookie, ie it’s a first party). Third party cookies can still be used as long as they are flagged as secure (so using HTTPS).
What next?: This isn’t killing the third party cookie (that’s in 2022!) but is changing the default behaviour in Chrome. So, it’s an important privacy and security update, and stepping stone towards a third-party cookieless future. Make sure your dev teams have updated the cookie settings on your site, and you are planning for a cookieless future.
Useful links: See the original announcement & guidance and an explanation of what SameSite update actually is/does.
Ofcom’s powers will be extended to cover social media (12th Feb):
TL;DR: Ofcom is getting additional powers to ensure “online companies have the systems and processes in place to fulfil the duty of care to keep people using their platforms safe”. A full consultation response to the Online Harms White Paper is expected in the spring which will set out the potential shape of regulation. Legislation is being drafted which will provide greater clarity on the scope and role of Ofcom as regulator in this space.
What next?: Having a social media presence doesn’t mean you will fall under the new regulatory powers. However, with enhanced scrutiny of the large platforms, we are optimistic this will have a positive impact on brand safety. Watch out for the consultation response this spring, and in the meantime ensure you are clear on your brand safety approach.
Useful links: The announcement and further commentary on what that means for media.
The IAB announced Project Rearc, a cross-industry initiative to design an alternative to the third party cookie (10th Feb):
TL;DR: The IAB announced their initiative to design a replacement to the third party cookie, in collaboration with the industry. The project aims to develop an (anonymous), industry wide, identifier that enables addressable advertising and therefore a funded web; essentially re-architecting how digital media is transacted and tracked.
What next?: The plans are still very much at an early stage and the IAB is asking for engagement from all members.
Useful links: The full announcement with some clarifying commentary and some initial industry reactions
Ad Fraud raised its head again, with an alert from IAS on the “404bot” exploiting unaudited ads.txt files (25th Feb)
TL;DR: Ads.txt provides a way for publishers to list all the vendors who are authorised to sell their ads, and therefore for advertisers to buy only from approved (genuine) sources and intermediaries. However, the “404bot” is able to get around this, generating a spoof url with a 404 error page in place of the genuine page. IAS estimates this has cost the industry $15m and affected 1.5bn ads to date.
What next?: The common theme for all the publishers affected was large and unaudited ads.txt files. Ensure the publishers you are working with have a robust (anti) ad fraud approach.
Useful links: The full release from IAS and commentary on what it means
The Coalition for Better Ads announced ad standards for short-form videos, which will be adopted by Chrome (5th Feb):
TL;DR: Based on research with 45,000 consumers the CBA identified three ad experiences that were particularly disruptive in short-form videos (less than 8 minutes long): mid-roll ads; pre-roll ads or groups of ads longer than 31 seconds that cannot be skipped in the first 5 seconds; and non-linear display ads that are in the middle 1/3 of a playing video or are larger than 20% of the video content. They recommend website owners should stop showing these within 4 months.
What next?: Chrome will stop showing any ads on sites that repeatedly show these disruptive formats from 5th August. Ahead of this deadline, publishers need to assess their monetisation approach, and advertisers ensure that they are providing engaging content on compliant sites.
Useful links: The announcement from the Coalition for Better Ads and Chrome’s approach to these new standards.
Other noteworthy news
And finally, a few things that didn’t make the Programmatic in February list, but were also noteworthy this month: Ad blocking might be at an all time high, Mobile World Congress was cancelled, Facebook Audience Network is closing for mobile sites, Hitwise closed its doors after 20 years, Google announced the move of British users’ data from Ireland to the US, and Uber is entering the OOH space.