Is Server-Side Header Bidding the Future for Programmatic? Insights from AdMonsters Publisher Forum

Professional headshot of Marina Gu
By Marina Gu, Sr. Director, Customer Enablement
March 14, 2018

Last week, PubMatic joined dozens of publishers in sunny Huntington Beach for AdMonsters Publisher Forum. The conference’s topic, Defining the Future of Digital Media, gave us all an opportunity to talk through some of the greatest challenges facing publishers today, including how to solve for GDPR, best ways to leverage cross-device user maps, and how to setup a best-in-breed programmatic solution.

I was honored to participate on a panel that addressed the latter: how publishers can best leverage server-to-server (S2S) technology in their programmatic stack. While we’ve been hearing the hype for some time now, S2S integrations have not completely displaced “traditional” client-side header bidding as many predicted they would. Instead, many publishers are finding hybrid setups advantageous for a variety of reasons. In this panel, we sought to understand available setups, current challenges, and whether S2S hookups will eventually dominate programmatic.

To help me answer these questions, I was joined by Corey Wong, senior manager of business development at Leaf Group, and Robby Barnett, director of media strategy and investment at Viant. There were a few key learnings coming out of that discussion:

S2S is helpful for adding open marketplace competition without significant added latency

The lure of adding multiple header bidding partners is quite compelling, until you realize the meaningful downsides this can bring on page load times and user experience. The best way to mitigate these effects is by shifting the ad call to each partner from the browser itself to an offline server. By doing so, publishers can add as many partners they’d like without increasing latency with each incremental partner, which Cory explained is what lured Leaf Group to server-side tech in the first place.

From buyers’ view, while S2S connections can provide efficiency, what matters most is having a trusted path to inventory

According to Robby, every buyer’s dream is to have their own code on the header itself, but of course that’s an unrealistic goal for most buyers and publishers. Ultimately, the buyers want to maximize the visibility they get into user information so they can target effectively, and the confidence that what they are buying is authorized – as long as they can get that in the server-side environment, they are agnostic.

While the industry grapples with match rates, publishers should take a hybrid approach

Ad tech providers are challenged with achieving equivalent match rates in a server-side system as they have in a client-side solution. We are still early stages in creating cross-device maps and data consortia that help address this problem, so publishers will likely see a decline in match rates (and therefore buyer interest) when moving to a S2S environment. To get the best balance of user experience and advertising revenue, publishers should adopt a hybrid client- and server-side approach.

After weighing the pros and cons of S2S header bidding, there was consensus on the panel that this was where the future of publisher monetization was moving. It’s for these reasons that PubMatic continues to innovate around OpenWrap, an open-source wrapper that offers easy buyer testing and enablement in both the client-side and server-side environments, all with a unified UI, streamlined implementation, and robust analytics.

Want to know more about the conversations at AdMonsters Publishers Forum? Check out #pubforum on Twitter.