Amazon Swings Into Header Bidding With Cloud-Based Service for Publishers

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The Space Needle stands past one of three large spheres under construction at the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle earlier this year.
The Space Needle stands past one of three large spheres under construction at the Amazon campus in downtown Seattle earlier this year. Credit: David Ryder/Bloomberg

Amazon plans to announce a cloud-based header bidding solution aimed squarely at publishers as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Header bidding has become one of the most important areas of ad tech because it lets publishers take more offers for their ads at once and gives advertisers a more even shot at inventory. Google and Facebook are gearing up to fight today's ad-tech vendors for publishers' business in the space, but now face the prospect of a very potent new rival.

An Amazon representative declined to comment for this story.

The state of the art in header bidding is something called a header bidding wrapper or container, which makes installation and management easier and doesn't bog down page loading as much.

Amazon isn't labeling its header bidding solution a wrapper because it will be integrated in the cloud, but it seems poised to offer publishers similar advantages. Ad requests will be handled on the server instead of in consumers' browsers, for example, which may mean less lag time loading web pages. The entire auction process will occur in the cloud, the people familiar with the situation said.

Others have pursued similar approaches but the jury is still out, according to observers. "None of them are good right now and no one has one that is truly server-to-server," said a high-level ad tech executive, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity to protect industry relationships.

Amazon might be the exception to the rule because it already operates a sophisticated business in cloud computing services. It's also regarded as a header bidding pioneer -- as a buyer of advertising.

Now it is moving to the other side of the table, to help publishers better sell online ads.

The move might loosen Google's grip on programmatic ad dollars, which has historically been strong. Header bidding already seemed to be giving Facebook an opening to challenge Google, acknowledging nearly three months ago that it was working on an approach to connect the demand in its Audience Network with publishers via header bidding wrappers.

Header bidding provided by ad-tech vendors has been a thorn in Google's side ever since it took off with publishers in 2015. To stop the bleeding, Google has come up with its own solution similar to header bidding, but it remains in early testing.

"I see this as the titans have been quiet for a very long time and now they've all activated," said another high-level ad tech executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Publishers are likely to be receptive. "People are listening," the executive said. "The way publishers view the world right now is they signed away their fate to Google and the DoubleClick For Publishers-Adx empire. Header bidding is the most recent event that allows publishers to take back control and manage adjacent to DFP and Adx. And a lot of publishers like being in control. Publishers enjoy driving the car."

Programmatic ad spending in the United States is expected to grow at double-digit rates for the next several years, according to a September report by eMarketer, which said it was set to reach $25.23 billion this year. Overall, programmatic will represent 73% of all display ad spending in the U.S. in 2016, eMarketer said.

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