Amazon’s new header-bidding play could speed pages

Amazon is reportedly launching a cloud-based header-bidding solution, aimed at competing with Google. Details of the product are sparse, but the theory is that it would be Amazon’s first wrapper tag, which can be embedded on publishers pages.

Newspaper publishers including MailOnline and Trinity Mirror have been using Amazon’s header-bidding technology for the last two years. Nat Poulter, programmatic director at MailOnline, said an Amazon cloud-based wrapper tag would provide more opportunity for publishers to access “unique and differentiated” demand, compared to other exchanges, in what’s become a highly commoditized SSP landscape.

“Amazon has never been keen to work through a third-party wrapper because potentially there is a risk that its unique understanding of user value can be reverse-engineered and captured by competitors,” he said. “It makes sense that it build its own wrapper. It makes sense for publishers to work closely with Amazon as a buyer. We’ve been using A9’s header bidder for years with success.”

That said, there would be certain conditions for this to work. For starters, Amazon would need to aggregate all demand from across the entire digital ad ecosystem and run it server side for it to be truly valuable, according to Poulter.

“They are going to come across the same issues Google and OpenX are having,” he said. “There is very little collaboration or cooperation in ad tech right now, and, as such, everything is grinding to a halt.”

Header bidding, which allows buyers to bid on online ads simultaneously, is popular among publishers. MailOnline has claimed programmatic revenues have risen 48 percent as a direct result of using header bidding, and CNN International has also seen rises, as has Trinity Mirror.

“We have seen double-digit uplifts in eCPMs, so the concept works for us, but we still have some way to go to be truly holistic across every ad sell,” said Rob Bradley, CNN International’s vp of digital commercial strategy and revenue. He added that CNN International would be open to anything that can further prove programmatic yields, including Amazon’s solution, as long as it doesn’t overcrowd its existing ad stack.

And yet, other publishers like the Financial Times have held back due to the page-latency issues header bidding causes. Anthony Hitchings, the FT’s digital advertising operations director, is skeptical about the tech’s promise.

“Header bidding is a fix to a symptom rather than the root cause, which is the second-price auction,” he said.

Meanwhile, Amir Malik, Trinity Mirror’s programmatic chief, is wary that Amazon’s move could just cede more control to a third ad tech giant outside Google and Facebook, which already dominate digital ad spend.

“It could be the staging ground for Amazon’s launch as a major digital supply channel to the agencies. We want to tackle the duopoly, but is it wise to create a ‘triopoly’ with another walled garden?” he said.

And there are also potential conflicts of interest. Amazon buys a lot of advertising itself. “What happens if Facebook, which is supposedly building something too, decides to build its own wrapper and become a mediation for these auctions on the server side?” said one ad tech exec who preferred to stay anonymous. “Do you really want Google, Facebook and Amazon executing your header auctions as they have their own media businesses and, so, effectively compete with publishers?”

It’s not all rosy when it comes to header bidding. As more demand sources crowd into a header-bidding tags and wrappers, the higher the risk of latencies, both in the bidding windows and in page loads. “A single DSP can see a single impression from a publisher using header bidding 87 times within 300 milliseconds,” said Dan Wilson, vp of monetization at mobile ad tech firm Blis.

That volume of impressions also leads to higher ad-server infrastructure costs. But Amazon’s cloud computing services could drastically offset the creeping issue of page latency and bid latencies that header bidding causes when numerous demand sources are all bidding simultaneously, according to ad tech execs.

“I have to welcome the increased competition from Amazon and the shift to server side which will reduce the latency,” said Hitchings.

In theory, Amazon’s e-commerce data, which includes everything from delivery to credit card and online behavioral data, would make for very rich bids if it was able to match them with publisher audiences, according to Blis’ Wilson.

“If I was an SSP, I would be very afraid if Amazon have cracked header bidding with first-party data merged with shopping intent data. Given they own AWS, their own infrastructure costs are a fraction of anyone else’s, so they will be able to handle the volume with ease,” he said.

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