How The Meet Group battles header bidding’s mobile app problem

Header bidding’s got a mobile app problem, but that hasn’t stopped The Meet Group from trying to bring together a unified auction within its apps.

The Meet Group — a publicly traded company that owns social networking and dating apps MeetMe, Skout, Tagged and hi5 — started doing header bidding within its apps eight months ago using OpenX and AppNexus. On average, the company brings in about $40,000 per day through in-app header bidding, which accounts for 10-15 percent of its in-app ad revenue, said Bill Alena, CRO of The Meet Group.

While The Meet Group still sells most of its app inventory through waterfalling — where publishers move their inventory from one market to the next — what’s significant about its adoption of header bidding is that it is even able to pull it off. In-app header bidding has been slow to take off, but it presents a huge revenue opportunity as user attention moves toward mobile. Half of time spent on digital devices is in mobile apps, according to comScore.

Header bidding — where publishers simultaneously offer inventory to multiple exchanges before making calls to their ad servers — was originally designed for desktop, so its setup and functionality is entirely different on mobile, which makes it harder to implement in-app. (Even the phrase “in-app header bidding” is a misnomer because there is no browser in an app and, therefore, no header of a browser for the bidder’s code to be plugged into.)

For example, in desktop header bidding, publishers rely on wrapper tags to centrally host their supply-side platforms, which makes it easier for publishers to alter and manage vendor tags. Wrappers can also capture all bids while submitting just the highest bid to the ad server, which means the information gets processed faster since less data is running through the system.

But there currently isn’t a product that collects vendor tags in-app in this manner. So The Meet Group coded its app so its ad server receives all bids from each vendor. It took about two months for The Meet Group to set this up. Since the beginning of the year, each of its apps averaged between 1 million and 2.5 million active users per month, according to Apptopia. MeetMe was The Meet Group’s only app among the top 500 downloaded apps last month, according to App Annie. The company said it serves about 400 million ad impressions per day, on average.

Another issue with mobile app header bidding is that new bidders have to upload their own software development kits, which let third parties integrate their features — in turn slowing down load times and hurting user experience.

The Meet Group hasn’t seen a noticeable difference in load times since it started using header bidding, Alena said. But it’s been cautious about implementing new vendors. With desktop header bidding, publishers regularly have six or more SSPs plugged into their tech stack to drive more demand for their inventory. However, this is not feasible in-app since the SDKs and bid requests would slow load times, which is a particularly off-putting for mobile users.

“We can live with two,” said Alena, noting that The Meet Group may add another SSP or two into its header-bidding setup. “But if we wanted five or six, we couldn’t live with that.”

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