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The SSP Is Dead; Long Live the SSP

To represent and trade in publisher inventory successfully, SSPs have to be much more than a dumb pipe to the programmatic marketplace. Writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Emma Newman explains why PubMatic embraces the term ‘SSP’ and how SSPs have had to evolve as programmatic develops.

Programmatic has advanced rapidly in the last few years. The once active resistance to anything associated with programmatic advertising, especially among traditional media players, has now become a more constructive desire to understand it and to harness the growth opportunities. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the actions by groups like DCN and the IAB to see that the tide has turned.

The arrival of brand advertising to programmatic platforms, as well as relentless innovation (header bidding and wrappers, native, video, fraud prevention, etc.), are placing ever-greater, ever more complex demands on publishers. To help them succeed, SSPs have had to not just keep pace, but drive that innovation.

When programmatic first emerged, it was chiefly used as the trading platform for unsold inventory. Now, it is close to the default means of buying and selling media. That means SSPs should be not merely the route to auction-driven demand, but the platform by which publishers understand, manage, represent, and monetise all their digital inventory.

Change factors

We see four major factors driving the evolution of programmatic and with which SSPs have had to keep pace to help publishers survive and thrive.

1. The shift of brand advertising spend to automated pipes has blurred the lines between direct and programmatic.

As the value of automation has moved to the forefront of industry dialogue, we have seen sell-side technology providers pivot from being point solutions to becoming full-stack, programmatic and ad-serving platforms.

2. Monetisation opportunities have expanded across a wider range of screens and ad formats.

Consumer browsing behaviour has become increasingly mobile-first, resulting in more opportunities across devices. Further, changing sentiments have led to the adoption of more premium ad formats, including video, native, and OTT. As programmatic is now prevalent across all major screens and formats, the omnichannel SSP has to be capable of supporting transactions across the full range of publisher inventory.

3. Managing the high-scale transaction processing and massive big data volumes that accompany automated trading has become more complex. With access to media permeating consumers’ entire day, there has been an explosion in the amount of data available to marketers. This has set off a competition in developing technologies which leverage data to drive programmatic buying and selling strategies. SSPs have an infrastructure of global data centres, fine-tuned algorithms, and expertise which publishers can employ to level the playing field with their demand-side counterparts.

4. Publishers have recognised that the walled gardens of Google and Facebook are competing for the same media pounds.

The threat of Google and Facebook, in terms of 85% of all digital ad spend going to those two players, is real. Although Google and Facebook loom large, publishers have taken a tougher stance by choosing independent players as strategic partners. An independent, focused technology partner can offer a huge value in terms of transparency, simplification, and more tailored customer service. Using a single provider to combine inventory gives media companies more control in a fragmented market.

The future

Not so long ago, we heard pronouncements of the “death of the SSP”; but, in reality, publishers need SSPs more than ever. The ongoing success of those that have evolved beyond their roots as point players to a full-stack technology solution shows these pronouncements were premature. Ultimately, SSPs that don’t evolve according to the technology, times, and trends will risk becoming irrelevant. As ad tech transitions through the evolution we are experiencing, only those SSPs that deliver true partnership value will thrive.