Thought Leadership

Lessons Learned from the Sydney Automation Summit

September 3, 2019
By Melissa Thompson-Pettit

Rubicon Project hosted its annual Automation Summit on August 8th, 2019 in Sydney.

We brought together a select group of senior industry peers at our automation summit for an informative exchange on programmatic in 2019 to discuss SPO, Prebid, Monetisation, and more

Much was discussed, demystified, and deciphered during the day, which began with Rubicon Project’s ANZ General Manager, Rohan Creasey, setting the scene for the day’s talks. He touched on the importance of community, collaboration, and honesty: all themes which would dominate the discussion throughout the event.

Session 1: The Current State of Programmatic

In the first session of the day, Rubicon Project CTO and chairperson Tom Kershaw shared his opinion on the current state of the industry. Kershaw believes that open source, and specifically Prebid, is gaining ground for the betterment of the industry. So far this year, 450 individual engineers have contributed to the Prebid code base, a significant achievement for the industry. 

But while open source might be moving forward, identity is struggling. It’s no secret that everyone from regulators to buyers, sellers and even users are rebelling against the current cookie-based system, which slows down pages and hinders the user experience. 

As the general population becomes more aware of online advertising targeting, more users are opting out of ads. The industry has four alternatives to third party cookies: first-party cookies, browser IDs, single sign-in, and contextual. This decision is a community existential issue that the industry has to address collectively, and no one player can own the solution.

Two more big challenges ahead, he said, are how to speed up our technology, and how to innovate on new formats. As users become increasingly frustrated with intrusive formats such as unskippable video, we need to start creating solutions that people actually want.

Key takeaways:

Open source is bringing fair and unbiased competition for demand.

– Identity needs a rethink and the industry has four options for the cookieless future: first-party cookies, browser IDs, single sign-in, and contextual. But whatever we choose, we need to choose it together.

Speed, performance, and efficiency are really important in our industry – wrapper technology must evolve to help buyers bid faster.

We’ve ignored what users do and don’t like for far too long. Innovation on ad formats is essential for us to thrive.

Privacy Panel

Kershaw was then joined by a panel of programmatic experts including Domain’s Chris Blok, Gumtree’s Laura Hill, and Seven Network’s James Bayes. The wide-ranging chat, which was moderated by Rubicon Project’s Ryan Mulcahy, questioned what privacy really means, and stressed the need to stop talking and start acting when it comes to collaboration.

Seven’s Bayes believes changes to data privacy legislation will result in one of the most fundamental shifts in the way the industry works over the next couple of years. Therefore, publishers must work together on best interpreting and implementing data privacy in this space. However, Bayes also stressed the need to stop talking about collaboration and actually do it.

Balkanisation is the biggest risk where legislation is concerned, where every state or country will have its own regulations. “We can’t have 30 different interpretations of what privacy means,” said Kershaw, “so it’s essential that the industry proactively fixes its problems through collective teamwork, instead of waiting for the government to fix it for us.”

Key takeaways:

Changes to data privacy legislation are going to fundamentally change the way we work.

We need to get on the front foot and address any privacy issues now, before the government does it for us.

It’s all well and good to talk about collaboration, but in order to succeed we need to actually start doing it.

Session 2: The Next (R)evolution of Publisher Ad Monetisation

The next session saw Rubicon Project’s Ashlee Roenigk, VP Revenue Solutions, take the audience on a programmatic journey in whiteboard form. Ashlee charted the industry’s progress from pre header bidding to present day and beyond, and explained how, shift to first-price auctions, server side technology, and the search for a universal identifier are all making an impact.

Roenigk was then joined on stage by Publift’s Brock Munro, Interplay Media’s Ben Murray, and News Corp’s Jason Denny to discuss exactly where they are on their own monetisation journeys.

The panel discussed how not all publishers want the same thing, and how the monetisation/latency balance always involves some compromise. Some prefer to lean towards speed, while others choose monetisation. Adtech platforms need to be aware of these discrepancies, and offer choices that work for everyone.

Denny balances monetisation and latency by ensuring that new partners are properly mapped in the backend. Unless the various monetisation partners can gel together, he explained, issues with latency will arise.

Just before lunch, Rubicon Project’s Steven Hulkower took to the stage to unpack the truth behind Programmatic Guaranteed (PG), which is essentially guaranteed delivery via programmatic pipes.

The industry hasn’t yet found the perfect way to make PG work, but once it does, many exciting opportunities will open up. Once PG becomes a viable alternative to direct buying, Hulkower explained, the ad tech industry will have a 360-degree view of all the monetisation that’s occurring, which will in turn help create better products.

Key takeaways: 

Different publishers have different needs, and partners need to account for that.

Having too many partners can make you lose focus, so make sure that each is properly vetted and mapped. 

Monetisation can never be a “set it and forget it” situation: partners should be consistently and rigorously checked.

Full Programmatic Guaranteed functionality is coming to Prebid – including targeting, capping, pacing, modeling, log replay, forecasting, and more. 

Session 3: Is 2019 the Tipping Point for SPO?

After lunch, Rubicon Project’s VP Global Agency Sales, Jon Cooke, kicked off the afternoon by sharing the current supply path optimization story. In the past, buyers would work with a number of SSPs to reach premium publishers at scale, which was perceived to be unique access. 

But the days of “select all” when it comes to supply sources are over. Not all supply paths are created equal, and it’s essential that buyers invest in supply partners who are willing to be transparent. That’s where SPO comes in. SPO allows buyers to find the best way to access the inventory they want, which are ideally the most transparent, direct, and low-fee paths to supply. 

Cooke was then joined on the stage by MediaMath’s Yun Yip, Media Lab Communications’ Desi Tjioe, and Rubicon Project’s Steven Hulkower to discuss how they have integrated SPO into their own work.

One of the first questions that arise when buyers are considering limiting their supply paths is: does it limit scale? In Tjioe’s experience, if you know where you’re spending your money, and are optimising towards a strategy that’s driving real conversions, then scale won’t be an issue. Yip agreed, adding that in her experience, SPO has very rarely resulted in scale issues.

Christina Ham, Rubicon Project’s ANZ Buyer Lead, then outlined the steps DSPs, agencies and brands should take to conduct their own audit of their supply partners. In the initial planning stages, SPO should be adopted as part of a buyer’s existing supply strategy. Part of this process should involve creating the criteria to grade supply partners. 

From there, start to consolidate supply partners that are low-value, low-quality, and low-scale, to get to a streamlined and deliberate few. It’s not something that can be done in a broad sweep, but eventually, more simplicity and control will be injected into the supply chain. Finally, chosen partners will be able to provide buyers with more clarity and quality. 

Key takeaways:

SPO doesn’t necessarily limit scale, as long as you’re putting your money in the right places.

Consolidating supply partners is a gradual process that requires careful monitoring against defined SPO criteria.

SPO will lead to more meaningful partnerships and enable buyers to gain full value from a select pool of supply partners.

Session 4: What’s Next for Programmatic?

In the final session of the day, leading industry journalist Paul McIntyre was joined on the stage by REA’s Amy Jansen-Flynn, IAB’s Jonas Jaanimagi, SCA’s Jonathan Mandel, and Rubicon Project’s Tom Kershaw. 

The panel kicked off by discussing the programmatic audio market, and how digital audio ads should sit more at the top-of-funnel than traditional online programmatic ads, simply because you can’t click on an audio ad.

The conversation then moved onto measurement and how we don’t have a universal measurement system in place yet for audio. In fact, some buyers are still asking paradoxical questions like: ‘how viewable is that audio ad?’

Referring to the emergence of programmatic out-of-home, Jansen-Flynn went on to argue that just because something is available programmatically, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to buy. Her advice to buyers is to keep buying via traditional channels until the programmatic supply chain can actually deliver incremental value. Technically out-of-home advertising can be bought programmatically, but the tech is still in its infancy compared to device based programmatic.

“One of the reasons why clients buy programmatically,” said Mandel, “is that they can hit pause on an ad at any time. That functionality makes it worth it – and the ad tech industry should always remind itself of those fundamentals.”

Key takeaways:

– As programmatic continues to develop beyond online display ads to channels like DOOH, audio, Connected TV, and more, media buyers will get a holistic life cycle view of the user which is key to delivering fewer ads that are more effective.

– At the moment, a lack of education means that advertisers are unsure how to effectively measure campaigns against objectives. This is particularly true of audio ads, where progress is being stifled by buyers who are still thinking about viewability – a metric that is immeasurable in audio.

– A consortium approach with all parties working together for the betterment of the industry is critical to creating a viable alternative to the walled gardens.

For more info on the Sydney Automation Summit or any of the topics discussed, please email us at

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