The State of the Wrapper: Interview with AppNexus’ Michael Richardson

Post on December 4, 2017 by Kelvin Pichardo

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Kelvin Pichardo Senior Director, Product Marketing

Michael Richardson stands out as one of the premier experts on header bidder wrapper solutions. At AppNexus, he is the product leader focusing on header bidding, and he is also the current chairperson of, the independent organization dedicated to maintaining the Prebid.js wrapper. As an early supporter of, PubMatic wanted to highlight Richardson’s insights on and where it could evolve.

We sat down with him recently for a Q&A on the current state of wrapper technology and where it’s headed next. Here are his thoughts on the current and future state of wrapper technology:

What impact has header bidding and wrapper technologies had on the industry?

MR: Header Bidding, as a technique, is one of the most fundamental things that has changed the programmatic ecosystem in the past several years. Going from a world where you were moving between marketplaces and auctioning off your supply in discrete silos, to a world where you have much greater competition among all your different partners has been really transformative.

Publishers get a much greater density of competition and increased demand – all participating together in a way we haven’t seen before in the programmatic space.

What is also interesting is that you have lots of different supply-side platforms that have historically been competing against each other in a waterfall. Now we’re working together to make header bidding a better experience for publishers. The competition is different now – it’s about who can provide the highest quality and largest volume of demand. People operate at different points of the demand curve. Each player has their own value.

While header bidding is a technique to accurately measure the value of an impression relative to direct-sold inventory, the role of the wrapper is to make that technique as easy and as efficient, as possible. The wrapper lets you quickly set up, manage, and work with the different demand partners you want competing. Over time, with the right wrapper solution, you’re able to see how things are performing to then manage and optimize that setup.

What are the non-negotiable elements a wrapper solution should offer?

MR: The wrapper needs to work with partners equally and be transparent. It needs to be something that takes your inventory and puts it up for sale in different marketplaces in the most efficient, transparent and fair manner possible.

There are lots of ways that a wrapper can implement bias, and there’s a lot of harm that a bad wrapper or bad setup can do. It’s important that the publisher can trust the wrapper. Publishers need a strong partner, whether they manage the wrapper on their own or choose a fully managed service.

What concerns still need to be addressed in header bidding and wrapper technology?

MR: As with any transition period, there’s going to be murkiness and an adoption period. It’s important to note that we’re starting to see consolidation around Prebid because it is able to provide fairness and transparency with a good level of efficiency, as well. It is a common and shared technology layer people are then taking and building additional products and services around. This is great because you can trust the core.

Why was created?

MR: Prebid was initially created by AppNexus engineers. It quickly became clear that the more we can work together in the industry to create a good experience for publishers and for our marketplace and buyers, the better off we’re all going to be. There’s a lot of work we can do together that is much more impactful than if we are just doing it in siloes.

So, the first step was setting up this separate foundation responsible for managing Prebid.js and the various Prebid projects under it in a neutral, open-source and independent way. I think that’s a really important step for the industry. It also makes it easier to span different publisher needs.  Whether they want to manage the wrapper on their own or want other companies to provide additional services, there are options.

Do you think we’ve reached a tipping point with Prebid becoming the open source industry standard for wrappers? If not, what will it take?

MR: Prebid is the dominant wrapper, and I think that trend will continue as more companies join and work on the technology.

One of the amazing things we’ve seen with Prebid is we have lots of different companies working together on the same piece of open-source technology in a coordinated fashion.  We’re also able to work really closely with the publisher community to gather their input, answer questions, and drive product development.

How do you think wrappers will evolve in the upcoming year?

MR: The big change is that header bidding is expanding beyond desktop and mobile web. It’s going to mobile app, video and native, so really the waterfall approach in general is going away. Waterfall is being replaced by header bidding or header bidding-style auctions. That means we need an open-source wrapper implementation that facilitates header bidding across all formats and channels. Unlocking new channels, faster, is something that is working on. That’s going to be a big focus for 2018.

In addition to format and channel expansion, Prebid 1.0 is coming out and will make Prebid even easier to use. It is focused on reducing user experience impact, making header bidding more efficient, getting more bids to the ad server, and making sure that it is  all done in the most optimized fashion. Going forward, we’re making sure it is the most efficient wrapper out there.

Want more?

PubMatic is grateful for Michael Richardson’s input and time; we are adamant supporters of and look forward to the future of wrapper technology. To learn more about header bidding wrappers, check out PubMatic’s OpenWrap solution along with our recent blogs, or contact PubMatic today.