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6 Questions with Andrew Baron, PubMatic

The sell-side company is supporting the UID 2.0 initiative as a default identity solution for over 180 publishers on its platform. Here’s why:

PubMatic, the sell-side digital advertising platform, has signed up to integrate Unified ID 2.0 as a default identity setting for publishers using its Identity Hub solution. With over 180 publishers that are activated on Identity Hub worldwide, the company is embracing industry-wide initiative UID 2.0 as a new approach for identifying users. It believes the solution can help drive scale across the open internet.

We spoke to Andrew Baron, vice president of machine learning and marketplace at PubMatic, about the fast-changing digital media landscape, and what’s at stake as the industry collaborates on an alternative to third-party cookies.

There are several identity initiatives taking place right now. Why bet on UID 2.0 and what does it bring to the table that separates it from the others?

One of the reasons I'm particularly excited about UID 2.0 is that it brings one of the most stable data elements to the forefront in terms of creating a consistent identifier. And that element I'm describing is a hashed email. So, when you ask a user to sign in, there's a very clear exchange of value between the user and publisher: here's my email address in order for me to begin reading or enjoying some piece of content or consuming some video. And that email address is stable and consistent. And that's a great persistent way of identifying a user going forward.

PubMatic already has its own sophisticated identity capabilities. How does adopting UID 2.0 bolster those abilities?

The value we bring to bear is that we are going to help UID 2.0 scale up across the web by allowing publishers to easily work with the solution. We have exciting market traction with our Identity Hub product, which allows publishers to easily access IDs like Unified ID 2.0. So, you can imagine this collaboration resulting in meaningful adoption for UID 2.0.

Let's talk a bit more about that scale as it relates to UID 2.0. What's at stake if the industry doesn't scale as we hope?

The vast majority of programmatic advertising transactions today have some kind of user targeting associated with them. And so, in the absence of third-party cookies and device IDs, a sub-scale alternative to identifying users would essentially mean that a lot of the benefits of programmatic advertising fall by the wayside. What we're talking about is a challenge, but it's a welcome challenge that enables us to solve for important principles of user control around privacy and comfort.

With the pandemic, it’s been a difficult year. How do you think about some of those short and long-term challenges facing publishers?

There has been an acceleration of the way that we utilize the internet. Time spent online has gone way up. What that means is publishers more than ever are enjoying increased traffic, but their ability to monetize that traffic is coming under threat. So, while the pandemic has impacted some specific advertiser verticals, such as travel, for example, we've seen a surprising recovery here in the US where the industry is beating a lot of expectations.

Financial predictability for publishers has been one challenge. And then, existential threats for publishers have increased the need for experimentation on how to monetize their digital assets when the time comes for the removal of third-party cookies within Chrome. So, we're very focused on being able to help publishers run experiments expeditiously. If we can remove a lot of the operational friction and improve their decision-making, then we'll welcome them into this new digital horizon.

Is this a period of preparation for a new paradigm?

The opportunity we see right now is one around experimentation and curation to find the best ID strategy. I think it's great to see many different kinds of independent companies coming together with different approaches to identity. And I think that's the power of our product, Identity Hub, to make all those different approaches accessible to both publishers and buyers and the experimentation will take us to the right outcome.

On that point, what's the largest hurdle in terms of convincing publishers and agencies to adopt this so we can scale up? Is it an education question?

The biggest hurdle is not on the publisher side. It's actually on the buy side. Every publisher is willing to pick up the phone because of this great change that's been looming for some time. Getting a publisher to move forward with adopting Identity Hub should be a no-brainer given how easy it is to get started.

Right now, what we're seeing is largely experimental budgets, with the buy side saying, “I built a business off third-party cookies, which worked really well for me. Now, I want to run an experiment on an alternative to the third-party cookie.”

What that means is the experimentation is going to be buy-side driven. And so, getting agencies and advertisers alike to shift budgets ahead of a final Chrome cookie announcement is ultimately the hurdle that we're trying to cross together as an industry.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.