Has Been Quietly Helping Publishers Move To Server-Side Bidding

media-netTwo years ago, started helping publishers move their header bidding partners to a speedier server-to-server configuration, which has since attracted publishers like The Atlantic, Forbes, The New York Times and WebMD. had largely not marketed itself, said COO Namit Merchant. But following a $900 million acquisition this past summer by a Chinese consortium, it is ready to make some noise – and sign up more publishers. And with Amazon throwing its hat into the server-side bidding ring last week, the space will likely get crowded soon.

Merchant expects other tech companies to get involved as well.

“This time next year, everything will be server-to-server. The [header bidding] wrapper thing isn’t going to last long,” Merchant said.

The biggest issue publishers face with header bidding is latency. “When you have 10 tags on the page, it’s a mess,” Merchant said. The browser-based setup also means “data is leaking all over the place.” is a demand partner for a publisher’s server-side header bidding setup. For instance, it offers unique demand from Yahoo search advertisers buying contextual ads. Ads from search advertisers are the same reason why publishers prize Google AdExchange, which contains demand from AdWords search customers.’s server-side platform also fields demand from a publication’s other exchange partners, including supply-side platforms such as AppNexus. became The Atlantic’s second-largest programmatic revenue source. And exchanges scheduled in the ad server barely see any inventory anymore.

“All the players in the waterfall have gone down to insignificant revenue,” said Ethan James, executive director of programmatic strategy and revenue operations at The Atlantic. “At some point we will take them out.”

The Atlantic works with in two ways. For some exchanges, holds the contract and handles discrepancies and The Atlantic just receives a check with a fee taken out.

For others, The Atlantic holds the contract. plans to charge a software-as-a-service fee in that scenario. The publisher is in the final stages of implementing a few additional partners, including native platforms Sharethrough, TripleLift and DistrictM.

“We are not looking to integrate with any other demand sources or SSPs unless they go through [] or Google’s EBDA [exchange bidding in dynamic allocation],” James said.

Although a server-side setup processes bids faster (which lets the buy side more time to return bids before the auction ends, thereby increasing bid density and publisher revenue), publishers still cap the time they are willing to wait for exchanges to return bids.

When The Atlantic increased its extremely conservative timeout by 36% two weeks ago, win rate grew by a factor of five.

The knock against server-side bidding, however, is that it’s more opaque than a header tag. As with header bidding wrappers, ad buyers might not want to participate in a nontransparent solution that prioritizes itself or uses another bidder’s data. While being on the page can leak data, that also means it’s easier for everyone to see what’s going on.

“There is no way to completely alleviate the concern, but we provide publishers and platforms transparent reporting,” Merchant said.

Forbes, for example, said has offered up more data beyond its dashboard. “If I ask for it, I get it,” said Achir Kalra, SVP of revenue and strategic operations at Forbes. Contract terms ensure fee transparency, he added.

Because server-side auctions process faster, SSPs have enough time to return their two highest bids instead of just the clearing price. Some of’s exchange partners use that extra time to return a first price and second price instead of a final bid.

When the auction clears, an advertiser with a high bid can beat out other exchanges, a trump card that benefits both advertisers seeking high-value user and publishers, who see a boost in revenue.

While header bidding has been adopted by publishers large and small, Kalra predicts the largest publishers will move to server-side bidding first.

“Big publishers will absolutely need to go this way,” he said. “Client-side solutions don’t have the scalability and limit the number of partners.”

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