Digital Publishing
3 mins read

Oliver von Wersch on GDPR, consent and digital media

It is now nearly two years since the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Yet while many publishers have ensured they comply with its basic statutes some are still struggling to come to terms with the way it has changed the media landscape. The fact that different countries appear to have taken different perspectives on its guidelines has further complicated matters.

At DIS 2020 Oliver von Wersch, the founder of media consultants vonwerschpartner and a veteran of several high profile European publishers including a recent stint as Managing Director Growth Projects and Strategic Partnerships at Gruner + Jahr GmbH, will attempt to bring some clarity.

Here he outlines the key issues around GDPR and consent and makes some suggestions as to how the media can work together to navigate the issue.

Tell us about your career so far? How was the move in 2017 from a mainstream publishing company to running your own business?

I have been in the digital media industry for more than 20 years, and in top management positions for more than 10 years. When I decided to leave Gruner + Jahr in 2017 to found my own business, my idea was to throw away the constraints of internal corporate complexity, and keep the vision and freedom to invest in digital innovations – but from an outside-in perspective. This has worked out pretty well so far.

Explain how vonwerschpartner works? What type of problem are you trying to solve?

We help our customers from the media industry to solve complex strategic problems. In some cases we act as a think tank, inducing strategic input into decision making processes. In other cases we work in strategy development, implementation and strategic PR on behalf of our clients. Right now we have a team of five full time employees.

At DIS you are speaking about GDPR and consent. How do you think GDPR has changed the European media landscape?

I think that GDPR has changed the media landscape in a positive way in that it creates increased transparency and rationality in data protection matters. We are, however, still far from seeing a practical platform for the daily publisher business. There are a lot of things that are still unclear, for example, in the field of tracking. At the same time, unfortunately, there have been different interpretations at the country level, so that one can only speak of a European standard to a very limited extent. GDPR consumed, and is still consuming a lot of resources inside the companies. The uncertainty is also in some ways limiting growth and even endangering existing publisher revenues. This issue needs to be addressed urgently.

How can we as an industry navigate around these issues?

We need to work together as an industry, arguably far more than in the past. On the other hand, publishers need to invest in the development of a first party data strategy. First party data is the main key to survival in the future, and from my perspective, not a lot of publishers so far have transformed this necessity into strategic and operational actions. Further we also need the political regulators to give clear guidance on how to handle the market concentration towards the large platforms in the long run.

Are there any regulations on the horizon that might impact on publishing?

The vanishing of the third party cookie over the next two years will be the biggest disruption of the publishing industry, since its beginning. Some publishers will profit from that change, but some publishers will vanish from the market. It is part of the peculiarity of our industry that this regulation is not made by the legislator, but by the browser manufacturers, i.e. private companies.

Generally do you think the German and European media is in a healthier state today than it was, say, five years ago?

My impression is that the digital media industry has reached a high-level of professionality and sustainability in the past years. A lot of publishing houses are KPI-driven yet focused on quality content at the same time. There are still issues to solve though to ensure that digital media can compensate for negative revenue effects of the further structural decline in print media.

Republished with kind permission of DIS, which brings together media businesses, technology innovators, social platforms and solution providers to share ideas, discuss emerging trends and showcase future products.