Third-party data has been a primary resource for many companies for a very long time. However, this is about to change. With the phasing out of third-party cookies in 2023 drawing closer every day, companies reliant on this strategy are forced to pivot — and pivot fast to a first-party data approach.
Building out entirely new solutions can take time, as can testing results and fine-tuning methodology. And it’s not that brands don’t want to take steps forward; one report finds that 85% of companies want to embrace first-party data, but 55% aren’t fully equipped to do so and 81% still rely primarily on third-party cookies.
However, there are some companies paving the way for what to expect, and those looking for new solutions may want to follow in their footsteps. These are five leaders in the industry who are using first-party data to gain a competitive advantage.
The New York Times
The New York Times has long been a popular paper — the company hit its 2025 10 million subscriber goal three years early — and the switch to a largely subscription-based model hasn’t changed that. What it has done, however, has provided an ample supply of first-party data. As subscribers have to create accounts linked to identity, a treasure trove of information is available seamlessly. Further, as a business that prides itself on a prestigious image and customer-forward approach, access to this kind of data allows for a more personalized experience without any of the low-quality ads traditional programmatic approaches can yield. Losing access to third-party cookies hasn’t hurt ad sales revenue, either; with the purchase of The Athletic to bolster business, the publisher expects to see a growth of 20% or more in early 2022.
The Wall Street Journal
Following in the footsteps of its rival, The Wall Street Journal has also made strides in first-party data collection and utilization. Unlike The New York Times, which allows limited free articles a month, parent company Dow Jones has opted to make the WSJ almost exclusively subscription-based.
In addition, WSJ has a slightly different market than NYT and The Washington Post — one centered on business. The Wall Street Journal offers a carefully curated portfolio of financial and economic insights unavailable from anywhere else, resulting in a readership of business decision-makers. This has led to an interest in higher quality advertising, and estimates indicate that 7 of 10 ad sales segments are informed by first-party data. Advertisers who leveraged this data were 37% more likely to run an additional campaign.
Netflix, unlike some of its competitors, operates exclusively on a subscription basis — which allows for unprecedented levels of data collection. This allows Netflix to offer customized recommendations, predict the likelihood of success for original content based on viewership patterns, optimize planning for production, target placement trailers and thumbnail images, and improve decision-making.
Think this is mostly a coincidence? It’s not. The recommendation system is responsible for 80% of the media streamed on the platform. This strategy will also come in handy when the company takes its next step — rolling out an ad-supported tier to save viewers money. Coming on the heels of a loss of users in a sea of stiff competition, Netflix’s perspective on pivoting will allow for enhanced targeted ad placement for those who opt in.
Disney+ is a newer name in the streaming industry, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t already a powerhouse in its own right. With a goal to reach 260 million subscribers by 2024, this platform is growing fast and aggressively — and first-party data is helping this happen. It doesn’t hurt that Disney offers multiple avenues for collection, including Hulu and ESPN+, as well as sites like ABC, Freeform, FX, and the National Geographic channel.
Disney uses a proprietary platform called Disney Select that helps marketers pick segments of the market on which to focus, based on things like buyer behavior, psychographics, and household characteristics. There are now over 2,000 segments to choose from. Segments are built to meet advertiser KPIs based on categories and desired outcomes. Like Netflix, Disney+ also has an ad-supported product in the works for this year, which will have the same ad targeting benefits.
Is anyone surprised that YouTube is a leader in collecting data and putting it to good use? As a global free video platform with millions of casual watchers as well as 23.6 million subscribers — and a goal for 27.9 million by 2024 — YouTube is a content destination for virtually everyone. With the launch of YouTube Music, access is growing even faster, particularly as Gen Z leans into streaming music avenues.
Advertising is a key aspect of the platform’s success, including targeted advertising based on viewing habits and subscriptions. In Q4 2021, YouTube made $8.36 billion from advertising, up 25% from Q4 2020. This number sounds big, and it is; it’s far beyond what most video platforms were able to accomplish over the same general period of time. And, as services expand, the site shows no signs of stopping.
For those who use third-party cookies, phasing out may seem like the end of the world. However, as the brands named in this article have demonstrated, switching to first-party data collection can have a significant impact on growth and revenue. First-party data is known to be more reliable as it comes directly from the customer, therefore publishers can provide very accurate tailored suggestions to their customers, in turn increasing brand loyalty. Advertisers are also more interested in reliable first-party data, as they can utilize their advertising dollars more efficiently by targeting the right audience. By taking the time to maximize opportunities and putting solutions in place in advance of the end of third party cookies, it’s possible to improve advertising resources for an overall competitive advantage.