Thought Leadership

The Democratization of Header Bidding

January 28, 2019
By Philip Meyer, Product Owner

Watching the rise and adoption of header bidding over the past few years has been like watching a standard technology adoption cycle in fast-forward. Due to the sheer impact header bidding’s had on improving a publisher’s bottom line, the industry’s embrace has been swift, and the technology’s maturation has been accelerated by overwhelming industry interest and support.

The next phase of header bidding’s development is going to put control directly into the hands of programmatic business leaders. Routine adjustments like adding or removing a bidder, shifting partners between client- and server-side integrations, adjusting timeout sendings, and configuring inventory will no longer require the programmatic lead to wait on a development queue or a third party provider. It’s about time: like the ad server and the exchange, the wrapper is now a core component of a publisher’s ad serving technology stack. The wrappers that win will offer user interfaces for hands-on control and enable programmatic experts to do what they do best—grow revenue.

The Wrapper Grows Up

To understand where header bidding is going, it’s useful to have a quick history lesson. The first header bidding solutions were developed by exchanges who assumed that their code would be alone in the header. In reality, publishers wanted to use multiple header bidding partners, but making it work was a headache. It was like trying to assemble furniture but needing six different screwdrivers to do it. We needed to orient the technology around shared standards.

Things smoothed out a bit with the emergence of wrappers like Prebid. Prebid made it easier to create a fair, transparent header bidding auction. However, implementing Prebid still required the publisher to devote development resources for wrapper integration and maintenance. Not all publishers are able to make such an investment. Even for those that do, a business leader’s ability to tinker, test and optimize is severely limited. If every small change needs to sit in the development queue, then simple tests take weeks when they should take days.

Over the coming year, though, the industry will see a major shift when it comes to the accessibility and management of header bidding. Thanks to ongoing developments in header bidding technology and tools, our industry is entering a new phase in which the wrapper evolves into a full-featured product, complete with user interfaces that makes header bidding accessible to businesspeople and engineers alike. This is precisely the advance that Rubicon Project will be bringing to market in 2019, built on top of Prebid’s open source technology.

Programmatic Execs Take the Reins

For the past few years, we’ve heard some industry pundits declare that the roles of the media buyers and planners are being replaced by engineers. That’s simply not true. Yes, today’s monetization tools are more complex than yesterday’s were. But so are our cars, TVs, and cash registers. So are the tools that Wall Street traders and real estate investors use. Engineers build the tools, and businesspeople use them. Ten years into programmatic, every serious media organization has a person or a group of people who sit between sales, product, and ad operations who are focused on one thing: revenue growth. They are analytical thinkers who understand equally the value of a good sales pitch and an efficient stack. These are the people that spend much of their time in exchange UIs pulling reports, tweaking pricing rules, and monitoring PMP deals. These individuals will oversee today’s header bidding implementations, taking the reins as newly accessible solutions and interfaces hit the market, which will  grant publishers the opportunity to:

  • More easily find the optimal balance between revenue performance and page performance
  • Simply manage their testing of server-side header bidding
  • Use header bidding to monetize all devices, formats and environments: mobile, video, native, and more

And as the wrapper morphs into a product, a new set of tools will bring even greater efficiencies. Over time, wrappers will shift from client to server and add robust inventory management systems, auction and pricing controls, blocklists and ad screening tools, and support for programmatic guaranteed deals.

Our vision is one where the wrapper is the center of the publisher’s monetization stack. Our focus today is to put control over the wrapper in easy reach of a publisher programmatic lead. As time goes forward, the controls housed in the wrapper can extend further to act as unified control panel for a variety of systems from exchanges to ad servers to data management platforms. As a result, publisher business leads spend more time finding innovative ways to grow revenue while developers focus on creating rich, beautiful experiences for users. In the democratized future of header bidding, led by Rubicon Project, everybody—engineers and media professionals alike—will focus on what they do best.


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