Thought Leadership

The Evolution of Prebid

February 19, 2019
By Ryan Christopher, Director of Marketing, Americas has grown significantly since early days, folding in the innovations of its newer members, including exchanges, wrapper service providers, and publishers. In Part I of a two-part series, Rubicon Project’s Philip Meyer, Bret Gorsline, and Garrett McGrath reflect on the evolution of Prebid and what may come next.

What’s most exciting about what’s happening with Prebid now, given its humble beginnings?  

Garrett McGrath (GM): Prebid started out as a few, passionate people interested in open source solutions and has grown into a larger community. It began with ad tech companies like AppNexus and Rubicon Project needing to find a better way to handle the basic pipes of programmatic and to solve the problem of integration. The entire community’s now grown significantly, which is exciting to see.

Philip Meyer (PM): In many ways it’s a really big moment for Prebid. There are more members, more contributors, and an institutional structure, which means more progress. There’s a logo. We put a banner up, and there’s a lot of excitement, especially from publishers. The organization is really building out. For example, it recently erected product management committees focused on specific feature areas like Prebid.js, Prebid Server, video, mobile, and tools to develop clear roadmaps for future development.

Bret Gorsline (BG): Besides having more involvement from a broader community, there are features being developed to optimize the Prebid open-source technology, such as a user ID module and a Prebid Server transparency feature. There are also new tools in the works for debugging and troubleshooting, such as the Header Bidder Expert 2.0 Browser Extension.

Can you discuss the growing support for Prebid and who’s behind it?

PM: The community could be divided into four participating groups. First are the ad tech companies like Rubicon Project and AppNexus who develop the open-source technology and also use it to power our header bidding businesses. Next are the publishers that use Prebid to access demand. Third are service providers who are in the business of offering Prebid-based wrapper solutions to publishers. Finally, there are companies who develop technologies to complement Prebid, such as data companies and video player companies. Before Prebid, it was pretty hectic because every exchange was developing its own mechanism for sending bids back to the publisher, and the publisher had to try to negotiate all these different mechanisms. So, in a way, it was like you were trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle, but with pieces from five different puzzles.

BG: Prebid has shown itself to be a valuable open-source solution for publishers, so there’s good support from the community. Before Prebid, if a publisher wanted to work with multiple companies, none of them used the same technology. There was no foundation and no universal utility functions. We were all speaking different languages.

GM: Really, anyone seeking more transparency from the supply path has something to gain from Prebid. Before, if a company didn’t want to deal with the black box of proprietary wrappers, they didn’t have an alternative. The lack of ability to see what was going on in the proprietary wrapper management system created a potential playground for bad actors. Now there’s an open-source, transparent option that anyone can use. Companies are collaborating instead of competing to develop technology and working towards a shared purpose.

What are some benefits that Prebid’s providing for the industry?

BG: Prebid can be used as a kind of bedrock technology that connects publisher inventory to programmatic demand sources and also to companies that provide wrapper set-up and maintenance services. But Prebid is also really customizable, so specific publisher needs can often be accommodated with configuration updates.

GM: It’s also open and fully transparent, as opposed to a being a closed system. There is a lot of value in pooling resources to attack certain common problems.  The industry has wisely begun to realize that for certain parts of what we do, there is no advantage to acting alone; similar to how in the transportation industry, for example, there’s really no competitive advantage in having your own road. It’s not like we’re all out there trying to build a better, proprietary version of the internet.

PM: Definitely. Without the spirit of collaboration that Prebid creates, we would all die a spectacular death fighting amongst ourselves over roads and tunnels. The key benefit of open source is that we’re effectively pooling our resources to build something that we all need, which also allows the various players to instead focus on what does differentiate one from the other.

What were the biggest developments in 2018 for Prebid and what’s next in the evolution of Prebid?

GM: In 2018, we started developing tools and services to optimize Prebid’s open-source technology. We had a recent Prebid meetings in New York and London; the publishers who attended were super excited about the concept that with certain tools, they could be less dependent on engineers and more able to run the technology on their own.

PM: We began developing technology to make open source even more flexible and easy to use, improving the user interface. This year, we’ll be seeing the fruits of that labor.

BG: Prebid matured a lot in 2018. Prebid.js 1.0 had releases almost every week, including major features like currency conversion, GDPR support, conditional ad units, and server-to-server testing. There were about 170 bidder adapters and 20 analytics adapters for Prebid.js by the end of the year. That’s twice as many analytics adapters and more than three times as many bidders. Amazing ecosystem. But I think the biggest result from 2018 is the formation of the committees that meet every other week to drive these products forward – that’s been a great source of ideas and energy.

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