Publishers on Google’s header bidding competitor: ‘It’s no game changer’

The header bidding movement is picking up steam among publishers, and Google is feeling the heat.

Last week Google officially debuted “DFP First Look,” a new feature for it ad serving tech that lets publishers offer up their high-value impressions to programmatic buyers before offering them up to reserved buys. Google promises both an easy integration process and better monetization through the feature: Publishers testing First Look have already seen yield lifts as high as 10 percent, the company said.

With First Look, Google is taking its first big defensive move against the rise of header bidding, which lets publishers offer inventory to their programmatic partners before making calls to their ad servers, giving more buyers access to inventory simultaneously. While header bidding is great for publishers, which get higher CPMs for their most valuable ad spots, it’s potentially bad for Google’s ad exchange, AdX, which faces more direct competition for inventory from alternate bidding partners such as Amazon and Criteo.

But while Google is pitching DFP First Look as a more simple, integrated alternative to header bidding, publishers aren’t rushing to implement it.

“I don’t think it’s a game changer, nor do I anticipate it replacing header bidding in our ad strategy in the near future, as the two technologies seem to address different challenges,” said Cory Wheeler, head of programmatic at Graphiq, which operates search engines in verticals such as gadgets, real estate, personal finance.

Wheeler said that while First Look is a big improvement to Google’s programmatic stack, it’s unlikely to have a major effect on publishers who have already put in the work to integrate header bidding into their operations. Likewise, for publishers that don’t have a lot of guaranteed inventory, the features appeal is minimal, said James Woods, ad operations manager at Curiosity Media.

“No publisher would stop using a header bidder simply because of First Look because the value-add of most header bidders is greater than simple ‘incremental’ opportunities like sporadic spending from a remarketer.” he said. “Sure, those high CPM, low match buyer might be part of a header bidder’s demand, but no one is implementing a header bidder for just that demand.”

Another limitation with DFP First Look is that, unlike header bidding, it still forces publishers and buyers to work through AdX, which could turn off demand sources looking for a more direct relationship with publishers.

Google executives were not available to comment before publishing.

Despite these challenges, not all publishers are writing off Google’s answer to header bidding. “As a publisher, one of the ways we’re able to grow revenue is by staying in front of and (when appropriate) instituting new technology. Google is our largest display partner so if they roll out a new feature that may offer opportunities to increase yield, that’s something worth exploring.”

In other words, publishers are going to go with the tech that makes them the most money.

“At the end of the day, publishers are motivated by yield,” said Ari Paparo, CEO of real-time bidding company Beeswax. “If a solution gives them that, they will put in the extra work to get every penny. Publishers are very rational creatures in that way.”

Photo: Paolo Bona /

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