Thought Leadership

Open Source Wrappers: the “Switzerland” of Header Bidding

May 28, 2019
By Ashlee Roenigk, VP, Revenue Solutions

How Header Bidding Invokes Neutrality Through Open Source Wrappers

Besides chocolate, fondue, and ski chalets, Switzerland is known for its political neutrality. Neutrality, be it in foreign policy or otherwise, provides certain benefits: neutrality ensures decisions are weighed objectively, without being clouded by alliances or preferences. A neutral, open approach to decision-making can make outcomes fairer and more transparent.

In the programmatic advertising world, “fair” and “transparent” are not two words you often hear. In recent years, the digital supply path has been called the exact opposite: a “black box,” intentionally obscure, even fraudulent.

Open source initiatives have been trying to upend this narrative by making the buying and selling of programmatic advertising more transparent. Specifically, Prebid.org has taken strides to light up the media supply chain by providing an agnostic, open source header bidding solution that drives demand for publishers.

One such stride has been the development of Prebid’s flagship (and free) “Prebid.js” wrapper. In contrast to proprietary wrappers, open source wrappers such as Prebid.js are entirely transparent, crowd-sourced, adaptable, and neutral. With Prebid.js, there is no adapter preferencing or inherent reliance on ad servers. In short, they’re the “Switzerland” of the header bidding world – and they’ve become the wrapper of choice for many publishers. Publishers are now even joining the Prebid platform: Cafe Media became the first publisher to become a formal contributor this spring.

Wrappers Unwrapped

In programmatic advertising, digital creative campaigns find their way onto websites by way of RTB (real-time-bidding), wherein a marketer buys ad space (inventory) from a publisher through a real-time auction. In header bidding auctions, the rules of “who wins the auction” are built into the wrapper, a piece of coded technology that determines the terms of how bids are won – from when the auction starts to the allowed number of bidders per auction.

The rub is that many wrappers are built with proprietary technology that lacks transparency. The lack of ability to see into the mechanics of proprietary wrapper management system creates a potential playground for bad actors. In early days, this was blindly accepted by publishers and marketers alike: after all, header bidding was dominated by closed networks, proprietary tech, and little-to-no cooperation between competing players.

For publishers, these closed systems were a headache to integrate with. Before open source solutions like Prebid.js, they had to manually patch together various “Frankenstein solutions” that would allow them to integrate with each company’s technology. This slowed down supply path optimization (SPO), clogging up the supply path with redundant steps and processes. Even when developers could find fixes for their “piping problems,” they didn’t necessarily have access to the technology they needed to ensure their auctions were being run fairly or neutrally.

Enter Open Source Wrappers: Inherently Neutral

For fair auctions to take place, logic tells us the wrapper must exist as a neutral and transparent piece of technology that affords neither the operator nor any other partner a particular advantage or disadvantage.

The issue is, proprietary header bidding wrappers are designed to favor certain exchanges over others. In fact, proprietary wrappers pose conflicts of interest, resulting in unintelligent inventory allocation. They essentially lock in publishers, lack crowd-sourced checks and balances, and prevent publishers from taking full advantage of the industry’s collective learnings over time. They also require significant development time for updates, which naturally prioritizes the owning entity’s exchange and compromises publisher revenue potential.

Alternatively, open source wrappers are inherently neutral: no one party gets preferential treatment. All players can see the auction mechanics and are operating on an equal playing field.

Neutrality also allows for fair competition and agnostic decisioning. In the spirit of transparency and good faith, when partners join Prebid.org, they commit to a Code of Conduct containing best practices for wrapper mechanics, transparency, data, and user experience. The shared initiative to maintain these standards have made the buying and selling of advertising more neutral, fair, and collaborative than ever before.

Industry Consolidation

In the last nine months, we’ve seen a significant consolidation of header bidding solutions, and a move towards server-side. This is a good thing. After all, a fragmented header bidding landscape poses a risk to the industry. It means less efficiency, duplicated efforts, more latency issues, and wasted resources.

With the collaborative nature of source code, technical standards have been improved upon by the ad tech community, effectively democratizing header bidding, and freeing up development resources and capital for higher-level projects. It’s no wonder the Prebid.org community currently spans 81 demand partner adapters, five analytics providers, and 191 individual contributors. The next step forward is to provide publishers with hosting solutions to best optimize them.

Hosting Open Source Header Solutions

While open source header solutions have brought neutrality to murky auction dynamics, for many publishers, header bidding is still riddled with burdensome complexity. Publishers are reeling from the technical headache of integrating with multiple demand partners, latency issues and poor user experience. In a programmatic world that’s moving server-side, for publishers to embrace the full power of open source solutions, they’ll need hosting partners that offer them full control, a simple UI, and ongoing service support. In the not-so-distant future, hosting solutions will provide publishers total autonomy, while empowering them to optimize header bidding systems.

Ultimately, open source solutions give publisher and supply-side platform (SSP) developer teams an easy, accessible solution to any demand piping problems. They’re transparent, fair, have been developed with the good of all in mind, and like the famed Swiss Neutrality, they’re inherently neutral. The next step towards open source growing up will be offering tools and services that give not only development, but monetization teams, control.  

For more information on Open Source Header Solutions like Prebid or Rubicon Project’s Demand Manager, contact us here.


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