Header bidding's adoption by premium publishers has been rapid and sweeping. In the past 12 months, header bidding has gone from a curiosity to a must-have for major digital publishers. The yield upside is compelling, and the operational challenges continue to fade thanks to better workflow tools. So it surprised us to find that 45 of the 100 biggest US publishers haven't yet adopted header bidding.
Are these 45 media powerhouses simply laggards, or are they making informed business choices to reject header bidding? We think it's the latter, and we see three sound reasons for choosing to say no to header bidding:
Reason #1: Monetizing With Proprietary Technology
Several of the publishers in our "no thanks" list have developed their own proprietary monetization solutions. Amazon is one of the leading providers of header bidding technology, so it's not surprising that they don't allow third party header tags from their competitors on Amazon.com. Similarly, Facebook, AOL, and other major publishers are also providers of advertising technology. These publishers view their owned and operated inventory as a proving ground for their monetization technology and make the rational choice to reject third party header bidding solutions.
Reason #2: Selling More Than Just Advertising
It is now common practice for commerce sites to create a dual revenue online business in which they sell both consumer goods and advertising. Advertising on Walmart.com is the digital equivalent of buying a supermarket endcap. Similar to in-store advertising, this secondary revenue stream is meaningful, but not the priority. Commerce sites are in the business of selling goods to consumers, and the user's shopping experience is paramount. While header bidding has the potential to drive an extra few percentage points of media revenue, it often introduces page latency. For pure media companies, a slightly slower page load time is well worth the boost in advertising yield. For e-commerce publishers, the logic flips. Almost no amount of media revenue could warrant intefering with the consumer shopping experience.
Reason #3: Building A Data Business
For endemic publishers, few terms are more threatening than data leakage. For years, ad networks, data brokers, and other ad tech middlemen have built businesses predicated on repurposing purchase intent data gathered from publisher websites.
The ad tech ecosystem is a leaky bucket of publisher data, and major publishers have been on their heels trying to protect and monetize their audience data. Publishers understandably obsess about third party tracking pixels on their sites and the granularity of data passed to RTB buyers.
Header bidding opens up a third pipe for data leakage, and while many header bidding solutions claim to enforce data protection, publishers are understandably skeptical. For publishers like WebMD, Expedia, and Realtor.com whose visitors exhibit valuable purchase intent, the risk of data leakage is far greater than the yield benefits of header bidding.
So who's left?
There are of course publishers who are simply laggards and should likely get on the header bidding bandwagon. We'd expect to see pure content companies like the Wall Street Journal, BBC, and The Verge adopt header bidding in the coming months. Programmatic stalwarts like Buzzfeed and Vice are also likely to adopt header bidding with time.
Even long term, however, header bidding adoption will still be well under 100%. There may always be a large contingency of publishers for whom staying on the sidelines will always be the right thing. For these, the drawbacks of header bidding are simply too much to bear.