The Most Important Programmatic Trends of 2018 – H1 Review

Amit Liss
Director of Supply Partnerships
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The programmatic industry is young and energetic, new tech pops up fast and trends fade away rather quickly.

By popular demand we updated our 2018 programmatic trends article with the developments we saw during the first half of the year. You will find these review bits in the grey boxes below.

In 2017 we saw video budgets breaking records in the programmatic funnel. In an effort to improve ad quality standards across the industry, both buyers and sellers demonstrated willingness to experience short-term loss. Consolidation became the new buzzword and only the strongest SSPs providing unique value to publishers were able to survive. So what will 2018 bring? Here are the 4 trends you should be jumping on this year.

Parallel bidding

Header bidding has been around for a few years now, but until 2017, it wasn’t relevant for the in-app community. As there’s no header bidding for apps, it’s time to get used to the term, parallel bidding, if you haven’t already. Similar to header bidding for websites, parallel bidding gives mobile publishers a way to connect to various demand sources simultaneously, and in turn, it helps them achieve better results for in-app advertising.

The traditional waterfall is still king at the moment as the preferred in-app mediation method, but soon parallel bidding will take its place. Google’s EBDA and Amazon’s A9 have been leading this development, but a number of small players with a technology edge (like MAX) are also gaining real traction from app developers. SSPs and exchanges will have to adjust and provide parallel bidding for developers if they want to stay on the market and to remain competitive; they’ll have also had to be available as a demand partner on external parallel bidding solutions. As for the video, there’s still no solution yet, but that doesn’t mean the industry isn’t working on one.

As we expected, parallel bidding is indeed the hottest topic in the in-app industry. Recently, MAX, one of the small players we mentioned, was acquired by one of the industry giants, Applovin. Top publishers like TimeHop and Gameloft have come out with their parallel biding solutions, trying to utilize their own media most efficiently. Meanwhile, most of the leading SSPs, like Mobfox, InMobi, and Mopub have launched their in-app header bidding BETAs. I believe we will see more budgets in H2 flowing in this direction, using a 1st price auction mechanism in most cases. Where the industry is still lacking is a parallel bidding solution for video. For now, it seems those selling video inventory will be stuck with the traditional waterfall solution. The first decent solution for video parallel bidding will gain great traction from developers.


VAST 4.0

Video demand giants have been encouraging VPAID’s growing popularity over the last couple of years, and for a good reason: the demand side has all the power with VPAID because they manage the format. But this doesn’t work for developers who also want to maintain a level of control and not let just anyone play with their video players.
The industry needs a solution to mediate the needs of both supply and demand. For demand, the solution needs to measure ad quality and performance of the video with standardized performance metrics that show viewability and completion rates. For publishers, the solution should enable them to play the video on their assets. The good news is that this solution already exists in the form of VAST 4.0, but the industry has been slow to adopt it. This year, we expect to see wider use of VAST 4.0 across the board as the industry becomes more aware of the limitations of VPAID.

It looks like the adoption of VAST 4.0 is not going as fast as expected. Demand platforms like SpotX and Tremor are still investing their efforts to find VPAID supply for campaigns that are struggling to spend their full-on desktop or mobile web budget. On the other hand, it seems like developers are also not ready to give over the control of their assets to VPAID players.
Needless to say, when demand needs do not meet the supply interest, we are experiencing stagnation in this field. Thus developers are left with rewarded video as their revenue generator – while other video formats are yet to rise due to the VPAID obstruction. It will be VAST 4.0 or another solution that the industry is yet to find that will open up the blockage and allow premium demand to buy non-rewarded in-app traffic. Let’s hope this will happen in H2.


Audience targeting

To maintain large budgets at full scale for the programmatic world, advertisers need to see stronger returns on their ad spend. Since 2017, the programmatic landscape has been in the process of improving its targeting capabilities with the introduction of large-scale audience targeting. SSPs are integrating DMPs and building their own “brains” to handle their big data and making audiences a priority. This tech challenge is almost behind us and business will soon follow. It will take time for DSPs to adjust as it’s still a walled garden controlled by the giants: Google, Facebook, and Amazon – but, it will happen eventually. With the new data-tech, users will be targeted in a much more accurate way. Users, faced with more relevant advertising, will enjoy a better experience, and in return, advertisers will see stronger ROI. As long as all of the players in this game will play fair and adopt measures like GDPR to protect individual users, everyone will benefit.

Audience targeting is slowly gaining traction outside the walled-off garden of Google and Facebook. The GDPR put EU markets out of scope when it comes to the data play – at least until the number of users that give consent will be at scale again.
Outside the GDPR markets, we see that the advertiser side targets audiences mainly through the main exchanges like Appnexus, Rubicon and Index Exchange. Independent DSPs are still examining the expected ROI to start to go in this direction and develop their technologies around it. Most of the targeted budgets are flowing through PMPs and only a minor part is being executed on open RTB platforms. It will take a few more months to see the actual scale of audience targeting by DSPs – which on the other hand still need to gain more confidence in the data sources and make sure that audience targeting gives them real value and positive ROI.


Ads.txt goes in-app?

Ads.txt was adopted faster than expected. Yet for the moment, it’s only a solution for desktop and mobile web and doesn’t address in-app inventory. As budgets continue to shift to the in-app market, finding a solution is now more important than ever to combat those who are manipulating auctions and masking their fraudulent traffic as legitimate traffic. A possible solution that could work is as simple as adding a domain field to the app stores. Once a solution like this is implemented, expect to see a shift in advertising power towards those with direct connections over arbitrage networks who offer little unique value.

We are almost there! The IAB released a document for public comments on June, and it seems like in-app ads.txtwill be official soon. Top SSPs and exchanges with direct supply will be happy to adopt it, while resellers will slowly disappear. We expect to see the same trend as we saw on desktop and mobile web; fraudulent traffic will be reduced, and the ECPMs will improve. The adoption of this feature should take no longer than a year.


What else should you know about for a successful 2019?


Supply path optimization


Supply path optimization’s been around since 2017, but we see its effect mainly since 2018 Q2. More platforms like SpotX and Oath are applying this method as a feature on their exchanges, joining a handful of older users. This solution should help buyers to purchase their white lists of bundles efficiently through media channels connected to the exchange they are using. As a result, they see better ROI, the developers get better CPMs that compensate in exchange for the decrease in fill rate. Like ads.txt, this trend will also support SSPs with direct integration.

In-App 1st Price Auction


In accordance to the rise of parallel bidding solutions for the in-app environment, we see more SSPs examining different types of auctions to challenge the traditional 2nd price auction. 1st price auction was a big NO-NO for DSPs in the in-app space, but gradually part of them was warming up the idea and are giving it a chance. The RTB protocol supports it with a relevant flag, and nowadays in-app SSPs build their supportive features to separate waterfall traffic from the parallel auction media. Transparency is a key to the success of this initiative which probably will gain more traction in the following months.

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