As header bidding tactics continue to evolve, “server-side” or “server-to-server” wrappers are the latest topic to dominate ad decisioning discussions among publishers and advertisers alike. Server-side wrappers are perhaps best known for their ability to reduce the latency on a user’s page by moving the auction to a tech provider’s server (as opposed to the user’s browser, as with client-side header bidding and wrappers).
All the hype about server-side integrations has generated with it a number of misconceptions across both sides of the industry—misconceptions that we’d like to clear up once and for all. Below you’ll find the truth behind four of the most common myths about server-side wrappers, and we encourage you to reach out to us on Twitter (@PubMatic) with any additional questions or thoughts you have on the topic.
1. Client-side wrappers are dead.
With all the recent hype around server-side wrappers, it may seem as though they killed their client-side predecessor, but in reality that is not the case. PubMatic has developed a solution where a publisher can adopt a hybrid approach, managing some demand partners on the client side and others on the server-side, both within the same UI.
Server-side header bidding solves the inefficiencies of relying on users’ browsers and moves the “heavy lifting” onto ad tech partners’ infrastructure in order to protect user experience and avoid latency. Client-side wrappers have access to a broader set of demand partners, compared to server-side wrappers, which allows publishers to maximize revenue. So while server-side integrations bring their own benefits to the table for publishers, a hybrid approach is a great option, with the flexibility to experiment with the optimum setup for maximizing revenue while protecting user experience.
2. Sever-side integrations are not complete.
While it’s true that many of the announcements you’ve seen regarding the launch of server-side wrappers from other technology companies really amount to little more than vaporware or fall short of publishers’ immediate needs due to a lack of demand partner integrations, not all server-side integrations are incomplete. A number of the leading ad tech providers have announced partnerships and begun the process of integrating their technologies. During this year’s IAB Annual Leadership Meeting, a three-day discussion of topics driving digital advertising, AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley announced plans for mutual support of PubMatic’s and AppNexus’ server-side wrappers.
Here at PubMatic, we’re continuing to work on partnerships and integrations with a number of ad tech companies. Additionally, even Facebook recently announced plans to work with a growing number of ad tech companies on header bidding, with some integrations relying on server-side technology. With all of these developments, publishers need to make sure that they continue to play a role in influencing a collaborative environment by overwhelmingly favoring open solutions.
3. Server-side is rife with compatibility issues and difficult integrations.
At Digiday’s ‘Hot Topic Header Bidding’ event in New York City earlier this year, publishers had the opportunity to weigh in on what they see as the biggest roadblocks to server-to-server integrations. Jarrod Dicker, head of ad products at The Washington Post, asserted that one of the biggest roadblocks of server-side “is getting all of the SSPs to agree to play in the same playground. Many have their own server-to-server offerings, but since they compete on some level, there is hesitation to integrate within another vendor’s technology.” According to Dicker, that’s why a lot of publishers are focused on “investigating whether it’s worth it to build their own and integrate the SSPs within [an] independent environment.”
This is clearly a major concern for publishers, particularly as more ad tech companies release their server-side wrappers. At PubMatic, we believe in maintaining a transparent and open media ecosystem—a belief that is echoed in the four principals that drive how we partner with other ad tech companies:
Fairness in the auction — The wrapper provider should not be not putting a finger on the scale;
Transparency— The ability to know how the auction works, what’s competing, what the rules are, what data is being shared and have equal access to it, etc.;
Interoperability — A good faith effort by all parties to make sure the integrations work and each partner’s tech performs to its best ability when integrated, and the idea that agreements should be reciprocal.
Business relationship maintenance— One company’s business relationship with a particular publisher shouldn’t change because they are wrapped in another company’s container.
4. Analytics and transparency are a problem.
“My main concern is around trust and transparency,” said Ashley McGee, director of programmatic and platforms at Chicago-based newspaper, print and online media publishing company Tronc at Digiday’s ‘Hot Topics Header Bidding’ event. “Do I have a partner that I trust enough that I can see who is truly winning [the auction] and who isn’t gaming the system?” she asked, raising trust and reporting as the main challenges for server-side adoption. “I’m used to having control and being able to see what is happening. But I have heard with server-side there is more blindness for publishers and buyers.”
Transparency and openness underpins our relationships with publisher and advertisers. As server-side wrappers moves more of the buying and selling process in to ad tech partners’ infrastructure, it becomes increasingly important for publishers and advertisers to insist their partners are transparent and open. PubMatic provides log level reporting of bid-stream data and auction dynamics which offer visibility in to the server-side transactions to ensure no one is “gaming” the system.
It’s important to separate the hype from the reality; server-side header bidding is not a cure all, it is a another step towards returning ad decisioning to publishers. Publishers have to exert influence in the development of this technology by insisting on openness and transparency if they want to ensure solutions align with their business needs. Ad tech companies who’s business objectives run contrary to those of publishers will find it increasingly difficult to be successful. We are already seeing this dynamic play out as a number of companies have found themselves struggling to remain relevant in a changing programmatic landscape dominated by header bidding technologies that favor publishers’ interest and openness.
Additionally, publishers need to see this move to server-side header bidding as foreshadowing of where the industry is moving. Publishers must realize their current ad-serving technology is not up to the task in a media ecosystem which is moving quickly towards programmatic as the dominate method of transacting on media.
The next chapter in this narrative – beyond header bidding and its derivatives — will be the need for a unified ad server built to manage both programmatic and direct sold inventory holistically. And at PubMatic, we’ve already started writing that chapter with you, the publisher, in mind.