Life after containers: A publisher’s quest for control

by Peter Brito e Cunha, vice president, OpenX

Few topics in ad tech have been covered in greater depth than header bidding and containers. Yet, despite hundreds of articles and panel sessions dedicated to the subject over the past year, today the conversation has moved squarely to the backburner, with little innovation driving the space. While many may be happy to leave the container conversation in 2017, the fact remains there is still much more to talk about.

Today’s digital ad ecosystem is wrought with complexity. Overburdened publishers have become saddled with unmanageable and in some cases, mediocre technology, not to mention partners incapable of delivering the level of quality and clarity they desire.

As over-complexity, lack of transparency and sub-par technology floods the market, it is clear that the state of publisher container management has fallen enormously short of expectations.

The unsustainable state of the publisher tech stack

Containers were created to make life easier for publishers who struggled to manage several header bidding technology partners at once. The original selling point of the container was designed to ease a publisher’s load by implementing an overarching platform capable of managing and streamlining monetization.

Unfortunately, the reality of the current state of containers has not lived up to the original goals.  

Management of container solutions is often left to the technology owner, which requires publishers to relinquish significant control over their monetization strategy and rely heavily on partners to optimize their business inside what are often closed container environments with little to no visibility into the bid journey.

The lack of transparency and overall publisher awareness into the nuances of the technology that runs proprietary container environments has led to a number of consequences for publishers while also providing technology companies with entirely too much control.  

The result of the current state of play has been widespread bid discrepancies that deliver less competition for a publisher’s inventory. It has also led to systemic bid inflation by containers, which artificially inflate impressions available on a page and drive up technology costs. And further, the closed nature of many containers has emboldened some providers to focus more on margin optimization for their own businesses at the direct expense of publisher revenue.

The good news is that not all container solutions are locked in closed environments with no innovation or collaboration. Open source efforts like Prebid have improved significantly in the past year and offer a clear roadmap for publishers seeking to maximize the value of their audiences in the most seamless and transparent environment available. With the advent of, the industry finally has a mature ecosystem that tech-providers can leverage and contribute to, rather than options focused on ownership around the demand-piping problem.


Eliminating fragmentation and restoring control

In this new “open” marketplace, the benchmark for measuring the value and integrity of a technology partner must focus on clear and measurable added value. Partners should provide publishers with greater controls, better insights and more innovative tools rather than black box technologies that hinder effective decision making and, even more dangerously, potentially benefit the container provider in obscure ways.

The path forward must begin with a commitment to restoring control to publishers. Publishers need to shift their metrics to measure successful partnerships around more helpful analytics modules and transparent data, experimental frameworks for testing floor pricing and traffic settings, centralized workflows and other operational efficiencies programmatic professionals need to manage their business effectively.

Publishers cannot remain beholden to submitting updates to engineers at far-off technology providers. Container management must be simplified so that publishers are less reliant on third parties and every publisher, regardless of size, expertise or resources, can take command of their programmatic strategy to realize the true value of their audiences.

To achieve this, we need to reduce complexity in the market and empower publishers with the tools and technology they need to deliver the best possible outcomes. The best place for this journey to start is with a renewed commitment to open platforms and fewer more trusted partnerships built on a foundation of trust, transparency and an unrelenting commitment to serving the needs of the publisher before all other business considerations.

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