Penske Media Pilots ‘Player Bidding’ With SpotX And JW In A Bid To Boost Video Revenue

Penske Media, the publisher of WWD, Variety and IndieWire and majority owner of Wenner Media, is doubling down on video across its portfolio.

Its formats range from snackable, short-form clips and pre-roll to text-based video and more cinematic, long-form series.

Although Penske’s video mix is diversified, monetizing that inventory to its fullest potential can be daunting.

“We know that demand is plentiful and, therefore, there’s more revenue out there, but on the programmatic side there are still technical issues we’ve experienced with latency from ad calls within the ad server,” said Brian Levine, VP of revenue operations for Penske Media.

Penske, which uses Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers as its primary ad server, is beginning to beta test a new integration between its video player JW Player and SSP SpotX.

The capability, dubbed “video player bidding,” is designed to help mitigate some of those pain points.

This integration is a twist on traditional header-bidding setups seen in display, where multiple demand sources could compete before calling the ad server (DFP/AdX). 

Instead, Penske can essentially use its video player to mediate programmatic demand through a direct, server-side integration to SpotX (and its more than 60 DSP partners).

The ad decisioning happens before a consumer ever renders the video, which promises to improve latency by reducing additional calls to its ad server.

That capability also promises to improve programmatic monetization.

If SpotX returns a bid that beats or matches the publisher’s defined price floor, JW’s technology can basically bypass the call to the ad server and find the most efficient source of demand.

“Up until now, we had primarily been relying on AdX fill, in addition to a little Facebook demand we’d bring in, but [the ad calls] were happening within the ad server, where we still struggled with latency and achieving a good fill rate,” Levine said. “We were definitely not capturing everything we wanted with video.”

In comparison, Penske’s header-bidding setup for display performed like a well-greased engine.

For any non-video inventory that’s not direct sold, Penske leans almost entirely on programmatic using a combination of header-bidding wrappers, including Prebid.js, Index Exchange and Amazon’s A9, to facilitate demand for display or native inventory.

But video is another story.

“We haven’t seen too many solutions work for video on the header-bidding front,” Levine said. “Sometimes they work but break other things in the process. Sometimes they don’t work at all. It’s challenging, and it’s something I imagine other publishers face as well.”

A turnkey integration between Penske’s video player and its SSP will help streamline its video monetization efforts.

But video can complicate publishers’ monetization strategies even further since the format is typically in short supply and requires steeper resources than display.

“There’s a whole library of complexities,” said Brian Rifkin, co-founder of JW Player. “In addition to discrepancies between VAST and VPAID tags, sometimes you get a bad wrapper from an agency or not enough creative. This goes to the opposite side of the spectrum, where someone may bid or wants to run an auction, but there’s no [supply].”

All of those factors add up to more latency and, at times, low fill rates for publishers, said SpotX CRO Sean Buckley.

Video’s specificities may also be why header bidding hasn’t taken off with quite the same gusto as display.

“You’re not just sending an ad opportunity everywhere on an open auction or trying to maximize as much yield as you can like with display header bidding,” Buckley said. “We saw this opportunity to create an integration that was really simple and straightforward and allowed media owners to realize the benefits of header bidding, but in a way that works for video, more than half of which is transacted privately now in our business.”

SpotX and JW’s video player bidding tool is in beta testing and will undergo a wider release March 1.

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