Why Aren’t Publishers Concerned about Supply Path Optimization (SPO)?

Earlier this year, Emodo surveyed advertisers and publishers about their top concerns.

Predictably, the economy, the growth of attention metrics, and cookie deprecation are top worries for publishers. What is surprising is just how low supply path optimization (SPO) is on their priority list. Only 30% of publishers say it’s important for them.

Despite less than a third of marketers ranking it high in priority, some see SPO as more of a concern for a buyer than a publisher. “SPO is a buy side issue and publishers are concerned about how it’s impacting them but the other issues are bigger concerns, SPO will always be there,” explained Jana Meron, the founder of Lioness Strategies and seasoned digital media monetization and data strategy leader. In other words, SPO is a persistent, but low-grade issue.

But others believe publishers have a vested interest in promoting SPO. The open programmatic markets can be convoluted at best and, for buyers keen to stay within a specific price range, they may be dissuaded from purchasing quality inventory if it has multiple intermediaries demanding a piece of the CPM paid. And all those commissions mean that publishers collect a smaller percentage of revenue for their inventory. 

Emodo helps advertisers and publishers create more memorable connections with consumers through relevant, rewarding and impactful advertising.

What’s more, by focusing on SPO, publishers have more direct access to gaining insights into the demand for their inventory, potentially improving transparency in the bidding process.  All of this begs the question: why aren’t more publishers dedicating resources to ensuring the exchanges have direct access to their inventory?

Why Aren’t Publishers Concerned about SPO?

Another possible interpretation of the survey results is that SPO means different things for different types of publishers. Discussions of SPO tend to focus on unintended consequences, such as publishers losing access to buyers if an ad exchange opts to eliminate suppliers as part of its SPO initiative. 

But according to Scott Messer, ​​Principal and Founder of Messer Media, legitimate publishers shouldn’t worry about that as supply path optimization is a correction coming first for the most egregious of publishers.

For instance, In early April, Digiday ran a series of articles about declining prices in the open RTB markets due to ad tech vendors reducing the number of auctions they “listen to.”  At issue: low-quality publishers were initiating an excessive number of concurrent auctions for the same impression, hoping to get the best possible price. Wary of competing against themselves, advertisers flocked to the safe havens of private and curated marketplaces.

“Complicating your supply path is a tactic to drive higher yields,” said Messer. Reputable publishers with genuine value propositions have little need for ploys, which is why he believes publishers are moving towards curated marketplaces. “The average publisher on the good side isn’t worried about SPO because, if anything, it will actually drive more dollars into their pockets. Closing cluttered paths make it harder for the less worthy.”

Messer is an advocate of curated marketplaces, and deal creation as a service (DCaaS). In these scenarios, platforms create a custom marketplace for an individual buyer, one that is free of the low-quality publishers that exist for the express purpose of selling ads.  In this respect, curated marketplaces offer buyers a faster and more transparent path into SPO.

The survey data, however, was surprising when considering Messer’s perspective. The survey found, in fact, that large publishers are more than eight times more likely than small publishers to report having at least 10 monetization partners. And high CPM publishers, perhaps the best proxy for what Messner refers to as “reputable”, tend to have more monetization partners than low CPM ones.

Another theory behind why publishers may not be prioritizing SPO: they simply lack the resources to do more than acknowledge its importance. “I believe that Supply Path Optimization is one of those catchphrases like the cookieless Future.  We are all talking about it, but no one has really figured out what to do about it,” explained Terry Guyton-Bradley, a programmatic strategist who co-founded MediaZinc and spent many years working for multiple publishers running their programmatic operations.

“Unfortunately, most publishers don’t have the resources or time to truly analyze their programmatic partners in order to make meaningful changes to their programmatic stacks. As you can see from the survey results, the economy is having a significant impact on our industry and causing drastic cuts to investment in technology and personnel.” 

Guyton-Bradley warns his partners not to make any business decisions without data to support their assumptions. In his view, the benefits of SPO to publishers are still a hypothesis. Things may change once there’s real data to back up the SPO advocates claims. 

SPO is a Hot Topic for Many

Although Emodo’s survey found that only 30% of publishers consider SPO a hot topic, it’s still a top priority for companies like Emodo, which sees it as much more than simply cutting out middlemen to find the shortest path to inventory. “What it really means is eliminating redundancy by offering unique value and providing the most direct route to that value,” Damian McKenna, COO at Emodo, told Street Fight

Emodo also aligns with Messer’s point about curated marketplaces as an essential strategy for buyers and publishers and has a team dedicated to actively creating and optimizing Emodo Curated Deals.