The Trade Desk Suppresses Bid Duplication Amid COVID-19 Traffic Surge

The coronavirus pandemic brought everyone online, leading to a surge in traffic. But it’s expensive to process all the programmatic ad requests that come with that traffic. Plus, CPMs are falling industrywide.

So two weeks ago, The Trade Desk asked exchanges to stop sending duplicate bid requests for the same ad impression. The request initially came with a tight deadline for exchanges: this Wednesday.

“In recent weeks, we have seen a spike in duplicative supply, and we are simply asking suppliers to work with us and eliminate this duplication,” The Trade Desk confirmed in a statement to AdExchanger. “Our goal with this change is to see every ad opportunity once per exchange. This will help create a fair and transparent marketplace for advertisers and publishers, which is a key to the trust and integrity necessary to ensure a growing, thriving market.”

The idea of cutting down on bid duplication predates the coronavirus pandemic. But the extra traffic has added millions in server costs, a burden shouldered largely by DSPs, as well as the agencies and marketers who pay for this cost as part of the ad tech tax. So there’s an extra economic incentive to cut out bid duplication now, and fast.

The Trade Desk’s ask is technically possible for exchanges to do – but it’s not simple, and can’t be done overnight.

“It’s not a light switch, it’s an evolution,” said Rubicon Project CTO Tom Kershaw. The exchange plans to make many changes quickly in order to accommodate The Trade Desk’s requests, but removing duplication completely and in a standardized way will mean people need to adopt a little-used OpenRTB spec, the source transaction ID, he said.

The bid duplication The Trade Desk wants to remove arose as a quirk of header bidding.

Publishers that slot the same six exchanges into multiple header-bidding auctions, such as Prebid, Google open bidding and Amazon Transparent Ad Marketplace, send 18 identical bid requests for the same piece of inventory to The Trade Desk. Currently, DSPs often begrudgingly evaluate them all, and find it hard to tell if the impression is exactly the same.

The Trade Desk is asking exchanges to pick one path – Prebid, Google open bidding or Amazon TAM – so it only sees six ad impressions for the same thing.

Winners and losers

Since The Trade Desk is a heavyweight buyer in the programmatic space, the move will have far-reaching impacts across the industry.

The Trade Desk believes this move will benefit everyone: “Transparency is critical to ensuring trust across the digital advertising ecosystem,” The Trade Desk’s statement read. “This is in everyone’s interest.”

Broadly, most agree with The Trade Desk, and feel that the move is in line with other supply-path optimization initiatives, a generally positive trend that’s streamlined programmatic by removing waste.

“The industry continues to shift towards ‘fewer and better,’” said TripleLift Chief Strategy Officer Ari Lewine. “That means fewer, better impressions, partners and paths. Today, that means cutting out the same inventory coming through multiple wrappers. Next comes cutting out resold inventory and bid duplication.”

But the move will create a new equilibrium. “There is a volume bias in our industry,” Rubicon Project’s Kershaw described. Exchanges and publishers who seemed “bigger” due to bid duplication often received more bid responses from DSPs.

So exchanges and publishers with little bid duplication could potentially see a slight uptick in spend from The Trade Desk as exchanges and publishers with high bid duplication are required to slash how many bid requests they send to the DSP.

What about Google? Its exchange is an outlier, in that AdX demand has only ever been available in one place, now known as Google Ad Manager. So Google AdX could end up gaining share once bid duplication is removed. But open bidding – where exchanges can compete with AdX inside Google Ad Manager for a fee – could lose exchanges if publishers opt for their one-and-only path to be Prebid.

“Prebid is independent, publishers control it and it’s the least expensive,” said Kershaw, who also serves as the chairman of and is one of its staunchest advocates. “This is a reason for Prebid to continue its acceleration forward.”

And Amazon TAM, with its server-side connection, has been a popular place for publishers to slot in exchanges. But if they have to pick just one, will publishers pick Amazon, Google or something independent?

Industry insiders expect that Prebid will broadly end up being the most popular choice, while the Amazon and Google paths will likely be chosen by publishers with specific needs or inventory niches.

Trade Desk also doesn’t have the ability to enforce removal of bid duplication. So exchanges could cheat or implement unevenly, putting exchanges that do comply at an advantage.

Meanwhile, exchanges will be scrambling as they have other priorities to deal with during the coronavirus pandemic. “The concern is that this is not the best time to be such a dramatic overhaul of how things work in programmatic,” Kershaw said. “This has the potential, after a bunch of drama, to be a really good thing for the industry. It also has the potential to be a really bad thing for the industry.”

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