Have We Come To The End Of Header Bidding As We Know It?

Have we come to the end of header bidding as we know it? Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, it's going to take some time for things to shake out.

Google announced on Wednesday that it’s now making First Look  available to all DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) clients globally, and testing exchange bidding in Dynamic Allocation with partners including Hearst, Gannett, Scripps, Time Inc. and Zoopla. That's big news for the programmatic ecosystem. It’s likely to have tongues wagging for a while as programmatic marketplaces, exchanges and publishers react to the new development.

RTBlog can’t say the move was unexpected. Publishers and vendors have been working their way around Google’s so-called “walled garden” for some time by using header bidding.

One of the most salient comments made yesterday by Jonathan Bellack, director of product management for Google’s DoubleClick involved initiating a dialogue about programmatic buyers’ needs: “We need a dialogue with the buy side. The biggest unanswered question that we as an industry need to work through is, what is the effect of technologies -- including header bidding -- on buyers.”



That’s likely to be a productive industywide conversation, though how this will be accomplished remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, reaction to Google’s decision came from all corners.

For Hearst, Google’s announcement means the dynamics of buying and selling in the digital landscape are evolving for both buyers and sellers "through partnerships and testing,” according to Michael Smith, SVP, advertising platforms, core audience at Hearst. “Broadly speaking, we are getting closer to true impression-level monetization and the measurement of value to marketers and publishers.”

Smith doesn’t believe header bidding will be going away any time soon as a result of the move: “It will continue to evolve, like many aspects of the biddable landscape."

No Death Toll For Header Bidding

Brian Weigel, GM of bRealTime, the programmatic solutions division of CPXi agreed that header bidding isn’t fading away: "Far from tolling the death of header bidding, Google's announcement is a strong validation of what the industry has been seeing as a growing trend, and a signal to header-bidding providers to hit the accelerator on publisher-focused product development plans that might otherwise have been in neutral.”

In fact, Weigel maintained that container solutions, for example, are now widely seen as the vehicle that will introduce innovations like private marketplaces, rich media, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Rising Star ad units and single port comprehensive publisher product integrations into the header bidding/server-to-server world. “Google’s embrace of dynamic allocation across limited partners is certainly a good start, but it will be interesting to see if/when it more fully embraces all of the value associated with the evolution of header bidding,” Weigel said.

"Different Methodologies Will Work For Different Customers": Rubicon's Take

Dr. Neal Richter, chief technology officer, Rubicon Project, sought to place header bidding into a broader context. “The future of header bidding is a smaller point in a larger story. When RTB (real-time bidding) came to the fore, it took a while to become standardized. It started as an open marketplace, and we added private marketplaces. We automated the buying and selling of orders. … Our position is that different methodologies will work for different customers. We’ll support both Fast Lane, or opportunities where we integrate into an ad server and where there’s less code on the page.” 

Dr. Richter said the important thing is that the platforms need to be open.

He also penned a blog post on Wednesday about the move. Rubicon is one of the partners working with Google to test DoubleClick’s Demand Syndication project—which, when completed, should enable publishers to leverage Rubicon Project’s platform to market inventory through a real-time integration into DFP.

“Our header-bidding adoption is very strong with publishers. We’re happy to be in the pilot. If publishers continue to make independent choices, what it means for header bidding is premature to determine—we don’t know what the technology will look like a year from now,” Dr. Richter said.

Meanwhile, he said Rubicon’s publisher clients are adopting its Exchange API, Fastlane API, Fastlane SDK and Orders API, which  represent an open approach to the market.

Dr. Richter and others believe it’s challenging to make a prediction on whether header bidding is over. But one thing is certain: buyers need to make their preferences known—they haven’t weighed in as publishers have.

Dr. Richter and Bellack serve on the board of the IAB's Tech Lab. “We need to have a conversation about business standards, not just tech standards. The wider picture is that automation of advertising is underway and we need to know how it will function,” Dr. Richter added.

The More Choice For Publishers, The Better

Andrew Casale, president and CEO, Index Exchange, said it’s all about choice: “The more [alternatives] publishers have to choose how they interface with the exchanges, the better—whether that be via tags, header tags, or Google's new solution. Ultimately, publishers will choose the path that provides them the higher net yield, greatest level of transparency and auditability.”

So what’s Casale’s take on whether header bidding will fall away?

“I doubt it. Some publishers will likely prefer one method or another for the reasons I cited. Header bidding is 100% auditable. It remains to be seen what level of auditing will be available when DFP mediates the transaction,” Casale said.

TubeMogul, which recently took Google's walled-garden approach to task in a high profile campaign, "Manifesto for Independence," commented on the news: “Our focus is on ensuring that all parts of an advertiser’s buy are more efficient. This increasingly means private deals done directly with publishers. The increasing scarcity of premium video inventory illustrates the need for software that provides both support for a variety of deal structures as well as economic transparency,” said Tammy Le, director of product marketing, TubeMogul, via email.

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