Best of AdMonsters 2016
One of the lessons 2016 has taught us is that there's a difference between "unpredictable" and "unexpected." That's as true in digital media and ad tech as it is anywhere else. Retracing steps, you can look back and make sense of how we got here. It's just been a slightly different path than some of us had charted at the beginning of the year.
At the end of 2015, we were still having a lot of conversations about what header bidding is, how it works and who it's good for. Meanwhile, publishers were scrambling to douse the fires of ad blocking and viewability. A year later, many publishers have come to a sort of detante with ad blockers (and some have noted the adoption of ad blocking software hasn't spread quite as widely as they'd feared), the viewability discussion has reached a standstill, and header bidding has noticeably re-arranged the lay of the land throughout the industry. For a period, AdMonsters couldn't stop publishing articles about header bidding, and that's because you in the audience couldn't stop talking about header bidding. And all of that talk drove results--the industry is in a pretty different place, and it's conferred some quantifiable revenue advantages to publishers.
In the spirit of that reflective end-of-the-year impulse, we're taking a moment to highlight some of the most comprehensive and informative articles AdMonsters has published in 2016. Not coincidentally, many of these are also among our most-read articles of the year. Here's a guide to help remember how we got this point, and we'll catch you again in 2017.
Rethinking the Ad Server: At some point this year, one industry insider told AdMonsters that the continuing evolution of header bidding would bring “the death of the ad server.” That sounds heavy, but this article points out the ad server’s role right now is quite different from what it was a few years ago. If a header integration allows an SSP or other entity to become essentially a mediation platform for demand, does that make the mediation platform an ad server? Is the designated ad server done for, if header bidding and server-to-server connections allow so many players to act as mediation platforms? In this piece, we have a quick summary of the development of header bidding thus far, plus a rumination on what the next generation ad server might look like. Maybe the ad server itself isn’t on the way out, but the closed ad server model has to be.
The Server-to-Server Way: One of the juiciest developments of 2016 was the wider adoption of using server-to-server connections to manage demand. We’d been hearing a ton of questions about what the next step in header bidding was going to be, and S2S is one of the clearest answers so far. That said, in this interview, Tony Katsur, President of Sonobi, explains that S2S is not actually “header bidding,” because it doesn’t rely on the page header. The promise of S2S is faster page load time, more data brought into the transaction, and efficient management of more demand sources. But there are obstacles: Not all tech vendors can support S2S right out of the gate, various partners need to be able to trust each other, and there are some types of demand that might be better managed in the header. That said, this interview makes the case that S2S is, overall, the solution publishers had been hoping for back when they started doing header integrations.
Unwrapping Wrappers: A Conversation on Header Bidding with Index Exchange: As header bidding went mainstream, a lot of pubs realized they didn’t have the internal resources to handle quite as many demand sources as they wanted. Accordingly, the industry saw a flurry of header wrappers (or containers, or frameworks, depending on your terminology of choice) hit the marketplace. Each individual header integration requires additional dev work, but with a wrapper, the pub needs to handle just that one integration, and the wrapper provider plugs demand sources in as the pub wishes. But wrapper functionality isn’t uniform--there are wrappers as mediation platforms, there are open-source wrappers, and wrapper integration differs from one publisher ad stack to another. In this interview, Index’s Steve Sullivan and Jourdain Casale talk about the pretty complicated things wrapper providers have to do in order to take that integration work off of pubs’ shoulders.
One Order to Rule Them All: Inside Gannett’s Massive Workflow Centralization Mission: When we caught up with Gannett’s team around the beginning of this year, the huge and complex media company was in the midst of standardizing and centralizing sales and workflow across 92 properties, going on 106. Gannett has been spending years on making these processes more efficient--a decade ago, it acted more like a holding company, with a whole spectrum of disparate owned and operated sites. Now, they have a single-entry system and a standardized rate card (adjusted slightly per the idiosyncrasies of certain markets). This interview is a wide-ranging discussion of the technical, cultural and market challenges of making this workflow centralization happen, and of how it’s affected Gannett’s business.
All or Nothing: The Ramifications of GroupM’s Quest for 100% Viewability: GroupM has been insisting for a couple years that it’ll only pay for viewable ad impressions, and by the end of 2016, publishers and industry advisory groups are still insisting a 100% viewability standard is simply not possible. GroupM and some other big-time buyers have the clout to put their foot down. Other buyers don’t. There are a lot of incongruities publishers need to negotiate here. In this piece, Will Rand argues that as complicated as managing campaigns is with the spectre of viewability in the picture, pubs are going to have to play ball, and to work with buyers and third parties to measure and improve viewability. And by rewarding publishers who provide viewable inventory and pushing accountability across the board, that sticky “100% viewable” figure might ultimately be a positive development for everyone.
Programmatic Video in Bloom: Talking VPAID, VAST 4.0 and More With VertaMedia’s Alex Volker: Programmatic video continued to blow up throughout 2016, and the more complicated ramifications of buyers’ appetite for it became clearer as the year progressed. This interview covers a lot of ground, in terms of publishers’ concerns with programmatic video--VPAID errors and what might be done to mitigate them, the promise of VAST 4.0, the viability selling video inventory of the open marketplace, and growth in connected TV and mobile (with all that growth entails).
Gotta Stay On the Page: Index’s Alex Gardner Opens Up on Header and Server-to-Server Integrations: There’s been a ton of chatter this year about how server-to-server integrations might be the answer to the question of what to do about latency, the scourge of header bidding. But not everyone is eager to board the S2S train--in this interview, Alex Gardner explains the value in staying on the page with a header integration, how the header tag provides a view of demand that he says S2S doesn’t. There’s also been a lot of chatter about what Google’s launch of exchange bidding in Dynamic Allocation will do to the header bidding landscape. According to Alex, whatever Google ends up doing with that offering, it doesn’t spell the end of header bidding. As a companion piece, check out Gavin Dunaway’s intro to exchange bidding, Header Bidding Is Not Dead… Yet, where he determines that if header bidding is a party for managing demand, Google’s arrival is no reason to kick out the guests yet.
Bidding Without a Header: OpenX Explains Their Take on In-App Bidding: After seeing what header bidding did for their revenues in traditional web display, publishers began looking ravenously at the in-app and video spaces. And it took a while, but vendors started rolling out solutions in both of those realms this year. Apps presented an interesting challenge, because there’s no page header in-app. Instead, demand is managed via SDK and API solutions. OpenX was one of the first vendors to market with an in-app bidding offering, and in this interview, Justin Re and Maggie Mesa from their team explained just how different in-app bidding is from web-based header bidding, and why different scenarios on the publisher’s end might call for different strategies. (Oh, and as for header video--that’s complicated, too, in its own way, in no small part because the page and the video player are separate entities. Jourdain Casale spoke again with Gavin Dunaway to explain those challenges.)
The Dawn of Real-Time Guaranteed: An Interview With OpenX’s Dmitri Kazanski: Real-time guaranteed offers, in theory, a best-of-both-worlds scenario: guaranteed display buys transacted in a real-time buying environment. While there’s been some talk for a little while about the potential of RTG, there’s also been some uncertainty about how to make it work at scale. However, the scale issue might be changing, as RTG solutions start to hit the marketplace. In this interview, we get into how RTG resolves some of the most annoying problems publishers have right now with private marketplaces, to the extent that RTG could stand to replace private marketplaces as we know them.
AdMonsters Playbook: User Experience: AdMonsters has written at length in the past about how ad ops are the gatekeepers of advertising for digital publishers, but minding the gates has become incredibly complicated. Publishers are trying all sorts of new and unfamiliar strategies to monetize, with risks from malware and undesirable ad creative seemingly around every corner. Meanwhile, users are increasingly averse to bad ad experiences. These concerns have led ops teams to work closely with sales, IT and legal, and in essence it makes UX more and more of a day-to-day concern. To that end, it was time for AdMonsters to develop a user experience playbook. In it, we explore a wide range of issues ops teams now have to address in their expanding role within publisher orgs.