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Cannes Lions 2024: what publishers need to know

Advertising still remains a key revenue driver for global publishers, with the recent FIPP World Media Congress underlining the fact that over 50% of FIPP members derive more than 50% of their revenue from advertising. And that is why Cannes LIONS remains so important to keep abreast of…

Cannes has always held a two-tiered value for publishers. First is an opportunity to network with advertisers who have come ready to forge big-ticket deals, if the terms are right. As media channels and platforms diversify almost as fast as global ad spend grows, rising pressure to attract those budgets brought notably higher numbers of publishers to La Croisette this year.

Secondly, there’s the heads-up it offers on which key developments will impact their revenue streams next. Following conversations about media buyers’ shifting priorities gives vital insight into how ad offerings can be best adapted for enduring appeal, effectiveness, and relevance amid constant industry changes. And the same goes for keeping a keen eye on what steps other publishers are taking to stay ahead.

So, what were the top 2024 Cannes trends digital publishers need to know about?

Goodbye hype, hello practicality: AI’s value gets real

While artificial intelligence (AI) stole the show again, conversations this year had a different flavour. Interest in automated technologies is finally extending beyond pure hype, especially when it comes to generative tools. As summarised by Alexander Igelsböck, CEO at Adverity, many players are still enthralled by the potential of GenAI, but discussions have moved from theoretical concepts to practical value because “businesses eager to bolster productivity levels are exploring where advanced models can streamline time-consuming jobs.”

This shift in focus reflects an increasing ecosystem-wide pursuit of tech-powered efficiency. As more advertisers harness GenAI to accelerate the speed and scale of content production, publishers are seizing smart solutions to drive smoother operations. According to Digiday, the volume of publishers using AI jumped from just under half to 89% between Q2 and Q3 last year, with 38% applying GenAI to enhance internal and back-end processes.

Unsurprisingly, the benefits such applications can deliver for people were also a key Cannes talking point. In an evolution from previous ‘man versus machine’ debates that have often revolved around fears of AI replacing human talent, advocates argued AI will augment human abilities by providing what Igelsböck calls a “springboard” to amplify and enrich creativity. This includes assisting with the creation of first-draft content for human experts to refine, and also fuelling faster access to granular audience insight that they can use to tell more engaging stories, at an advertising and editorial level.

Quality over quantity: the open web goes premium

With programmatic equally essential to the revenue mix as in-person deals, publishers see Cannes as a vital chance to determine which media buying trends they should be accommodating to keep automated yield flowing. Going by the 2024 agenda, doing so means embracing significant evolution in how open web inventory is handled along programmatic supply chains, and specifically, a swing towards carefully controlled media trading.

Although the idea of curation isn’t new, it is gaining traction amid the mission to ensure greater programmatic transparency, brand safety, and inventory quality. For Emma Newman, CRO EMEA at PubMatic curated marketplaces are becoming the “cornerstone for responsible journalism and premium content”, with custom deals winning popularity as a way of safeguarding brand reputation while directing ad budgets towards reputable, independent media outlets.

These curation conversations tallied closely with the related buzz around how advertising scale and quality can be better balanced. As noted by Madi Bachar, MGID’s VP of Global Sales, the growing issues caused by AI deep fakes and made-for-advertising sites underline the need for collaborative action to cultivate a thriving, premium-grade open web.

This will inevitably necessitate further quality-centric filtering and less exclusive focus on reach from the advertiser side, but there is confidence the results could be worthwhile for all. Despite the likelihood of CPM inflation, Eli Heath, Head of Identity for Lotame, believes advantages will outweigh drawbacks “as advertisers will have greater transparency over the inventory they buy” and publishers are recognised for the unique value they can provide.

Tomorrow’s world: the post-cookie future is upon us

Speculation about what the world will look like without third-party cookies has become a staple Cannes topic. This time around, however, the chatter was noticeably reduced. While that may be surprising after Google’s latest execution delay, ad tech experts feel it suggests positive progress. Marko Johns, UK Managing Director & International Agency Head for Seedtag, says that the lack of a spotlight on cookie deprecation indicates it has now (at last) been accepted as inevitable. With industry attention switching to adaptation, he also advises that those who haven’t begun preparing “won’t be ready for the future of advertising.”

Given the contrasting prevalence of discussions about privacy-secure approaches, it seems attendees were well aware of the urgent need for change. Bachar observed an uptick in the number of publishers investigating how they can develop and sell advertising products that set them apart in the ever-more crowded digital media space – and secure the industry’s future health – by tapping their owned insights to enable precise and cookie-less targeting.

Alongside broader use of consented first-party data, this is set to cover the next generation of AI-powered contextual insight. Increasingly smart context-based ads are expected to have a transformative effect on privacy-centric ad delivery by using granular understanding of content subject matter and sentiment to guide refined ad matching. Johns believes there is huge scope for AI to fuel compelling contextual narratives that “resonate with audiences on a profound level”: driving greater impact for brands while helping publishers maintain high experience quality.

But there was also a note of caution on embracing advanced innovation, particularly with data management. Remembering that any AI tool is only as effective and accurate as the information feeding it, Igelsböck urges all businesses to ensure their ad systems are rooted in the right foundations of high-quality, relevant, and neatly orchestrated data if they want to create “resonant narratives that forge genuine connections with audiences.”