Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

Power in numbers: 3 ways publishers can dismantle Big Tech’s ad dominance

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Publishers, who once ruled internet news content, have had to manage the rapidly changing landscape and, in some cases, have lost their grasp on readers at the hands of corporate tech giants. But how and why?

The first newspapers came online in the mid-80s via CompuServe and then en masse to the web in the early 90s. At the time, they directly owned how advertising appeared on their site. “Adtech” did not exist. That meant they kept 100% of the value of the space they were selling alongside their content. But things quickly changed.

Starting in the early-mid 2000s, the emergence of Google News, powerful smartphones, and social media platforms, such as Facebook, caused a huge shift in the way people consumed content. They wanted to digest their news more quickly than ever and these platforms were structured to meet that demand. Unfortunately, this resulted in publishers seeing their audiences and ability to monetize their content tank.

Within the last decade, Big Tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, have grown their user bases, on the backs of that publisher content, into the billions and have leveraged that power to create what we now refer to as “walled gardens,” or an enclosed environment that dictates the user’s access to certain materials, websites, and services. This includes advertising. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), global digital ad spend went up more than 12% in 2020, with tech giants receiving nearly 80% of the revenue. A study by eMarketer showed that Google and Facebook alone had a combined share of more than 54%.

It’s traditionally been much harder for brands to run effective campaigns across multiple publishers on the open internet; the convenience and predictability of the walled gardens has been so appealing as a way to spend budgets. Times are changing, however, with the advent of more easily accessible machine learning and AI technology, a growing interest among consumers as to how their data is used, and an appreciation of access to a diverse range of quality online content. These changes provide an opportunity for publishers to assert more control over the future of their businesses and their relationship with their audiences.

3 Ways Publishers Can Take Back Control

1. Lean into partners that have your best interest at heart

Publishers can’t rely solely on Google and Facebook for content distribution, not just because of the loss of ad revenue, but also because of the lack of visibility they have into the engagement with their content. In fact, Facebook has been called out multiple times over the last five years for fudging the numbers, both for overestimating video viewing time and for double-counting conversion rates.  

In order to thrive in the current market, publishers need to work with tech companies that truly understand their value and that of the content they create as well as with ones that provide transparent measurement and reporting. 

2. Prioritize consent and work with fewer partners

Privacy and compliance fall to the publisher, even if working with other partners. Publishers need to get consumer consent to help comply with evolving and growing privacy laws. Twenty-three US states currently have Global Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR)/California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)-like laws on their legislation docket, and several of these regulation decisions are set to be made in the next few months

By reducing the number of technology partners with whom they work, publishers can gain better visibility into where consent comes from and feel confident in their compliance. With more consumers conscious of data privacy, having that visibility will allow for greater transparency with customers, which will go a long way in building trust and loyalty. Nurture the partners that share the same values, both in their dedication to privacy and their desire to promote diverse voices. 

3. Don’t view third-party cookies going away as a way to take back control – it will be short lived

Big Tech’s phasing out of third-party cookies was presented as a way to improve consumer privacy, but they are still able to track users’ behavior while on their platforms (e.g. Google search and YouTube) via first-party data and target ads to them accordingly.

The only real difference now is that Google will not provide marketers with those insights (as third-parties), but rather has proposed to provide marketers with packaged “cohorts.” i.e. users who generally share the same interests, for example. While, to a certain extent, Google will still allow marketers to utilize insights from their massive user base, there is much less visibility into who ads are reaching and will most likely reduce return on investment (ROI). 

To succeed without relying on Google and Facebook for user insights access, publishers must learn how to gather and use first-party data correctly and give marketers what they really want: evidence that their ads will reach their intended audience and convert into revenue. This means aligning publisher needs with marketer needs through a mutual value exchange and protecting the technical advances we’ve made that marketers will continue to demand with or without cookies. 

A great way to accomplish that is through the use of technology tools that utilize artificial intelligence and advanced machine learning techniques in order to provide insights into user behavior at a granular level, while respecting their privacy.  


While it may seem like an insurmountable task, publishers have the power to create their own path to success in advertising that isn’t reliant on Big Tech. Through the support of technology and like-minded partners, publishers will be able to provide the depth of insights needed for marketers to redirect their ad dollars and fund quality content from diverse voices. This shift won’t happen overnight, but if the industry comes together with a common goal, it can happen – because at the end of the day, there is power in numbers.

Somer Simpson
VP of Product, Quantcast

Quantcast is an audience intelligence and measurement company headquartered in San Francisco. Combining machine learning, a privacy-by-design approach, and live data drawn from more than 100 million online destinations, Quantcast provides software, information and advertising services for marketers, publishers and advertising agencies worldwide. Founded in 2006, Quantcast has employees in 20 offices across 10 countries.