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Oath Revamps Its Header Bidding-Like Tech For Mobile Apps

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The in-app waterfall is drying up. On Monday, Oath released a new version of Super Auction, its replacement technology for the ad network mediation role that mobile networks have traditionally fulfilled.

Previously, ONE by AOL would host an auction for AOL’s own demand through its software development kit and send the top bid to the developer’s SSP partner, where it might compete against the highest bids from other demand sources. The winner would get the placement.

In the new iteration, AOL’s Super Auction runs in parallel against demand from the publisher’s SSP. The result is a more competitive auction that’s less of a technical hassle to set up, said Patrick McCormack, Oath’s VP of publisher sales.

“But the spirit of what we’re doing is the same,” McCormack said. “It comes back to the need for transparency and getting fair value for publisher supply.”

Exasperation with the waterfall and the black box ad server ecosystem served as a flashpoint on desktop around three years ago. Now, in-app header bidding (so-called despite there being no header in apps) is having its moment for the very same reason.

“What’s driving the need for ‘in-app header bidding’ is the need to keep the incumbent SSP platforms honest in terms of how publishers realize demand,” McCormack said. “That’s the interesting irony in some of the recent announcements we’ve seem about in-app header bidding and unified auction solutions.”

Google’s AdMob rolled out a beta for its answer to in-app header bidding on Friday, a few months after Twitter’s MoPub said it’s testing a similar solution. Beyond the biggies, a third-party vendor ecosystem is cropping up with waterfall-killer tools of their own.

It’s getting crowded, but there’s room for multiple players here, McCormack said. Developers may have a preferred ad server or a mediation layer of choice, but they monetize with multiple partners.

“This is not a winner takes all scenario,” he said. “We see developers choosing to have multiple super auction container partners because different partners bring different demand.”

But McCormack reckons that Oath brings something unique to the table that other vendors in the space don’t have: first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing publishers. Oath manages a family of more than 50 owned and operated publisher brands, including HuffPost, TechCrunch and Makers, and uses its own ad tech to drive revenue for them.

“We’re a publisher, too, and that’s allowed us to have a deep appreciation for what publishers want, which is not always the same thing as what ad tech vendors want,” McCormack said. “Publishers need an open and transparent auction environment where exchange platforms can’t play games in how demand is applied to publisher supply.”

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McCormack claims that AOL never advantaged its own demand, even back in the waterfall mediation days. Oath doesn’t even take a fee for the traffic that runs through its superauction, he said.

“The way we make money is when our demand delivers the ad impression,” McCormack said. “We’re competitive with the SSPs and if they win the impression, that’s okay. We’re just trying to give publishers the tools to find the highest eCPM for every impression.”

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