What Will the Next 12 Months Look Like for the Programmatic Supply Chain?

The sector saw its reputation tarnished in 2023; what’s in store for 2024?

2024 is shaping up to be a crazy year for the advertising industry. Who knows what will come out of cookie deprecation and greater focus on generative AI.” — Terry Guyton-Bradley, Senior Director, Advertising Technology, Fortune.

2023 was a trying year for the programmatic supply chain, at least from a PR point of view.

It began with Bloomberg News saying it had enough of the open markets and to improve its user experience it would eliminate the channel entirely. Then Digiday published a series of articles, saying open programmatic markets are in a tough spot as the “lowest quality” publishers flooded the auctions. Publishers who continued to rely on them saw a decline in CPMs.  

But the real bashing came in June when the ANA released its Programmatic Supply Chain Transparency Study, claiming that inventory from MFA sites comprised 21% of the open markets.  

Transparency, a perennial issue for the open markets, continued to be a concern, and publishers sought to form direct relationships with SSPs to create a better, more privacy-centric, seamless user experience. 

But despite the challenges, the open markets are still a vital lifeline for publishers that can’t afford to maintain a dedicated sales force, and its revenue is still predicted to grow.

What will the next 12 months look like for the programmatic supply chain? To find out, we asked 4 experts about the issues — good and bad — that the sector will face. They are:

Let’s dig in.

MFA Conversations Continue in 2024

Trend #1: Made For Advertising sites (MFAs) will continue to spark conversations, particularly around how trading desks spend advertiser’s budgets. Despite efforts in the second half of 2023, there is still a lot of confusion around what an MFA site is and whether they’re inherently bad. In 2024, both the buy-side and sell-side will need to work at articulating what they like and don’t like about MFA sites.

MFA is the newest catchphrase in the industry. Sites stacked with ad slots have been around since the beginning of programmatic. All it goes to show is that more effort is needed by trading desks to ensure they are landing on reputable properties. There is nothing automatic about programmatic, and throwing your entire spend into the open markets to achieve scale isn’t going to cut it.”Terry Guyton-Bradley

“In the 2023 MFA analysis and discussion, I never quite heard enough about the actual content itself, on the MFA sites, just the methods of traffic acquisition and the inventory representation to the buy-side. For further MFA scrutiny and cleanup, I implore the industry to start looking at the difference between buying traffic to sponsored/branded content, for example, versus misleading clickbait MFA.” — Justin Wohl

“There will certainly be more discourse, and more people (not me) complaining that Made For Advertising is a misnomer. Yes SSPs will continue to tout their MFA-free supply and DSPs will announce their ability to anti-target MFAs, but that’s just a lot of smoke and sledgehammers.  MFA is such a complex issue, that I think the Industry will only be able to trim the most egregious edges of MFA.  I encourage buyers to define precisely what they want to avoid, without using the amorphous term of MFA.”Scott Messer

More Industry Consolidation on the Horizon

Trend #2: Industry consolidation in 2024 seems inevitable, driven by ongoing concerns about inventory quality, the deprecation of third-party cookies, and a demand for greater transparency.

“We’ll continue to see consolidation because it takes money to build the technology needed to be more transparent. Smaller shops are putting themselves on the sales block in order to raise money to continue to innovate.”Terry Guyton-Bradley 

Surely [consolidation] will be the case with the cookie-alternative providers, the identity vendors who have been jockeying for superiority since 2020. TTD’s UID2 and LiveRamp’s RampID hold the most promise.” — Justin Wohl

Digital Advertising Will Survive Cookie Deprecation

Trend #3: Despite the fret, the digital advertising ecosystem will survive the deprecation of third-party cookies. What will change is rather than one approach (i.e. cookies) to targeting and measurement, many will be deployed. Google will benefit (naturally), as will Amazon TAM in certain scenarios. Meanwhile, publishers may spend 2024 reorganizing their partnerships and shifting some advertising-related processes to server-side environments for better results.

“I venture to say that the advertising industry is one of those industries that is too big to fail. No one has consolidated around a replacement solution. Agencies are continuing as status quo and publishers are working to find individual solutions that will work for their data environments.  Although Google has hypothetically drawn a line in the sand, they are doing it in a way that will allow them to pull back if the results are not acceptable.  We won’t crash and burn.” — Terry Guyton-Bradley 

“Walled gardens will get stronger and money will depart the open web overall. Cookie deprecation will have its own slow-death effects in many areas, but solutions like Protected Audiences API (PAAPI) are poised to make tectonic shifts that will reshape supply chain topography entirely.”Scott Messer

The current distribution of buyers that publishers are familiar with is going to change with third-party cookie loss in Chrome, and the introduction of the Protected Audience API audience. I fully expect Google’s own Ad Exchange to be the emergent winner in Chrome, with AdX taking a much larger share (50%+) of inventory, in that browser, in 2024.” 

“If other SSPs don’t take their demand elsewhere, and start winning larger volumes than they did in 2023 in Safari and Firefox, I expect publishers will begin to lighten their prebid participants, or move more client-side bidders that aren’t driving meaningful contribution into server-only environments like prebid server and/or Amazon TAM.”Justin Wohl

Programmatic Transaction Models Are Expanding

Trend #4: Programmatic transaction models are expanding, as The Trade Desk’s Open Path illustrates. This transformation is driven by dissatisfaction with the traditional programmatic exchange. As a result, buyers and sellers are looking for new ways to transact

“There are three trends that are closely related. The first is the SSPs going directly to buyers, the second is DSPs going directly to publishers, like The Trade Desk and Open Path. The third is publishers offering completely self-serve access to their inventory. We can look at these as three separate trends, but really, they’re tied together. What we’re seeing is that certain sectors of the industry are not happy with the game of programmatic exchange or the current types of setup with programmatic transactions. So they’re trying to create new ways to transact by cutting out intermediaries that may not be adding value.”Chao Liao

Curated Marketplaces Equal Brand Suitability

Trend #5: With heightened concern over inventory quality, curated marketplaces will be seen as a strategy for ensuring brand suitability. But it’s not a panacea as the Programmatic Media Supply Chain Transparency Study makes clear. While 19% of ad spend in the open markets goes to MFA inventory, private marketplaces aren’t far behind at 15%. PMPs still have an element of “buyers beware” that will need to be addressed in 2024.

“Curation is certainly a major theme of 2024, but we won’t see any standards emerge here. Sellers can do a better job providing meaningful curation and measurement, but it’s unreasonable to think that there will be any standards for PMPs developed.”Scott Messer

Sustainability as a Differentiator

Trend #6: More brands will start to ask about sustainability and the carbon footprint of campaigns in their RFIs in 2024, and the prevalence of MFA inventory will complicate those discussions. According to research by Ebiquity and Scope3, MFA sites generate around 26% more carbon waste than non-MFA sites due to the constant refreshing of ads, and numerous connections to various SSPs and resellers. 

“MFA sites are maximizing ad requests per page view as well as arbitraging traffic and cookies, which generate a lot of carbon. Brands that have set a goal of improving sustainability will be very keen to avoid them as a low-hanging fruit. I don’t necessarily see it as solely the SSP’s job to streamline the supply chain. This needs to be done in collaboration between the sell side and buy side.”Chao Liao 

SSPs Reduce Scope1, 2, and 3 Emissions

Trend #7: More SSPs will follow OpenX’s lead by looking at their internal operations to see where they can reduce their Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions. 

“This year, people will ask, what does sustainability mean for me as an operator, and how do I improve my operations in terms of efficiency and sustainability? I think a lot of SSPs will look at OpenX as an example in the different ways they improved their sustainability and bottom line.” — Chao Liao

Final Words of Advice

“My advice is for publishers to heed the Ghost of Cookies Past.  Publishers must keep an eye on when and how to switch their deterministic identifiers into private marketplaces. For the past two years, publishers opened the floodgates of IDs in the bid stream, which was great for adoption and testing but is now a growing threat to the balance of seller power. Publishers cannot allow vendors to commoditize deterministic identifiers. These are coveted components of the digital supply chain–and ID owners should be rightly compensated for their investments and relationship with readers.” — Scott Messer