Prebid.org launches to build open source header bidding for publishers

AppNexus and Rubicon Project have announced the creation and launch of Prebid.org, Inc., an independent organization dedicated to the development and promotion of open-source header bidding solutions and other open-source tools to drive publisher monetization. A collaborative effort of industry partners, Prebid.org is open to all parties advocating for unbiased and efficient monetization solutions and a digital advertising ecosystem that thrives through fair competition.

In joining Prebid.org, partners commit to a Code of Conduct containing directives for header bidding wrapper mechanics, data and transparency, and user experience. Written to ensure best practices for fair market competition, the Code of Conduct supports improved performance for publishers and user experience for consumers. 

“The formation of Prebid.org marks a crucial step forward in the push for industry-wide adoption of open-source header bidding technologies,” said Tom Kershaw, Chief Technology Officer, Rubicon Project and a director of Prebid.org. “Today’s announcement demonstrates a collaborative commitment to buyers, sellers, and the advertising ecosystem as a whole as we continue to blaze this trail of sharing and openness in an effort to promote continued growth and monetization opportunities for all parties.”

Header bidding is a technique created to offer publishers a more efficient way of working with programmatic vendors, equipping them to improve their monetization strategies in an unbiased environment. As opposed to proprietary technologies, open-source header bidding solutions are updated on a continuous basis by a multitude of industry players – the Prebid.org community currently spans 81 demand partner adapters, 5 analytics providers, and 191 individuals who contribute code to the project. The collaborative nature of the organization instills transparency and accountability into the ecosystem, while enabling the Prebid solutions to adapt quickly to market and publisher needs.

“A fragmented header bidding landscape poses a great risk to the industry,” said Michael Richardson, Product Line Manager, AppNexus and Chairman of Prebid.org. “Rather than independently competing, duplicating efforts, and wasting resources, we can push for fair competition and better results as a team. The collaboration around Prebid.org by industry partners has been incredible, showing it to be the pragmatic path forward.”

“I am super excited about Prebid.org – an independent, community-supported organization will bring meaningful support and innovation to the Prebid solutions, which in turn contribute to the long-term viability of publishers within the advertising ecosystem,” said Danny Khatib, co-founder of Granite Media and former COO of Livingly, a pioneer of header bidding. “As a publisher, my ability to participate and advocate in the Prebid community gives me confidence in Prebid.org to continue to develop the most effective and transparent solutions for our business.”

The launch of Prebid.org as an independent organization does not alter the functionality of existing Prebid products, but rather bolsters support for their development and adoption within the industry. Amongst the products currently contributed to Prebid.org are client-side wrapper solution, Prebid.js, server-side header bidding solution, Prebid Server, as well as Prebid Mobile, Prebid Video, and Prebid Native. The solutions support all device types.

Publishers and ad tech vendors are encouraged to join Prebid.org, to further develop and champion best practices for open-source header bidding. Companies interested in participating should visit prebid.org for additional information.

“We’re excited to participate in Prebid.org since open-source header bidding technologies are developed in a way which favors growth for publishers and the programmatic industry as a whole, versus proprietary solutions,” said Evan Simeone, SVP of Product Management at PubMatic. “Development in open-source projects is self-correcting for the benefit of the community as opposed to benefiting any one party, as we all should be up front and helpful in addressing our industry’s challenges to move forward.”

Netric New Business Director Christopher Grenö on 'smart experiments' and what's next for Nordic publishers

We’re happy to announce that Christopher Grenö has joined Netric as our New Business Director.

Christopher started his career on the publisher side, with stints at Expressen and Bonnier, then switched over to ad tech, where he has worked on both buy and sell side, most recently with Sizmek and Ooyala. He has also worked as a consultant, so has a good overview of the entire market, and seeing the industry-wide impact of programmatic and online video.

Christopher Greno.jpeg

What’s your view of the current state and opportunities across the Nordic ad and media markets?

In terms of opportunity, it’s all about the ‘big three’ – programmatic, video and mobile.

At this point, programmatic is of course pretty mainstream, but there’s still opportunity for growth in the Nordics. Especially as the big publishers adopt a smarter, more long-term approach to maximising yield.

In terms of video specifically, in-app is an area I don’t think we’ve made the most of yet. And likewise, programmatic in over-the-top TV (Apple TV or Roku for example) still hasn’t really happened, so it’s a big opportunity, especially in the Nordics.

What about header bidding?

Header bidding burst onto the scene very quickly – and already has high adoption in display. But video is still another matter – and I think video header bidding may be the next big thing we need to think about. And with video versus display, it’s more clearly a smarter approach to inventory allocation that will drive growth for publishers – rather than just opening up the pipes to an increase in demand.

Where would you say are the biggest opportunities for publishers over the coming year?

I would say there are still big opportunities around data – specifically the smart use of your first party data to win back control.

Combined with data, if you can use your inventory intelligently, there is potential for greater revenue – especially when you still see lots of mismanagement of publisher inventory out there.

So, making proper use of your audience when selling video for instance, and making intelligent use of data when optimising your yield.

If I had to summarise it, I’d say smart experimentation is what’s needed for publishers to move forward.  

What I mean by that is don’t be afraid to try new things – encourage your team to try new approaches and experiment with programmatic. After all - that’s where all the growth is.

At the same time – each of these experiments takes lots of care, learning and attention to detail – you forget to launch tags, passbacks etc – and they fall flat. It’s all in the detail. And as mentioned, there’s money to be made if you do it smartly.

There’s a lot of talk across the industry right now around transparency and brand safety – what's your take on this?

It’s definitely true that the need for control and transparency is greater than ever – but it’s equally a good thing that we’re all more aware of these issues than we were a year ago – it means we’re in a much better position to sort them out.

As programmatic is now becoming the dominant way that media is bought and sold, calls for a well-lit marketplace – for transparent control and brand safety - are absolutely vital.

It’s also a big reason why I wanted to work with Netric – although you don’t read about it often in the press, its technology partner Rubicon Project has probably invested more and spent more time developing a safe, well-lit marketplace than anyone in the market.

I believe what we will see more and more is that brands will put their trust in tech partners that truly confront these challenges.

What do you see as the major developments in Nordic media and advertising market in future?

I expect to see automation growing even more, especially around marketplaces that can handle that increasing demand for control and transparency. And also those that can automate more, different media – not just mobile and video, but also radio, outdoor etc.

The role of independent platforms is going to be an interesting one too – and those that work exclusively for publishers to create their revenues. There are some reports of cracks appearing in the walled gardens, and of course, it’s great for both buyers and publishers that there is some diversity. This could be a big one for the next couple of years.

Data quality and uniqueness is another one to keep an eye on. And I think publishers will have as big a role to play here as ever as we look to the future.

Third, as brands and agencies move towards solutions that can give a more holistic view of campaigns across all media and devices, given the increased complexity of an average campaign and customer journey. I think we will see solutions that will connect the dots on the publisher side too.

Publishers more than ever will value the importance of a tech provider that is scalable enough to offer the right solutions, but also the right integrations with buyers, verification tools, cross-device, audience data and all of that in a safe, controlled environment. 

Tapad Head of Nordics Steffen Svartberg on how cross-device tech benefits publishers

We all know people are consuming media across an ever more diverse range of screens and devices. But are publishers and advertisers keeping pace? Are cross-device campaigns in their current state accurate? And why is this all so vital for publishers to keep pace with the likes of Facebook and Google?

For the answer to these questions and more, we spoke to Tapad Head of Nordics Steffen Svartberg.

Tapad Head of Nordics Steffen Svartberg

Tapad Head of Nordics Steffen Svartberg

Can you tell us a little about Tapad and what you do?

Tapad was the first cross-device marketing tech company on the market. We were founded in 2010 - so pretty early on in terms of connecting devices. We work with ad tech companies, publishers as well as brands and have offices across North America, Europe and Asia. In 2016, we were acquired by Telenor group, a Norwegian telco.

Could you explain the current trends around cross-screen advertising? How is it developing and what are the latest innovations?

For Europe, I’d say it’s still at an early stage, somewhat like where mobile advertising was around 2011/12, before we saw a tremendous lift in investment. But we are definitely starting to see the shift that will enable agencies and publishers alike to finally develop a unified cross-device view.

Whether that means partnering with tech companies, or investing in building capabilities in house, lots of publishers and brands are engaging more and more in understanding their audiences, how they consume content and react to ads on different devices.

Why do you think this is so important?

Without a clear and accurate view of your audience across different screens and devices, you quickly end up with problems around reach and frequency capping – invariably raising tension between brand and consumer, while reducing attention.

How Tapad's cross-device technology, The Device Graph™ works.

There’s no doubt this is part of the reason ad blocking has become an issue in the industry. Aside from over-interruptive formats, a major sticking point is that customer experience wasn’t placed at the core of media planning.

And why is that? Because the tech wasn’t there to produce relevant ads in an appropriate way. With accurate cross-device measurement, you can control the frequency of ads between devices, target the consumer more effectively, all the while without over-investing in a particular medium. 

What is the agency and brand view on cross-screen?

From my experience meeting with agencies, their view is it’s a no brainer to do cross-device, and equally, it makes no sense to buy siloed inventory – by desktop, mobile, tablet etc. For some, cross-device is already the default way of buying.

What do publishers need to do to become more attractive to agencies in this area?

Google and Facebook already do cross-device campaigns really well. That is a key advantage the so-called ‘walled gardens’ have over publishers – their ID management is superior. And if the agencies’ job is to optimise spend most effectively – to increase results, while reducing costs - it’s clear in which direction they’ll be leaning.

On the other hand, there are ways for publishers to compete more effectively with Facebook, Google etc. And that is having a solid partner like Netric/Rubicon Project with cross-device partners integrated, or working with those partners directly.

What companies like our own do is analyse the publisher’s data across different devices, then enable them to sell their audience accurately and effectively across all screens. Problems we solve for the buyer include dynamic messaging, sequential targeting, multi-touch attribution, path to conversion tracking, global frequency capping… you name it, all of which in turn can help publishers catch up with the walled gardens.

It’s my view that when all this noise around programmatic calms down, we’ll see a greater focus on the ‘right ad in the right context’, as opposed to aggregation with less control. Arguably we’re starting to see this in some quarters already.

What are the particular challenges around cross-screen advertising in the Nordics, would you say?

One of the Nordic markets’ great strengths is a high penetration of new devices and digital consumption in general, giving publishers and brands plenty of opportunity to reach people more effectively via technology.

The biggest challenge the industry faces right now is around the upcoming GDPR, and in upholding user privacy.

As a company, our goal is to have the consumer in the front seat, and to lead the way in terms of upholding privacy. And that is what we’ve been doing since 2011. Of course, this has turned out to be a competitive advantage for establishing ourselves in Europe. But I should also add that having a parent company that is a global telco means we have the all the necessary resources to be 100% compliant in 2018.

What does the future look like for cross-screen advertising in the Nordics?

The current situation is that cross-screen is still a fairly new thing in the Nordics – at least as far as what technology like our own can bring to publishers – but there’s lots of excitement around it.

Whereas, in two years’ time we won’t be talking about media or platform-specific campaigns at all, but people specific – and there’s lots of innovation still to come.

Consumers clearly want free premium content, and for that to work you still need advertising – no one has come up with any kind of viable alternative as yet.

It’s a common trade-off – I visit for free, you pass on some data for more relevant ads. And as long as you work with regulators closely to ensure you’re aligned, there should still be tremendous opportunities with people opting in and asking for more relevant ads in future.

IRM MD Madeleine Thor Interview: The State of Advertising & Programmatic across the Nordics

Perhaps we need a directive from the IAB to standardise how we explain programmatic adoption, so we can truly compare different markets.

Following her well-received presentation at the Netric Summit, we spoke to IRM MD Madeleine Thor to get a deeper view on what’s happening across the Nordic advertising markets.

For the benefit of those who don’t already know, can you summarise briefly who IRM is, and what you do?

IRM stands for the Institute for Advertising and Media Statistics. Our job since the 80s has been to collect, analyse and publish data on how the Nordic media markets are developing. We started off in Sweden, but now also cover Norway directly. We also co-operate with local agencies to cover Denmark and Finland.

We’re an independent membership organisation and a non-profit that works closely with the IAB, who sit on our board. We started off measuring the print ad market, but naturally progressed into digital and now increasingly we focus on programmatic too.

What is the current state of the digital ad market across the Nordics?

As small, affluent countries, each with a high per capita investment in advertising, we see similarities, but also big differences right now between each of the Nordic ad markets.

Sweden is of course the largest and in recent times also still the fastest growing. Norway on the other hand has been experiencing weaker growth for the past few years. In part, this is because of their economy’s oil dependence. Also, the shift from print to digital came relatively late in Norway and when it came it was very swift. So, we have seen large decreases in print spend during the past few years which affected the market very negatively. Overall, while Norway saw about 5% digital growth last year, the Swedish market grew by as much as 20%.

All four are highly digitised markets. Perhaps the most advanced of all is Denmark. And while Finland is technically the least digitised, digital there is also definitely on the rise.

And what is the state of programmatic adoption across the region?

Programmatic adoption across the Nordics has generally been categorised from outside as behind the curve – but a little more detail is really needed here to understand the true picture.

First, because these markets are typically concentrated around fewer publishers than in other countries, they obviously were never as fragmented. And where other programmatic economies were driven by buyers trying to overcome that fragmentation, so the pace of adoption was different over here.

Ultimately, are you trying to give a fair understanding of the market, or is the main purpose just to create the largest number?

Second, it’s actually really difficult to compare programmatic adoption country by country, because so often you’re not comparing like for like. Clearly more standardisation, and cooperation between research firms is called for – but what it maybe also comes down to is transparency. Ultimately, are you trying to give a fair understanding of the market, or is the main purpose just to create the largest number?

For our own part, we have decided to measure programmatic display as a percentage of overall display spend, excluding social. We decided not to include social because it adds to the number, but not to transparency.

Since it’s hard to know the exact numbers for social alone, the effect, in our view, is to muddy the water. Whereas if you exclude it, you can really focus on how much other companies have actually embraced programmatic.

And also, it allows us to get to a truly meaningful figure, even if it does look lower – at last count, programmatic spend was 30% of the total display market in Sweden, 25% in Norway – both in 2016. IAB FI puts Finland at 25% for H1 2016 (not including social) whereas Danske Medier’s numbers for 2015 put Denmark 50% (but this time including social, so it’s not like-for-like.) You start to see the problem. Both of the last two numbers are set to be updated imminently, incidentally.

Perhaps we need a directive from the IAB to standardise how we explain programmatic adoption, so we can truly compare different markets.

How quickly do you think programmatic will be adopted across the Nordics in future?

The future rate of programmatic adoption will be defined by the willingness to invest in, and to find solutions to the problems currently facing the market. Working together to solve issues like fraud and viewability, to make 100% sure there are accurate measurements across the industry.

How advertisers evolve in particular is also highly important. I mean in terms of how data-driven they are – how focused on truly learning about their customers – and of course how much they want to buy media based on those insights.

As compared to some other markets, the Nordics may have been a little slower in adopting programmatic – but one thing’s for sure – there’s definitely lots of activity now. And the fact of not being first to market is an impetus in itself to move faster.

Incidentally, Sweden is in fact an early adopter and a leader in one aspect of digital advertising. It has a very high share of online video versus TV – and therefore also programmatic video. Partly this is down to customer adoption, partly down to SVT, the public broadcaster, creating an online video service very early on. And then all of the commercial broadcasters following their example. Also, TV inventory was outsold from early on, resulting in a big investment in online video content.

It’s worth noting in this case that we saw many factors coming together to make this possible. It’s human nature to want one simple explanation, where in fact more often, it’s 10-15 factors all coming together at the right time.

YouTube-gate, Brand Safety and the Human/Tech Solution

YouTube-gate, Brand Safety and the Human/Tech Solution

In the past few weeks, questions around ad placement against inappropriate material has dominated the news. Lest we forget, this is a recurring problem. But this time, it's serious for Google – with clients pausing spend on YouTube and its broader Display Network.

But if we believe that the story is just about tech (or the lack of it) keeping brands safe on YouTube, we’d be naive. In a lot of ways, it speaks to some of the main challenges in media and advertising right now: the increasing role of automation, of course – but also the dominance of the Google/Facebook duopoly – to the point where people forget the drawbacks of such ‘walled gardens’.

Fake News

it’s interesting to note how quickly the discussion around what we will call here 'YouTube-gate' developed. At first, some suggested that with 400 hours of video uploaded every minute, there was just no way of getting round the issue. Then, within a matter of days, Google apologised, announcing improvements for advertisers, and even ‘artificial intelligence-powered filtering’ to follow.

Of course, there are parallels with the fake news scandal which blew up around the US Elections. In that case, Facebook moved quickly from denial to a practical, combined tech and human-based solution to the issue. And, lest we forget, Facebook had sacked its human editors not long before thism with the specific aim of avoiding accusations of political bias. Little did we know that algorithms can also be partisan.

While at Netric we only work with the top premium publishers across the four Nordic countries, and make tireless efforts to ensure ad quality is not an issue – we ourselves know from many years’ experience that the solution is human plus technology, not just one or the other.

Shelf Life

Taking a broader view, as Videology’s Tim Gentry does here, the problem is that we are now an industry led by short-term goals. In other words, as long as the average CMO’s tenure is just 18 months, as long as brands switch agencies with increasing regularity, and as long as the focus on direct response metrics increases - ad quality problems will persist.

A continuing push from brands to lower agency costs and fees will no doubt feed the dark side of the business. And to be clear, that means people only too ready to work cheaply – and provide ‘blind’ (i.e. suspicious, maybe fake) networks, clicks, traffic and media.

Given what has come to light in the past couple of weeks, does simply working to a whitelist of known, trusted publisher brands look like such a bad idea? Even if it means missing out on some scale, isn’t that extenuated by guaranteeing brand safety?

Walled Gardens

And what of Google and Facebook’s status as ‘walled gardens’ versus the relative openness of the rest of the real-time bidding landscape? To this point, some argue that the subtext of YouTube-gate is that brands are using it to pressure Google into knocking those walls down. But if those calls include allowing third party tracking and cookie syncing, Google is unlikely to agree: this would mean essentially giving up its crown jewels, especially when among those boycotting it include major competitors like Yahoo buyer Verizon.

Perhaps a more effective argument against walled gardens is that if they lowered their defences, and allowed third party verification tags to run, serving ads against offensive or illegal content could be blocked at source. And perhaps none of this mess would’ve occurred in the first place.

The Dark Side of Peppa Pig

A final point to consider is that – as our lives are increasingly led by technology, and algorithms – there will be other moments like YouTube-gate. But back to my earlier point – the solution is machine plus human intelligence, not one or the other in isolation.

Just as advertisers have apparently become hooked on YouTube, so have parents, for keeping the kids entertained. In the past few days, it emerged that fake, inappropriate versions of such loved childrens’ programmes such as Peppa Pig have been appearing on the video service, shown in some cases alongside the real thing.

Should parents boycott YouTube? No doubt some will. Were they unaware of the fact that, whatever automated filters are put in place, it is ultimately not a curated, broadcast medium likeTV, or even Netflix?

Whether it’s a cartoon pig, or advertising in general, this is an opportunity to check ourselves – become more knowledgeable around the issues that still affect technology – most of which, of course, are caused by human interference.

if anything good comes out of the whole Google/YouTube scandal, it will be a more level, equal ecosystem, which is not so dominated by two companies. Such a duopoly leaves us more at risk from flaws in their technology – and by extension, the people who know how to exploit them.

Video Options for Publishers Multiply – What’s your Route?

Video Options for Publishers Multiply – What’s your Route?

For non-broadcast publishers, creating digital video has long been an option. But also a challenge. Up until now, many of us had good reason to hold back from launching a full-blown video offering - citing resource demands, investment and ROI.

The thing is, while many of us have been sitting back, in cruise control – the road has gone from a single track, to a six lane motorway.

In other words, the video question for publishers has shifted from ‘sell this to me, why do I risk it?’ to ‘if we don’t embrace this now, will we be left behind?’

Facebook & Buzzfeed’s Best Friend

Facebook is already predicting that its own service will be all video before long. The ultimate goal is reportedly for consumers to spend four hours a day on the platform – and it sees video as the way to build that engagement (as well no doubt as taking a slice of TV ad spend.)

Meanwhile, another digital leader in the shape of Buzzfeed has also pivoted towards a strong focus on video – its Tasty food brand already driving huge traffic. And it seems like every day another publisher announces a video-focussed spin-off – Time Inc’s personal finance-focused Coinage being just the latest.

And there are two major factors that explain the shift. One, video ad spend is on the up – by 2020 in the US alone, it will reportedly top $28bn. Now add that to the growing dominance of mobile – also within the next three years, video will make up fully 75% of all mobile content according to Cisco.

Barriers to Entry

But back to that traditional reason for hanging back on the video highway - cost, of course – but also resource – retraining – and extra skills. While none of these challenges is ever going away, there are a number of new tools in place to help you produce videos faster, cheaper and more efficiently.

It’s interesting to note that, when video inventory sells out, a publisher like Bonnier uses text-to-video software to create more video content. In this case, it uses a service called Wibbitz to speed up and even automate the process. Another one is Wochit, which aims to dramatically speed up video creation – with a ‘real-time’ media bank, and it can even suggest content directly based on a link to your story.

By no means are we advocating publishers plumb for quantity over quality here. Rather they need to bring in video where it suits or expands on the story. In a similar vein, producing video solely for ad revenue is a dead-end – not least if the content, style and length isn’t suited to the medium, or indeed doesn’t fit well with your brand. Tasty is a simple, yet great example – it fits perfectly with its parent Buzzfeed, as well as being an original format, and one you can feel has been optimised and tested for its audience.

Video without Video Formats

It’s worth adding at this point that a reliance on video content to run video ads doesn’t tell the whole story. For one, regular banner formats can also run video creative - another key area for publishers to consider.

Another ‘video without video’ format which has gained widespread adoption is outstream – videos which render within articles, but are easily dismissed, with user experience front of mind.

Going back to ads within video content, pre-roll has traditionally been the publisher’s best friend. But just like understanding your viewer’s optimum video length, other types of format and duration need careful consideration.

The 30 second pre-roll for one – a direct transplant from the world of TV – is considered to be too long by many. And indeed, YouTube is ending support for 30 second unskippable formats within the year. It’s also interesting to note that Facebook is experimenting with mid-roll ads (not to mention auto-play audio – let’s see how that plays out.)

The Future

Of course, there’s another reason why publishers like Buzzfeed are investing in big teams devoted to original video – it’s part of their diversification efforts. And much like the New York Times’ own video-focussed T Brand Studio, they are effectively reinventing themselves as agencies – whether it’s producing video ads, or even long-form video content for advertisers.

It might seem a longshot, especially if until recently, as a publisher you’d still only largely focused on text, as opposed to the moving image. But for a taster of the road some publishers are on, look no further than Amazon and Netflix.

Until recently little more than content aggregators, within the space of a couple of years, they’re now major producers of original video content in their own right. Amazon just picked up its first Oscar nomination for best picture – and any producer predicting that even a few years ago might well have been laughed (or even hounded) out of Hollywood.

Whatever road you pick, from mobile to connected TV, a video-dominated future awaits us all. Before we reach that destination, know that the options – the possible routes for publishers, are both multiplying and diverging. And that means greater opportunities, as well as challenges for some.

But as many publishers’ increasing focus on video suggests, the opportunities right now outweigh those drawbacks.

The last time you want to be stuck in the slow lane, is just as the competition pulls away.

Header Bidding: Baby Steps, Big Change on the Horizon

Header Bidding: Baby Steps, Big Change on the Horizon

Header bidding is this year’s ad tech hot topic – generating a torrent of tweets, not to mention the obligatory Linkedin posts. It has to be said though, a really clear, definitive and consistent set of conclusions on the subject is still lacking.

Which is not that strange, given it’s still a very new solution. But not just that - setups and tech still vary widely by publisher, and ultimately header bidding will only play out as well as each business allows it to.

As we all know, the long and complicated instruction manual always ends up gathering dust (or even in the bin). And what’s really called for here, as in all tech, is simplicity, clarity and trust that the machine under the hood just works as it should.

With this in mind, here’s our attempt to dial down the noise around what we believe is already a key part of the programmatic toolkit.

Where’s Your Head(er) at?

Programmatic advertising is becoming ever more widespread, already making up more than half of digital spend in a number of markets, and almost 80% of that total in the US this year. Against that background, header bidding is a very natural evolution. So much so, when you understand it, you’d be forgiven for asking “why doesn’t it all work like that already?”

Where it gets more complicated goes like this - as the market and knowledge around programmatic has grown over the past few years, so has an awareness of its dark side - the negative effects if it’s done badly.

Think of your programmatic setup as a kitchen – unless it’s well maintained, and you have talented people with the right training in house, from head chef to bottle washer (not to mention trustworthy suppliers), you risk seriously disappointing your customers.

So, what is header bidding? To understand, we first need to grasp what came before it:

In the clearest terms, before header bidding, we had the more comfortingly named ‘waterfall’ setup around ad sales. This meant a fixed set of inventory tiers (direct, private marketplaces (PMPs), RTB, house etc). Crucially though, it wasn’t that smart – in fact, those tiers didn’t even talk to each other. Even if you could make more money from prioritizing programmatic buyers for certain impressions over direct, this wasn’t an option. Each tier was either a yes or a no, serve ad or move to the next one. Fast forward to 2017, where high value PMPs and even programmatic guaranteed are on the increase, and half (or more) of ad spend may already be programmatic, and the waterfall already seems like a relic from the past.

This brings us quite neatly to the WHY:

Of course, it’s not just about the drive to have the newest, shiniest kitchen equipment.

The answer to why we need header bidding is of course revenue, and more importantly the money that the waterfall setup is already leaving on the table.

With header bidding, all of the above-mentioned demand sources compete with each other in real-time, so pricing, as well as allocation of relevant supply is brought back to the present. In other words, it’s smarter, more efficient – set up to properly optimise ad serving split between a range of different sources.

Bauer Media’s 5x Increase in Revenue

As a general guide, publishers can expect a 20% increase in revenues on implementing this setup, in some cases a lot more. To give one example, Bauer Media in the UK increased its daily programmatic revenue five times over with header bidding, and says on most days its private marketplace eCPMs are higher than brand direct. Even a 20% increase though, has been enough to convince a major publisher like the Telegraph to quadruple the size of its programmatic team.

All that said, as we all know from the legacy of ad blocking, a jump in revenue should not be at the expense of latency, or a poor user experience. Publishers need the tools and checks in place to monitor ad performance 24:7.

The good news here is that the best platforms provide this service as standard. Also, although it’s not often discussed, header bidding can actually reduce latency, if your waterfall set up includes the use of passbacks. Also, known as ‘daisy chaining’, it’s widely known that each passback costs about 15-20 per cent of available impressions simply being lost and ending up unsold. Using header bidding instead means reganing those lost and reducing the latency that comes with them.

On the other side, header bidding actually adds liquidity - your private marketplaces will have more available, relevant inventory to run on. As will your direct campaigns – since all available inventory is effectively pooled together, and sold more dynamically. Hence why header bidding is sometimes referred to as holistic ad serving. 

All in Your Head(er)

But why, you might ask, the need to defend header bidding in the first place? Surely, as you said, it’s the logical next progression for publisher ad sales?

Well yes – the problem is, as anyone’s seen the Lumascape will know, advertising technology is a crowded space, and maybe some of header bidding’s dark side comes where adopting it has meant a change from working with a single SSP or tech provider to several. And to some of those guys (or so we hear from other markets) this might look like the ideal opportunity for a “land grab” - to get onboarded by a bunch of premium publishers. To do that, let’s not rule out the idea that some might (shock horror) make promises neither their tech nor their human resources can live up to.

A True Recipe for Success?

Is a world of ‘wrappers’, ‘mediation’ and ‘key values’ (just some of the new jargon associated with header bidding) a step backwards to the early, unfamiliar days of RTB? A move back to the time when only a select few understood the tech, and were able to profit from it, to the detriment of those who didn’t?

Either way, we’re convinced the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain. True, some will use each new wave of innovation to make things confusing and over-complicated – but rest assured, it isn’t – or doesn’t have to be. At least if you’re working with a true publisher-friendly platform.

Of course – there is already talk of this process moving back where it started, out of the page header, back to the ad server – and we do expect this to happen at some point. At which stage, expect with any luck more standardisation, and perhaps even consolidation too.

Until then, we’re with you on this – baby steps – all the while, with an awareness that this is a critical stage in the evolution of online advertising – and the stakes around its success or failure are higher than ever.

To go back to the earlier kitchen analogy – no one gets two Michelin stars overnight. But the right setup, tools and people are all a prerequisite to cooking up a storm. 


How to Set up Header Bidding – a Simple, Five Step Recipe:

  1. We set up a meeting with the publisher to go through site structure and ad server setup
  2. Gather information on how price-tiers are structured in your ad server. From there, we work with you to set the decisioning logic for how to chose which ad will run in each case - for instance, whether it's from a direct booked campaign, or the winning bid from our exchange.
  3. Our engineering team joins in a startup call with everyone involved to get the process going
  4. The engineering team creates the custom solution for the given publisher and sends over all documentation and code to be implemented on the page and in the ad server
  5. Publisher implements code according to the directions and testing is done before going live

2016 Review: Reasons to be Cheerful, Reasons to be Fearful

2016 Review: Reasons to be Cheerful, Reasons to be Fearful

By Netric CEO Daniel Ahlbert

More than 70% of US digital ad spend was transacted programmatically this year. A similar number to the UK, with France also close behind on 64%. Sadly, eMarketer doesn’t yet do Nordic Programmatic market stats. But if they did, we still think the picture would be pretty different – more around the 25% mark across the board.                                        

Of course, we could argue all day about the reasons why, but the fact is, whether we are smart or foolish to be late adopters, it represents a real opportunity. First, to keep an eye on other markets and learn. But also, quite simply because there’s still an awful lot of programmatic growth to come on these shores. In fact, we expect in the region of 40 to 50% growth next year, across all of our markets. And with that, the potential for lots more creative, smart and more real-time cross-media campaigns.

In other words, we at Netric believe there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful as we near the end of the year.

In 2016, the ad market as a whole was a fascinating one to watch unfold in the Nordics. In the following lines, we look at some of the major trends, developments, and numbers behind the successes (as well as failures) – all with a view to summarising the year, and what we can learn from it, as we look ahead to 2017.

Mobile-isation

Mobile yields are actually proving higher than desktop in the Nordics. In some cases, up to three times higher.

From the start of the year, we’ve seen tremendous growth in mobile spend. Hardly a surprise I guess, with consumers now firmly glued to their smartphones, and publisher mobile traffic well past the 50% mark. Still, looking back to January, at about 10% mobile revenues, I don’t think even we would have forecast a Q4 where that had shot up to around 45% of total revenue.

But what about the benefit to publishers? Well, the best news of all here is that, contrary to reports in some other markets, mobile yields are actually proving higher than desktop in the Nordics. In some cases, up to three times higher.

Increasingly, that mobile spend is split between open and private marketplace deals, and we expect more video - vertical, out-stream and interstitial - activity next year, across both desktop and mobile. We also expect more talk of programmatic across all media – from out of home, to email.

Programmatic, Guaranteed

Perhaps guaranteed private marketplaces, launched in Q3, provide a way forward

There was less talk around programmatic guaranteed this year than last, as header bidding took centre stage (more on that later). But for our own purposes, and looking across the Nordic markets, guaranteed still makes a lot of sense – especially for publishers, who can secure yields, but also add planned, future bookings through programmatic, saving time and effort versus the old email and Excel methods of trading direct.

Likewise, for buyers the promise of a faster, easier way of booking guaranteed delivery on campaigns seems like a win-win. All the more so if a data element is also brought into the equation.

But perhaps there’s a clue here as to why guaranteed hasn’t taken off quite as expected: maybe it’s buy-side adoption, and buyers’ ability to buy future inventory in the way they wish – through their own choice of DSP – that has held us back. As we look ahead, perhaps guaranteed private marketplaces, launched in Q3, provide a way forward here: choice for buyers, as well as an interface and setup publishers are comfortable with. If you like, a sweet spot between guaranteed and private marketplaces, which themselves have proved so popular across the Nordic markets.

Header Bidding

At the lower end, we are seeing uplifts of 20 to 30% on revenue and some are seeing even higher returns.

And what of header bidding? One of the most discussed topics this year in the UK and US trade press, expect more talk of it across the Nordics next year. We covered it at our September event, but essentially, header bidding involves moving from waterfalling between direct and programmatic to having them all compete in real-time – a big step forward for publishers’ sales efforts.

In practice, though many sing its praises (with good reason), it has also brought a new level of complication to the market. There are also teething issues to face like latency if you don’t pick the right partner, or set up your adserver in a less optimal way. Finally, not everyone on the buy-side is convinced of the benefits, yet.

That said, there are already important revenue opportunities waiting to be captured by activating Rubicon Project’s header bidding solution, FastLane. At the lower end, we are seeing uplifts of 20 to 30% on revenue and some are seeing even higher returns. Crucially, implementing FastLane doesn’t have to mean making sacrifices on latency. And it could even alleviate some issues around passbacks and improve viewability scores. And on the plus side for buyers, it should also mean incremental reach and inventory choice.

Work in Progress?

Of course, as well as big advancements, this year brought constant reminders of how advertising still needs to evolve. And ad blocking was a subject never far from the news. Just as the internet has democratised content creation, in future more consumers may very well vote with their feet against latency, intrusive targeting or invasive formats.

We don’t claim to have all the answers, but this is a call for us all to work even better, and smarter in 2017, paying closer attention to the user experience.

With print advertising apparently slipping faster than ever, and consolidation on the cards for the ad tech sector, it looks set to be another eventful year ahead, not least in the world of programmatic.