Why publishers and buyers are simplifying their approach to header bidding

By Tom Levesque, Director, Product Management, Xandr

Prebid, the most popular header bidding solution, had humble beginnings in the world of web display ads. In recent years, it has matured alongside the programmatic market, expanding rapidly to include support for native, video, apps and connected TV. These new contexts make the term header bidding an anachronism.

The real value of Prebid lies in its ability to enable a fair, transparent and unified auction — regardless of whether it lives in the header or elsewhere.

As sellers have gotten hooked on the benefits of a unified auction, they’ve dived into Prebid head-first, adopting multiple wrappers across multiple formats. Now there are growing calls for simplicity from the buy-side as well as the emergence of platform-supported, server-side Prebid solutions to ease the burden on publishers.

Publishers have grappled with rapidly multiplying wrapper formats

Prebid’s greatest asset — its open source, community-driven posture — has also been a limitation for some sellers. The open source nature of Prebid translates to transparency and extensibility, but it also means publishers need to take the reins themselves or find an expert technology partner.

This perceived obstacle has led some publishers to embrace proprietary wrappers. While they might prefer to align with Prebid and its open values, they lack the expertise to manage it.

But proprietary wrappers are not without drawbacks. Discrepancies in counting methodology and payment can lead to buyers and sellers struggling to transact. Some wrappers exclude certain types of demand from participating — this happens in cases when internal teams haven’t built out or updated third-party adapters to integrate the proprietary wrapper into the auction.

The propensity to run multiple wrappers compounds these issues. Incentivized by the promise of unique demand and multiple shots at the auction, many publishers have been running Prebid, Amazon TAM and Google Open Bidding simultaneously.

As a result, DSPs have been receiving impressions once for each SSP, multiplied by the number of wrappers. Growing frustration in the DSP community is now instigating mandates that publishers and SSPs pick a single wrapper by format, while shutting off duplicative requests. This is entirely reasonable, and in some cases it’s justification for declining to participate in Open Bidding. Time will tell how the industry adapts, but many publishers are expected to choose Prebid as their primary wrapper.

Prebid Server simplifies formats and steps — and unlocks mobile and CTV

For now, there is the opportunity to make Prebid easier and even more ubiquitous. Early in the evolution of header bidding, a narrative emerged that server-to-server was “the future.” By running the auction on the server rather than the user’s device, the logic goes, server-side header bidding makes it possible to create a unified auction in new environments, reduce latency and improve user experience.

This approach had three problems: publishers couldn’t run it as easily as client-side, fewer bidders were participating and it required an additional user-match layer, reducing revenue. Today, these challenges have largely been solved.

Prebid’s answer to server-side is called Prebid Server. Its 60 bidding partners mean demand is no longer a concern. And with third party cookies being decommissioned in favor of new identity solutions, Prebid Server won’t need to rely on an additional user match layer for much longer — as goes the cookie, Prebid Server’s advantage in user identity only grows. It also enables “header” bidding in mobile applications and connected TVs.

For these reasons, Prebid Server will be the future of the unified auction. Leading providers are investing in solutions that combine Prebid Server with their own technology, making it easy for sellers to run server-side header bidding while retaining the benefits of an open source wrapper at the core. Xandr’s Prebid Server Premium solution, for instance, works to bring effortless server-side header bidding to publishers across all formats and channels. For publishers already using Prebid.js, Prebid Server Premium is a straightforward upgrade.

Final thoughts

It’s exciting for all involved to see years’ worth of investment in Prebid paying off, and the Prebid.org member community swell to 45 companies.

As we optimize the experience in the server, we’re also looking ahead to see how TV programmers and distributors could leverage Prebid to optimize their business. Moving forward, the benefits of a Prebid-based unified auction will continue to build on that promise: more money for sellers, and better access to inventory for buyers of all stripes.

For publishers looking to contribute to Prebid, they can learn more about joining Prebid.org as a member company by following this link: http://prebid.org/partners/partners.html

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