Are Ad Servers Specifically For Publishers Or Advertisers Still Necessary?

ad servingPublisher ad server. Advertiser ad server. Does it really matter any more?

As ad servers on both sides of the digital media aisle look to buy and sell, ad serving capabilities would, in theory, appear to be on the verge of merging – especially as demand-side platforms, sell-side platforms and exchanges take over the delivery of real-time biddable ad impressions.

AdExchanger reached out to executives in the data-driven ad ecosystem and asked the following:

“Are ad servers specifically dedicated to the publisher or advertiser still necessary?”

Click below or scroll for more:

James Avery, CEO, Adzerk

“No. As a product guy it baffles me that they have continued as separate products for so long. The difference between a publisher side ad server and an advertiser side ad server is small enough that many small and medium size advertisers currently use publisher ad servers (especially the free ones). Adding to the pressure for these products to combine is that the modern ad network tends to be a half publisher and half advertiser – on any given day they might be optimizing the traffic that comes from their publishers or placing ad buys through the exchanges or through other publisher side ad servers. As publisher side ad servers continue to add the features that these networks and small advertisers are looking for the feature gap will close and advertiser side ad servers will start to see more and more competition from the publisher side ad servers.”

Sebastiaan Schepers, COO, BannerConnect

Today, yes. In the future… probably not. The rise of RTB changed the landscape; people now talk about “bidders” instead of ad servers. Many seem to forget about challenges like: scale, learning and prediction. The RTB landscape is also relatively young and it will take a while for it to mature and to have all the necessary tools to suit both buyers and sellers.

There are a couple of challenges, though:

  • Premium: integrating features like mobile, video and rich media
  • Data: managing data and making it ‘exchangeable’ should be as easy as managing campaigns
  • Hands-on tech: many agencies and web publishers just don’t have the resources to spend on today’s hands-on tech marketplace. Outsourcing is still a big reason why for example SSP’s are successful.
  • Attribution: many have tried, but few are successful when it comes to multi-channel attribution. We need to be able to account for all digital channels, not just display and search.

It’s very likely that ultimately we’ll serve ads dynamically across multiple screens (think of TV, outdoor, tablets) from just one platform. The term ad server will no longer do, so let’s give the investment firms a new acronym to jump onto.”

Dean McRobie, CTO, annalect (Omnicom)

“Despite the current emergence of ‘full stack’ players (a la Google and Adobe) I believe publisher side ad servers are still incredibly relevant. I firmly believe that the best ad tech architecture, has to be open source, pluggable, and ideally best of breed. If the software world has taught us anything it’s that open ecosystems innovate faster than big stacks.”

Ben Kneen, Director of Ad Products, WebMD

“Maybe the same companies provide ad serving to both sides, but in terms of a dedicated product offering and client service organization, my answer is most definitely, yes. In my opinion, publishers and advertisers have fundamentally different requirements when it comes to ad serving, and will for the foreseeable future. Publishers have complex needs, for example, when it comes to targeting ads, reporting, and forecasting by their own inventory segments, usually at a much more granular level than they actually sell. Publishers are also much more focused on latency, since so many assets today are ad served on their pages, beyond just your standard display units. The advertiser challenge on the other hand seems more focused on creative and campaign performance measurements.

To me, these seem like very different needs, even if both sides rely on some of the same technical processes to make an ad show up on a page. I can see a time in a few years where many services converge to support a cross-channel RTB environment, allowing advertisers take a more active role in directly controlling their own targeting, or want to use one tag for mobile and desktop placements, for example, but that won’t cover all the bases for the digital ad business, there will always be different needs.”

Eric Simon, VP Business Operations, [x+1]

“Ad servers are still critical components of the ad-tech stack on both the buy and sell side. Media buyers still need an ad server to buy media in the digital space. And Ad Serving companies are in a great position to add value to their current offerings. Yes, core ad serving is commoditized, but this represents an opportunity for ad serving companies to evolve and add more features and functionality. MediaMind seemingly came out of left field over the past year for agency buys. Why? They added analytics and dynamic creative optimization functionality as part of their suite of tools. For publishers, it’s less clear. So far, the ad serving companies on the sell side are not evolving to address real publisher needs. Long tail pubs could join an exchange, SSP, or network, but if they have a direct sales force, they also need an ad server as no exchange, SSP, or Network is going to help manage multiple sources of demand. For example, I met with a publisher recently who is using DFP to serve, DemDex to manage their Data, Right Media and ADX for exchange demand, Metamarkets for analytics, and two engineers try to make sense of it all.”

Brian Tomasette, VP Media Products, DoublePositive Marketing Group

“Adserving has become a tricky messy segment of the industry where most players in the game have packed up and quit, been acquired or have become satisfied with good enough. I’m not too familiar with the publisher side but many companies focusing on the advertiser side are marketing themselves as tag management, attribution modeling, landing page optimization tools, or even DSP’s. The truth is each of them are fundamentally an adserver or ad tracking device. The differences are that they either dip further into the publisher side of the equation or dip further into the conversion funnel side of the equation.

De-duplication and ad control are becoming less important as people wake up to the fact of imperfection in cookie distribution, big data aggregation, and the shear volume of impressions it takes to get a conversion and are starting to focus on effectiveness which lends to linking the adserving deeper into the conversion funnel and the advertisers customer analytics. So my thoughts are that the common adserver is a waste of money, but the evolution of the adserver which links ad serving and interaction with site analytics and consumer analytics, then yes, they are more relevant than ever.”

Larry Allen, SVP Business Development, 24/7 Real Media

“Hell yes! Ad Server requirements differ significantly for buyers and sellers who evaluate inventory and manage it from different vantage points.

Buyers have very focused campaign goals that they track across each media partner. They look to the buy-side ad server to make the deployment of each creative ad unit, and the reporting, more efficient. Most of the buy-side servers are integrated with agency media planning tools to help automate the trafficking process. Attribution and downstream performance tracking are also an integral part of the ad server that helps buyers with creative and media optimizations.

The publisher (sell-side) ad server is more complicated. The seller needs many more advanced controls over inventory, placement, targeting criteria, pacing etc. and must optimize the delivery of creative units across numerous connected devices. The seller needs detailed information, about which advertisements are delivered where, and must show detailed inventory forecasts based on target audiences, performance and placement. Additionally, with the move to greater automation (RTB) publishers need to have the ability to segment inventory based on price, content and audience. They need to allocate it either to all buyers or specific private buyers and yield optimize inventory based on price, relationship and target.”

By John Ebbert

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  1. Pradeep Javangula

    Ad serving capabilities required on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, are very different. The premise of the question is baffling – if sellers are buying to extend media access, how does that replace the needs of their advertiser clients for 3rd party verified counts, attribution, control of the creative etc.? Ad exchanges and RTB sources do not and cannot necessitate the merge of these two. Sell-side ad server technology is very different from a buy-side ad server in terms of the goals. A better question is – how must these technologies and standards inter-operate on the server side to reduce discrepancies, and remove reliance on cookies. It is an existential question for many businesses in the ecosystem if 3rd party tracking is disabled or not supported altogether. That’s a better discussion, one for which there are no obvious technical and operational answers.

  2. We certainly see a trend of publishers requiring *some* features that are traditionally tied to the advertiser ad server.

    Rich media, third-party ad delivery and the DSP mode are becoming more important for publishers, but there is a number of features that exist in the advertiser version that don’t make much sense to publishers.

    That feature set includes cross-channel attribution, integration with Omniture and Google Analytics, trafficking tools as well as some audit reporting that is more relevant for third party delivery.

    Mind you, if we were to offer just an androgynous “ad server” it would be equally confusing for everyone…

  3. Both Publishers and Advertisers want to:

    1) Accurately serve a creative to an end user.
    2) Accurately record and report on the serving of that creative.
    3) Control how the creative it targeted and shown. (the ways can vary between advertisers and publishers)

    I am not saying advertisers will stop using ad servers on their side – but that increasingly publisher and advertiser will use the same ad servers instead of separate products. Although there will be some differences in features used, the differences are small enough that the same core systems can be used. (just like ad networks use different features of an ad server than publishers – but the same core products are used)

  4. No disagreement there. But I do believe that it’s important to manage positioning for both, as customers expect different levels of support and service around the platform.

  5. Incredible piece of knowledge on Ad Servers. We are new in the industry and looking to connect Advertisers and Publishers for better Ads results. Thanks for sharing John.