Who Gets First Look?

Advertisers, DSPs and agency trading desks are asking publishers for the first look at publishers’ inventory. These clients, in return for bigger buys, are looking for integrations into the ad server rather than private deals through an SSP. The dilemma for publishers is deciding who, among multiple buyers, will get access to the first look.

Improved performance, adoption of programmatic for brand budgets and the fees for third parties are among the reasons leading to direct integrations. The advertisers, DSPs and agency trading desks are after a percentage of impressions before the general auction in anSSP. Performance on the top layer of impressions is more than 10x the average. Second, advertisers see the effectiveness of programmatic for their DR buys and are starting to test programmatic for their brand budgets. Finally, buyers can save fees to third parties by accessing publishers’ inventory directly. Buyers’ requests for direct integrations are opportunities for publishers to get closer to buyers and to offer solutions that will generate guaranteed revenues.     



These direct integrations have more similarities to traditional ad buys than remnant buys. The direct integrations often pick impressions that are sold at the highest CPM in the publishers’ SSPs. These CPMs are equivalent to RON CPMs sold by publishers’ direct sales teams. These buyers are also looking for impressions from particular users. The direct integrations are reminiscent of when advertisers would selectively pick publishers to buy inventory. Now they are selectively buying impressions from users with specific cookies.

One solution would be to package all the impressions that the buyers want. Buyers would pay a fixed amount for guaranteed impressions from users, along with the cookies buyers want. Another solution would be a fixed buy for priority access based on the size of the advertiser.

Since buyers are looking for different users, publishers can provide first looks to buyers in different industries. A credit card company and an auto advertiser are going to value impressions from the same user differently. Advertisers in different industries can have the first look at the same ad server priority.

Publishers should build intelligence about their inventory to manage these direct integrations successfully. Publishers have always priced homepage units higher than RON units, but we are now entering a world where the value of an impression depends on its user segment. When publishers offer impressions from users with specific cookies for a guarantee spend from a buyer, publishers should compare the value of those impressions in the open exchange so they are not trading a million dollars for $500,000.

A number of technology partners are pitching publishers to be the mediation layer for these direct integrations. Successful partners need to convince advertisers, DSPs and agency trading desks to use them. When they have the demand from the buy side, publishers will sign up. The weaker approach is to use a site list to sell their technology. Publishers will sell their own inventory and don’t want to introduce channel conflict.

The demand for first look is also helping publisher programmatic teams develop new skill sets. The programmatic team should have salespeople to pitch to advertisers directly. The right programmatic team also has ad ops and technology experts to handle integrations with buyers. A rising need is for product development. As programmatic becomes more premium, it requires more than the one or two people who wear multiple hats.    

Publishers have to manage buyers’ request for first look at their inventory. The number of requests will go up, not down. They should treat these integrations similar to direct sales, which require more intelligence, skills and manpower than RTB buys to successfully determine which buyers get the first looks.

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