Is Server-Side Header Bidding the Next Big Thing?

Post on October 24, 2017 by Emma Newman

Emma Newman
Emma Newman CRO, EMEA

Header bidding, or more specifically client-side header bidding, has become the programmatic set-up of choice for the majority of the owned and operated UK publishers. With this adoption, it seems the industry is now ready for “the next big thing.”

Swarming server-side header bidding

Sometimes, watching the evolution of our industry, it feels a bit like standing on the sideline watching my son’s football team (when he was much younger). Everyone ran to where the ball was, all twenty two players, including the goalkeepers if they were particularly keen.

Today, instead of watching my son’s football team converge on the ball, I feel as though I am watching publishers frantically rush towards server-side header bidding solutions. Now running towards the ball when you’re playing football is a good thing but not if you leave the defence wide open.

The same goes for the rush to adopt server-side header bidding. There is nothing wrong with the move, as long as you don’t leave behind all the hard work you’ve invested in setting up your client-side solution. This includes the development work, the identification and integration of the right demand partners—not to mention the revenue being generated.

When asked by publishers whether they should move from client-side to server-side, my response is why choose one over the other?  You wouldn’t win many football matches with a team of strikers-only or a team made up solely of defenders.  The best football teams have a balance of both. This approach works well when picking a football team and it applies to selecting your header bidding technology, as well.

Client-side header bidding (think of this as the defence) is going to continue to contribute significant revenue for many publishers for a long time to come. But, in order to really succeed, publishers also need to invest in a future strike force. In this case it means investing early in server-side technology, so publishers don’t find themselves in the relegation zone half way through the season (enough with the analogy now, you get my point).

A hybrid approach

Fortunately, it’s not an either/or situation. It is possible now, through hybrid solutions, to have the best of both worlds.  Publishers can protect the revenue generated through their established client-side solutions whilst at the same time, capitalising on incremental revenue through the integration of server-side technology.

When asked, a hybrid approach, such as the one offered by PubMatic’s OpenWrap solution, is what I recommend publishers adopt.  Utilising OpenWrap, an enterprise wrapper solution for Prebid, gives the publisher more control over their ad decisioning than they’ve had in a long time.

Control including:

  • Access to a broad set of demand partners and unique demand to optimise revenue opportunities.
  • The ability to run A/B testing, helping publishers evaluate (in real time) the optimum header bidding set-up for their specific needs.
  • The insight to understand how each of their technology (demand) partners are performing and the ability to react quickly by implementing course corrections as required.
  • A user interface (UI) that allows publishers to swap demand partners in-and-out to help ensure the best performance without weeks of development resource (What good is it to know an SSP is consistently providing low bids if it takes weeks to take them out of your wrapper?).
  • Access to an open source code using fair auction dynamics which are optimising publisher revenue and not unfairly biasing a specific demand partner.

And with the pace of development in ad tech, an open-source solution is the most scalable option for publishers. As exchanges update adapters to optimize performance or as additional formats such as in-app, video, and native start to shift to header bidding, proprietary solutions struggle to keep pace. OpenWrap is built on Prebid.js open source, and numerous exchanges and a large community of developers are driving the innovations and developments to Prebid.js. This provides a level of interoperability, scalability, transparency and publisher independence that proprietary solutions simply cannot offer.

Taking this approach will ensure publishers avoid the ignominy of scoring on their own goal and lose the match, while they are ahead.