Vox Media Rolls Out New Data Marketplace to Compete With Upcoming Privacy Regulations

It's the first piece of tech following the merger with New York Media

Forte logo
Vox Media is marketing a new data marketplace to compete with privacy regulation. VOXMEDIA

Key Insights

Vox Media, as it continues to unify its brands with New York Media, wants to show the media industry that for all the talk about gloom and doom, there is opportunity.

Almost two months after the pair officially merged, the new media conglomerate is rolling out a new data set to potential clients with a suite of sites it wants to make attractive to media buyers, which it hopes will futureproof against changing cookie policies from browsers like Chrome and Firefox and the coming wave of privacy legislation.

The first-party data platform, called Forte (keeping in line with Vox’s orchestral verbiage, like its CMS Chorus and ad network Concert), is designed to combine insights from all 13 editorial brands to better predict consumer intent and behavior.

Forte is the first piece of proprietary technology that includes New York Media brands and Vox Media editorial brands, giving media buyers a taste of what the new media organization can offer them, with its larger scale and continued investment in building its tech infrastructure. The new company boasts a readership of 125 million across its bevy of sites.

Under Forte, the company will build targeting around “mindset” and “intent” instead of just individual user characteristics, according to Ryan Pauley, Vox Media’s chief revenue officer.

“The industry has used third-party data as a crutch that will no longer exist very soon, and it will value platforms that have that direct-to-consumer audience,” Pauley said.

Forte will measure the same signals as Vox Media always has, but in a more holistic and cohesive way, combining all those variables in one place for what Pauley hopes will be a more comprehensive look at consumer behavior.

Those signals could include which platforms a reader comes from, how much time they’re spending on a page and scroll depth. So if you land on Curbed, Vox’s real estate site after coming from Zillow, you might be served an ad from Coldwell Banker.

Basically, this is Vox’s version of serving the right ad to the right person at the right time with the right creative. It’s a nut many claim to have cracked, but a dubious industry still waits for a tech solution to provide that consistency.

Forte is also powered from 12,000 custom ad units and 11 billion impressions from the last three years, Vox said.

As is, Pauley said, the messaging can be the same despite how people arrive to the site, including if a person lands on a product review or whether that reader comes to the site from a newsletter.

“It’s the same message, same targeting. What we’ve seen is performance varies widely in those instances,” Pauley said.

He continued, “Forte will be judged based on the performance it derives. If we can develop performance signals that deliver the message and the right creative at the right time, then performance will grow.”

Forte has hummed in beta mode for about six months, testing with a handful of partners. Vox declined to name the testers. The offering, which goes live today to coincide with a media push, has partners on board, though Vox also declined to say which advertisers were participating.

Media buyers Adweek contacted were tight-lipped on specifics, though a couple who were not part of the beta and briefed about what the platform’s aims were, seemed to be cautiously optimistic.

“Media strategists, planners and buyers will be very curious to see what first-party data Vox has available and how transparent they are being with users about how they intend to use it,” said Clint White, WiT Media president and founder. “Engagement is always the goal with media, and the creative units—along with the pricing model—will need to work hard in collaboration for this to be a practical innovation.”

Vox wants to shop Forte around at CES, touting the first-party data capabilities at a time when the tide is clearly rising on privacy changes. The public rollout comes just 48 hours before the implementation of CCPA, California’s stringent privacy regulation, and amid the prospect of changing platform policies regarding third-party cookies. The tech also arrives on the eve of what will surely be a bitter U.S. political campaign season.

For a media company that builds its reputation on explaining facts, a tool like Forte can be appealing to advertisers looking to target readers who live in a fact-based reality.

“As 2020 unfolds, and beyond, trust is going to become center stage,” said Media Kitchen CEO Barry Lowenthal. “Advertisers are going to be paying premiums for places where there is fact-checking and where there is truth.”

Forte, he said, could serve as a way for Vox Media to tout its first-party data not only as a way to protect consumers’ privacy but to become less reliant on the data gathered by social platforms and search engines and as a way to take a stand against the misinformation culture.

“We paid a premium for context because there was this rub-off effect. In a world where the default is to not believe, then there is no such thing as context,” Lowenthal said.

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.