200 Milliseconds: Life of a Programmatic RTB Ad Impression

Two hundred milliseconds. Two hundred thousandths of a second. The equivalent of a slow snap of your fingers. Less than the length of a 16th note played on a piano. Digital ads are bid, bought, sold, delivered and seen in this exceptionally brief time span. The real-time trafficking process for ad units sold programmatically is incredibly complex, yet it takes place in the blink of an eye. There are many steps that take place in the time a viewer requests a site’s page to load, the ad on that page is served, the audience becomes aware of it and, finally, may take action.

The action begins the moment the viewer goes into the browser and clicks on a link, which results in a page from a particular website being called. If the website takes paid advertising on its page and there is inventory available, an ad is served if the price offered on behalf of an advertiser meets the publisher’s floor.

While many advertisers and publishers are embracing programmatic media trading, others of us in the business are still eyeing it and don’t appreciate how complex the process can be. Few understand the details of the full life cycle of the ad impression that is involved when ad inventory is marketed, transacted, distributed, delivered, measured and optimized programmatically (read: automated processes in real-time). To help illustrate the many layers at work, we have created “200 Milliseconds: The Life of a Programmatic RTB Ad Impression,” an infographic and video designed to give a granular, yet big-picture view of the process.



The vast majority of us have a selective understanding of the full lifecycle of the real-time bidded programmatic ad impression. For example, if you are an ad network, you may have a different understanding of how programmatic RTB works than if you are a publisher.

Programmatic RTB has enormous potential for buyers and sellers. It’s not simply about selling through an SSP, selling into or buying from an open exchange or sourcing buys from an ad network, DSP or trading desk. Having a wider view of the process and players should help the many constituents in the advertising, marketing and technology ecosystem see the diversity of opportunities and make more-informed decisions because they have a better appreciation for the complexity of execution.

2 comments about "200 Milliseconds: Life of a Programmatic RTB Ad Impression".
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  1. Matt Ruzz from Hiring? Let's talk!, May 13, 2014 at 10:20 p.m.

    So where is the infographic?

  2. Ted Yang from MediaCrossing, May 14, 2014 at 10:46 a.m.

    @Matthew Ruzz, we have the infographic and animated video on our website here:

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