In this interview, we talk with Gavin Dunaway, Editorial Director at AdMonsters. Gavin has an infectious passion and deep knowledge of ad tech. We met Gavin last year at the AdMonsters Tech Forums facilitating discussion amongst 100+ ad tech professional on all things ad tech, from header bidding to direct deals and programmatic video.
On January 18, 11 a.m. MST, he’ll be LIVE for our first Sovrn Community Ask Me Anything (AMA). Please come with questions!
CH: Hi Gavin, I’ve been looking forward to this interview. Let’s get started.
First, let’s talk about 2017 trends. What do you see occurring in 2017? What are the concerns and opportunities ad tech professionals have for 2017?
GD: Well, first: invalid traffic. This concern was ramping up at the end of the year at our Publisher Forums and kind of shook the industry with the discovery of the damage wrought by “Methbot.” Invalid traffic will probably become a bigger deal than ad blocking. If anything, ad blocking has gone from full-blown crisis to an afterthought. (I’ll cover ad blocking later.)
Invalid traffic, on the other hand, is flowing in from all kinds of places all over the world. It’s even backed by organized crime in various countries. It’s a problem because it’s flooding open marketplaces (and reportedly some private), but agencies are giving premium publishers hell about it since they want to make sure all traffic they buy is authentic. Premium publishers, for the most part, are not the issue.
It’s another case where premium publishers are getting the brunt of an issue. However, technology is increasingly there to stop delivering ads to suspect traffic. It’s not 100% perfect, but I think in the next year, invalid traffic will go down as a concern. And hopefully we can move on to better things.
Viewability is the next trend I see for 2017. Viewability remains challenging on a lot of levels, but most of the issues stem from a buy side that is rigid and stringent. Many on the demand side don’t seem to understand the technology and the fact that you can’t measure every impression from a third-party standpoint.
The one trend that I’ve talked about a great deal over the last couple years is the idea of selling time on a guaranteed basis—a guaranteed amount of seconds and views.
We had a representative from The Financial Times come to our last Publisher Forum and explain the mechanics behind it. It is not easy to make it work. Your typical ad server is not set up to measure and forecast based on time. But it’s an intriguing possibility and I think it puts digital that much closer to being in line with TV measurements, which, of course, are all guaranteed based on time in view and in front of a specific audience.
But beyond those three trends for 2017, header bidding was the trend du jour in 2016 and it’s going to remain that way in 2017. But it is going to get interesting on a few levels. First of all, Google’s has partnered up with a lot more companies for its server-to-server-based Exchange Bidding Dynamic Allocation (EBDA).
CH: Yes, we just met with Google last week for EBDA.
GD: It makes sense for every demand source to partner up with Google on that. Just don’t hedge all your bets on it, because there are so many questions. As publishers have known for years with working with Double Click for Publishers (DFP), it’s not that easy to get answers out of Google.
CH: The publishers might lose their transparency that they have through header bidding.
GD: Yes—they won’t see all the bids coming in. They won’t know all the partners. At the end of the day, EBDA is a mediation platform. And one of the advantages of header bidding is you get so much data and so much insight into your demand sources. EBDA isn’t going to work the same or offer publishers nearly as much insight.
The other question is will it be set up like dynamic allocation (DA) was before—where Google’s ad exchange gets the last word? That was one of the problems with DA, and the factor that spurred the growth of header bidding. Theoretically, AdX could just throw in a higher bid at the last minute and screw over all the other people in the waterfall. Will they do the same in EBDA? They will have the power.
CH: Technology for server-to-server side (S2S) bidding is now a reality and ad ops pros are analyzing the benefits and challenges of adopting S2S solutions versus their header bidding solutions. What do you think are the main differences of each solution? Transparency, setup, page load latencies?
GD: S2S is interesting for a few reasons. Let me give an example. One company has the code in the header. They send data off to a server, and that server hits all the other demand sources. The other header companies, the demand sources, don’t have the code on the page anymore. And so they have to trust and rely on the one company to send all the information and run all the auctions. And while header companies are willing to play together a bit, that is taking it a little too far for most.
The other solution I’ve seen has been header-based server-to-server connections that serve as mediation platforms. It’s one company sending data off to their server, running a bunch of different auctions in their server and then sending it back.
So I see header-based mediation S2S as being advantageous for companies that are concerned about latency and don’t mind simpler header bidding setups, because you’re limiting yourself a bit. It’s kind of creating a new waterfall, except in the header. For certain companies, that’s fine. They’re more concerned about the latency and don’t have the developmental resources to manage a wrapper filled with 12 header bidding partners. It also depends on how much indirect sales you do.
Latency remains a huge issue in “traditional” header bidding, but advancements in bid architecture are changing the game. Forward-thinking header partners are now using single-request bid architecture. They’ve cut down on latency dramatically by sending out fewer calls.
However, S2S is still much faster because you’re taking all the weight out of the browser. It makes a lot of sense. I think both solutions are cool, and preferences are going to differ from publisher to publisher. There’s still enough space in this area for a variety of offerings.
CH: Last week, you were a moderator for the New York Yield Meetup. You talked about S2S site integrations, programmatic video, private marketplaces, and real-time guarantee. What were some insights you learned from the event that surprised you?
GD: It was pretty fascinating. It was great bunch of people: DailyMotion, CenterPoint Media, and Operative. It was especially interesting because Operative just announced an acquisition. They’ll be merging with another major order management system over the next year.
Programmatic video was a big focus because DailyMotion has a huge amount of inventory, and they sell the majority of it on a programmatic basis. They have had an interesting year because they were big partners with LiveRail.
When LiveRail shut down, Dailymotion had to almost start from scratch reconfiguring their monetization strategy. But they ended up finding a great group of partners and now actually have a smarter setup than before. Hey, sometimes when a company shuts down, good things can happen.
DailyMotion has had great experience with video private exchanges. They’re still concerned about the invalid traffic with the open exchanges. Same deal with CenterPoint Media, which advises both buy and sell side clients.
With Operative we got a couple of interesting comments about the potential for holistic yield management. Header bidding has opened the door for this by leveling the playing field among demand sources, but it doesn’t seem like the reporting tech has moved forward. It’s going to be up to companies like Operative, STAQ, and other reporting aggregators to up their game and build tools that can support holistic yield management before it becomes a true reality.
You might see some publishers that can do it on their own. But these are the publishers that have huge developmental resources—the ones that manage 12 header bidding partners in an customized open-source wrapper. Yeah, they’ve got the brains to do that.
The other interesting thing with order management systems (OMSs) is real-time guaranteed. This is another trend I think we’ll see advance next year. Already, you have people like OpenX, who are pushing out solutions. It’d be nice to see more flexibility that way. I also am curious if order management systems will be able to support real-time guaranteed—I think that will be a big hurdle.
CH: This is perfect and very comprehensive. Have you thought of publishing a book with all your knowledge?
GD: You know, I’ve had people over the years ask me, “Why don’t you write a book about this?” But the knowledge would be out of date in a year! Maybe only six months!
CH: Yes, online publishing is much better for you! Thank you for sharing your knowledge with our community. We’ll get to see which trends you predicted in 2017 come to fruition! Thanks again.
As Editorial Director, Gavin Dunaway hunts down the topics on the top of ad operation pros’ minds and turns them into in-depth feature articles. Gavin is a frequent speaker and contributor for ad ops events across the US and has spoken on header bidding, server-to-server integrations, private marketplaces, programmatic video, real-time guarantee, and more. While he was born and raised just outside of Washington, DC, he currently resides in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn because he is an unrepentant, though aging, hipster. When not diligently producing news and feature articles related to ad ops, he enjoys playing guitar so loud that the walls shake.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @AdMonsterGavin