Programmatic’s Long Struggle With Mobile Complicates The Future Of Video

joshspeyer-tvvideoOn TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Josh Speyer, CEO at AerServ.

By now you’ve seen the headlines. Video viewers are shifting from TV and desktop to devices, making mobile video the fastest-growing digital advertising medium.

And yet it remains to be seen just how advertisers will buy all of this mobile media in what is still a fragmented and nonstandardized ad medium. The truth is that the programmatic ad tech for buying mobile video has not yet progressed enough and remains the biggest challenge to the growth of mobile video.

One assumption behind the growth stats is that advertisers will leverage programmatic buying platforms, such as demand-side platforms (DSPs) and exchanges, to target audiences across screens. DSPs have indeed done a really good job of trying to make the mobile buying process simple and consistent with desktop buying. Look at most programmatic buying interfaces today and you’ll see a wide variety of mobile video properties to choose from, as well as an assortment of targeting options, real-time pricing and inventory estimates.

From a demand perspective, it appears that the technical and marketplace challenges complicating mobile video have all been worked out. But, in fact, it just looks that way.

What makes programmatic buying work is end-to-end creative and inventory uniformity: Square pegs go in square holes, round pegs go in round holes. Desktop video buying works reasonably well in this world of uniform browsers and standardized ad units. In contrast, mobile video inventory is much like a mixed bag of nuts and bolts of all shapes and sizes.

The challenge for DSPs is that they don’t always have good information about the mobile inventory they offer. Most DSPs are at best a few exchanges away from the actual inventory and rely on often-incomplete bidstream information to know what creative specs are supported at the mobile app or site level.

To mitigate fragmentation issues, DSPs generally limit the types of creative units and tracking that can be served through their platforms. This ensures they can offer buyers enough volume while minimizing tech glitches that impact performance. For mobile video, most support some form of plain VAST pre-roll. Targeting is generally limited as targetable user pools in mobile are still relatively small. Interactive mobile video inventory, most favored by brands, is often unrepresented since it requires a lot of manual effort and a deeper knowledge of mobile video players and SDKs.

This means it’s likely that most programmatic buying platforms can only access and serve a fraction of the total mobile inventory in-market and don’t support richer ad formats natively. And because most buying platforms are serving to the same pool of “safe” properties, much of the inventory has become overmediated, leading to perceived marketplace distortions in pricing and supply availability that frustrate buyers and mobile publishers.

So what’s needed? Buyers have already found ways to access large, more diverse pools of supply by going directly to mobile SSPs and big publishers with private marketplace contracts. And supply platforms have started catering more to the needs of buyers directly, going around the middlemen and offering buying portals and hiring agency-focused sales people.

Though direct buying is one solution, it doesn’t address the longer-term requirements of large ad buyers who need easy access to scalable cross-screen audiences. Ultimately, DSPs are still the solution, though they need to invest more in understanding and building solutions specifically for mobile ad tech, instead of trying to adapt desktop serving technology to make do. This may require mergers between DSPs and supply-side platforms, marrying the required demand-side service levels with the in-depth technical understanding of mobile supply.

Whatever the solution, it’s clear that programmatic buying platforms need to do more to adapt to a multiscreen world so that advertisers can reach audiences on the move. There’s no going back from here.

Follow AerServ (@AerServ) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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