Will Trade Desk's Direct-To-Publisher Ad-Tech Solution Shake Up Digital Advertising?

The advertising-technology platform The Trade Desk this week rolled out a new product called OpenPath that it says connects advertisers directly to publishers’ ad inventory, and in doing so, avoids Google’s Open Bidding and other supply-side advertising platforms.

The move is significant in the ad-tech world for several reasons. First, The Trade Desk is the largest independent demand-side ad-tech platform in the world, competing with Google’s DoubleClick and Facebook’s Ads, among others. The Trade Desk managed $6.2 billion of the world’s ad programmatic spend in 2021, and produced nearly $1.2 billion in revenue, according to its latest earnings report.

Demand-side platforms (DSPs) serve the advertiser side of the ad-tech business, enabling digital automation. Supply-side platforms (SSPs) work on the publisher side.

In effect, the new OpenPath solution disintermediates supply-side ad-tech platforms, and instead delivers publishers directly to advertisers. With OpenPath, The Trade Desk has forged partnerships with around a dozen media companies, including Reuters, the Washington Post, Gannett/USA Today Network, Conde Nast, McClatchy, Hearst Magazines, Hearst Newspapers, Advance Local, MediaNews Group, Tribune Publishing, Nexstar Digital and CafeMedia, The Trade Desk said in a press release.



“Advertisers have been getting increasingly concerned that Google is not playing on a level playing field when transacting through Google OB,” a Trade Desk spokeswoman said. “So we’re offering an alternative. “[Having] several large publishers on board is a major win for both the supply chain and journalism, as more dollars can flow into the hands of publishers rather than intermediaries like Google,” she added.

OpenPath seeks to remove inefficiencies often present in the programmatic supply chain, including opaque and harmful characteristics of “walled gardens,” the company said.

Trade Desk co-founder and CEO Jeff Green said OpenPath levels the playing field for advertisers, ensuring they get transparent and objective access to top digital inventory. “OpenPath is an excellent example of industry leaders working together to advance an open market that ensures transparent price competition and maximizes value for both advertisers and publishers,” Green said. “With that in mind, as OpenPath launches, The Trade Desk will turn off Google Open Bidding on its platform.”

The Trade Desk lined up a variety of testimonials from publishers. For example: “Conde Nast is focused on helping our advertising clients leverage both our influential content and our first-party data offerings,” said Deborah Brett, global head of revenue operations & enterprise innovation at Conde Nast. “We are pleased to be working with The Trade Desk on OpenPath to enable deeper conversations with our clients about inventory transparency and performance that further strengthen how our brands and data solutions drive outcomes that matter most to them.”

In the announcement, The Trade Desk emphasized that it’s committed to serving only advertisers. “The Trade Desk is not entering the supply side of digital advertising, and will not provide supply-side services, such as yield management,” it said in a statement. “OpenPath provides publishers with direct access to advertiser demand, and the ability to continue to leverage their existing yield-management tools and partners."

The announcement has been met with a degree of skepticism over the last few days. While the move has been celebrated for its potential to fight back against Google's dominance over the ad-tech market, the possibility exists that if the OpenPath product doesn't integrate with other DSPs, The Trade Desk itself might be seen as a monopoly.

Campaign US said the announcement has been received as “a kick in the teeth by some SSPs,” because OpenPath circumvents some SSP services. And AdExchanger said the idea of demand-side platforms working directly with publishers has been rumored for years, with experiments that failed for lack of scale. Also, DSPs would now have to handle billing and ad trouble-shooting, all while disintermediating the SSPs they need to access publishers.

“The Trade Desk appears to be taking the plunge, with the caveat that it ‘remains committed to serving only advertisers,’” AdExchanger wrote. “Huh. We’ll see if the SSPs buy that one.”

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