APAC Publishers Gain Control with Header Bidding, but Must Mind the Pitfalls

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Header bidding offers publishers in Asia-Pacific the ability to regain control over ad-decisioning and enables them to provide access to scaled programmatic inventory. There are, however, challenges unique to certain markets in the region that publishers need to look out for. In this industry byliner, PubMatic’s Asia-Pacific director of marketing, Nigel Kwan (pictured below), explains what these are.

Whilst it may seem to lurch from one existential crisis to another – spanning ad fraud, viewability, and walled gardens, to name a few – what is undisputed is that programmatic is, and has been for several years now, mainstream and dominating the agenda. It is shaping the fabric of marketing planning and investment across the globe.

The evolution of programmatic has been breathtaking. In several years, it evolved from the wild west days of remnant inventory to an increasingly sophisticated ecosystem in which big brand marketers are buying larger and larger amounts of premium inventory, overlaid with data-led decisioning and programmatic workflow efficiency.

Such rapid evolution has been driven by the accelerated maturity of the industry and the sophisticated demands we see today. Brands now are making ultimatums regarding levels of transparency and openness, as highlighted by P&G’s Marc Pritchard at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.

The demand side is increasingly focused on priority access to quality inventory through PMPs (private marketplaces) and programmatic direct, rather than just low-cost inventory through open auction. With the supply side emerging more confident and influential than ever, publishers are taking back control of their monetisation and challenging the dominance of the Google-Facebook duopoly.

With the ecosystem dynamics shifting and levelling the playing field, publishers are beginning to find themselves with unprecedented influence, raising the question of how they can fully realise this opportunity.

Nigel Kwan, APAC Marketing Director, PubMatic

From our point of view, there are three key factors to consider: the ability to regain control over ad-decisioning; value of interoperability; and importance of credible alternatives.

Regain ad-decisioning control

Header bidding allows publishers to take back control of ad-decisioning by making inventory available to various buyers simultaneously. This increases competition and maximises yield.

Value of interoperability

Wrappers were launched as the natural evolution of header bidding tactics, enabling publishers to manage multiple header bidding solutions without causing latency and slow page loads. In addition, they give publishers control and metrics to help them manage and optimise across header tags, maximise revenue, and deliver greater ROI (returns on investment) for advertisers.

Choosing an ‘open’ wrapper solution is key. Wrappers’ true value can only be realised if they provide seamless integration with all demand sources. However, some tech vendors in the region have adopted an ‘every wrapper for itself’ approach, with certain exchanges and SSP providers reluctant – or in some cases even unwilling – to integrate new demand partners. This poses an additional challenge for the marketplace.

Importance of credible alternatives

Crucially for advertisers, header bidding unlocks full visibility into a publisher’s inventory, providing first-look access to inventory previously reserved for direct sales and improving campaign performance by up to 20%, according to some estimates.

Publishers in Asia-Pacific now can provide access to scaled programmatic inventory, which provides a credible alternative to the Google-Facebook duopoly. With no immediate solution to the challenges walled gardens pose in terms of standardised viewability and measurement, header bidding allows advertisers to work at scale with publishers where this is not a concern.

Of course, nuances prevail throughout the various markets in this region, as PubMatic’s various country leads highlight.

Latency & unified reporting challenge Indian publishers

Our India country manager, Sudipto Das, notes that on-page latency is a major concern for publishers when header bidding is implemented there. This is particularly so for mobile web integration, since data speeds in India are not consistent. Having an in-market team, hence, is important to help the publisher navigate through the complexity of the integration.

Das adds that with the introduction of wrappers, publishers face the challenge of unified reporting, especially with multiple partners running within the wrapper. This stresses the need for publishers to work with an open-source wrapper solution that includes reporting services to streamline analytics and insight. And, as publishers move into programmatic, there can be internal conflict with direct sales teams that see programmatic as a threat.

Successful Indian publishers have restructured, retrained, and remunerated their sales organisations appropriately so that programmatic has become an opportunity, not a threat, Das says.

ANZ must divert resources & dismantle waterfall

Down Under, PubMatic’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Peter Barry, says publishers need to choose partners that have a physical presence in-market and a focus on customers. Being able to work through challenges face-to-face is vital to success, he adds.

And, before implementing their header bidding and wrapper solutions, publishers need to convince internal stakeholders to divert resources and time, as well as to dismantle their legacy waterfall setup. Even though waterfalls are inefficient and, in most cases, are only of benefit to players like Google, they have been around for such a long time that some publishers are reticent to move to a header-bidding setup.

Barry also explains that publishers in ANZ are tasked with reducing latency; and this is a real focus area for their business. “Whilst performance uplift from our wrapper integrations has been impressive, the latency can still be a sticking point”, he notes. “We’re seeing a shift to the server-side wrapper solution as a result.”

SEA publishers fight to gain scale

PubMatic’s Asia-Pacific vice president, Jason Barnes, observes that fragmented markets in Southeast Asia means scale is really hard to achieve and buyers are unable to reach the audiences required to make their PMP deals effective.

This plays into Facebook and Google’s hands, as they do have scale in this region and are, therefore, getting a disproportionate amount of share, Barnes says. As header bidding and wrapper solutions offer buyers the ability to view the entire cookie pool and, therefore, significantly grow the size of the programmatic ad inventory, PMP deals are now easier to scale and individual publishers can be a more appealing to buyers.

He adds that publishers in Southeast Asia generally have small operations and engineering teams and resources are always thin on the ground. As header bidding and wrappers do require code tweaks on pages, they need the required people to implement and test, and this can be time-consuming. That is why service and support are so critical in this region, Barnes says.

“Large-scale quality first-party data is rarely available, which again plays into Facebook and Google, as they have this data to overlay against their large audiences”, he notes. “Increasingly, we’ll see publishers working with first-party data-rich partners, like credit card providers and telcos, to enrich and deepen their targeting options, driving up the premium and uniqueness of their inventory.”

So, the future is bright for publishers. With a committed leadership team, the right sales strategy and structure and, crucially, the right ad tech partners, publishers can confidently take back control of ad-decisioning and be prepared to take advantage of future monetisation opportunities as the ecosystem rapidly evolves.

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