Univision Test Drives Server-Side Header Bidding, Aims For More Video And In-App Ads

Spanish-language broadcaster Univision’s media sales arm has been busy the past six months.

In addition to packaging Univision Digital inventory more holistically with sister portfolio properties like The Root, Fusion and The Onion, Univision has tweaked its programmatic stack on the back end.

That overhaul is one of the agenda items for Dave Katz, who joined Univision as VP and GM of programmatic revenue and operations in July, when the broadcaster Univision had just formed Fusion Media Group, which comprises The Onion, The Root and Fusion.

Within a month, Univision bought Gawker for $135 million and rolled it into Fusion Media Group under the rebranded name, Gizmodo Media Group.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Katz said. “Each company worked with different advertisers and budgets, so we’re working carefully with our partners on the Fusion and [Gizmodo Media Group] sides to get aligned. The last thing an advertiser wants is to be pitched by three people from the same company.”

To sell holistically, Univision needed to streamline its programmatic stack. The company worked with 10-15 vendors to accommodate its stable of exchanges, networks and supply-side platforms. 

“There were a lot of black boxes and we didn’t have an easy way of viewing how inventory performed across the board,” he said. “The first thing we did was launch the analytics platform Domo and aggregate everything we were doing.”

Univision evaluated programmatic performance by geography, platform, views across apps and by vendor. If Univision determined a type of inventory had been undervalued, it would install a direct salesperson to make changes and improve yield.

Univision also implemented a header bidding wrapper early on – and was one of the first pubs to test out server-to-server header bidding, working with partners including Amazon. Amazon recently rolled out a server-side header bidding tool for publishers.

The goal of server-side header bidding is to get the benefits of header bidding in the cloud – more bids from more demand partners – without the detriments of client-side (browser-based header) deployments, like slower page loads.

Although it’s still early in Univision’s server-side tests, Univision has been able to create a fairer auction and increase its number of demand partners without disturbing the user experience.

Katz, who spent time at Time Inc. and Heart’s Core Audience, said monetizing in-app inventory remains a big driver for many of Univision’s programmatic technology decisions.

“In order to monetize app inventory programmatically required SDK integrations in many cases, and server-to-server header bidding removes that need,” he said. “Once we have the wrapper and our main header solution integrated into the app, everything else can go server-side directly that way.”

Univision’s New Inventory Mix

Univision is also pursuing new means of monetization after its digital and entertainment chief outlined a mandate for more digital video amid Univision’s restructure of Fusion Media Group in November.

“We’re a TV company first, so obviously we are very interested in video formats,” Katz said. “Our sales team does a great job selling every available impression across linear and digital, so there is always more appetite for pre-roll.”

In addition to growing Univision’s app-based inventory, it’s exploring other formats such as outstream video and native.

“OTT is such a new opportunity for the industry as a whole and we’re in the test phase of doing dynamic ad insertion into linear streaming,” he said. “As part of that, programmatic will play a larger role, so we will be responsible for the main implementation of it as a [dedicated] sales team is launched.”

Katz reports to Eyal Ebel, SVP of programmatic revenue for Fusion Media Group and the former Gawker Media VP of programmatic.

While the Fusion and Gizmodo Media Groups have dedicated direct sales teams, Katz and Univision Digital work closely with all FMG partners to balance Univision Digital’s programmatic buys with private marketplaces and guaranteed deals across the board.

All programmatic is now consolidated under Mike McAvoy, CEO of The Onion, since Univision restructured FMG in November.

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