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Cookie-Free Future: Navigating the Alternatives for Media Brands

Cookie-Free Future: Navigating the Alternatives for Media Brands

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mediarithmics Team
December 18, 2023

Cookie-Free Future: Navigating the Alternatives for Media Brands

With mere weeks to go until Google finally begins to wind down the third-party cookie, media brands are staring down the barrel of lower addressability and lower CPMs.

Cookies were the building blocks of the internet, and being forced to replace them remains a foundational change for online media companies.

While you might have explored some of the available alternatives already, there’s a reality you soon have to face… Unless a solution is onboarded soon, your advertising revenue is going to suffer.

What Does a Media Business Need From a Third-Party Cookie Alternative?

Recognising the impending downfall of the third-party cookie, competing technologies have already arisen as potential replacements. But, as it currently stands, no single solution alone perfectly suits every use case required by the media industry. 

The third-party cookie alternative you adopt for your media brand will have to take into consideration a few key factors, balancing your existing infrastructure with your future requirements:

  1. The capabilities (or lack of) in your existing technology stack. Will your new solution make advanced use cases within your adtech stack possible?
  2. Your attitude towards experimentation. Are you an early adopter, or would your business rather wait to see which alternatives emerge as winners?
  3. Your organisation’s existing access to first-party data. How large is your audience? What data do you currently collect on them? 
  4. The behavioural tendencies of your audience. How do they consume content? What do they respond to the most? 

Depending on your position, some third-party cookie alternatives will prove more suitable than others. This makes narrowing down your options a nuanced and complex process. Understanding the alternative technologies (and simultaneously predicting how they might adapt in the future) is not straightforward.

The Framework for Assessing Third-Party Cookie Alternatives

As a part of our “Future-Proof Use Cases for Media Players” whitepaper, we have put together an analytical framework designed to break down the alternatives against a set of specific criteria.

  • Scale: Does the alternative allow your advertisers to address a high percentage of their desired audience? But, this often comes at the expense of… 
  • Precision: How much information can you accurately match to a user in order to effectively target adverts?
  • Availability: Is the solution ready to be onboarded today? 
  • Consent-less: Consent could perhaps be considered the intermediary between scale and precision; if the solution requires consent what would that mean for addressability?  
  • Ease of Use: Can the alternative be onboarded and used by all the necessary teams? Will it require ongoing resources to make it functional?
  • Future Proofing: As technology and legislation adapt, some identity solutions might have a shelf-life. Do you want to invest in something that risks becoming redundant? 

Applying the Framework to Your Media Brand

Using our framework, you can start to accurately assess which technologies will suit your business. Below, we evaluate a few of the most prominent emerging third-party cookie alternatives against the above criteria.

Contextual Targeting

Making a resurgence thanks to the declining efficacy of third-party cookies, contextual targeting enables media brands to deliver targeted advertising based on the keywords and web page content being viewed.


  • It caters to large audiences where a user identifier is not usable.
  • It’s readily available, already widely used by brands and media owners.
  • It doesn’t require consent to use, as there is no user-specific data required to be shared.
  • It is simple to use for both buyers and sellers
  • It’s very likely to be future-proof because no user data is needed.


  • It struggles with precision, as you are targeting environments and not people. This can make your owned media less valuable than user-level targeting solutions.

Universal IDs 

Universal IDs provide a shared identity of a user across the ad-tech supply chain, often without relying on the use of third-party cookies. 

For a deeper understanding of Universal IDs, read our published article ‘What are Universal IDs & Why Should You Care?’ 


  • Individual UID providers use either (or both) deterministic and probabilistic methods. If deterministic, they are precise in helping advertisers reach specific audiences. If probabilistic, they provide greater scale.
  • They are readily available with multiple vendors already offering them to the market.


  • Deterministic Universal IDs might lack scale (depending on how successfully you can collect consent).
  • The precision of probabilistic Universal IDs is going to be less than deterministic.
  • Consent must be gained to make use of them.
  • They are not the easiest to understand and use.
  • There is an uncertainty surrounding longevity. Probabilistic methods will become unusable as data signals dwindle. Deterministic methods may come under greater scrutiny in the future.

Privacy Sandbox 

A Google initiative that allows advertisers to target a publisher’s audience based on the categories of content they browse online.


  • It can make all of your audience addressable.
  • With the weight of Google behind this technology, advertisers are already interested.


  • Similarly to contextual targeting, it suffers from lower precision because it targets broad interests rather than specific needs.
  • It requires consent as Google tracks users across different websites.
  • The future of Privacy Sandbox is in question, and it has been scrutinised by competition and data privacy authorities.

Seller Defined Audiences

Developed by IAB Tech Lab, SDAs help media owners to use their first-party data to sell contextual audiences in a privacy-safe manner. 


  • They can make all of a media company's audiences addressable.
  • They are ready to use and easy to implement. You can use a CDP to create the segments easily.
  • They do not require user consent as no user data is shared.
  • Because the publisher is not sharing its users’ first-party data or using third-party cookies, they should be future-proofed against privacy developments.


  • Like contextual SDAs target environments, not users.
  • Advertiser interest has been hesitant.

Taking into account the existing third-party cookie alternatives, it’s unlikely that any one solution will emerge as the de facto replacement. 

In order to be able to effectively target adverts for your clients, your media brand will need to consider whether multiple solutions will be needed to maintain the use cases they are about to lose. 

For more information on how identity and addressability will impact the activities of media owners, check out our recent white paper, “Future-Proof Use Cases for Media Players”. It explores the addressability alternatives in more depth, and discusses how different use cases needed by marketing and monetisation teams can be delivered using them.

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