Switched On

Julian Savitch-Lee BidSwitch
The last couple of years have seen a revolution in the way mobile advertising inventory is traded, as programmatic has evolved from its desktop roots to become a key method for buying and selling mobile ad space.

Within the programmatic arena, there are a variety of companies working to deliver effective campaigns and positive ROI for advertisers. Broadly speaking, they fall into three camps: Demand Side Platforms (DSPs), working on the advertiser’s behalf; Supply Side Platforms, representing the publishers’ interests; and Data Management Platforms (DMPs), which handle the data crunching needed to target mobile users at a granular level.

For programmatic to work efficiently, all players in the ecosystem need to connect and talk to each other seamlessly, so that the right user can be targeted with the right ad at the right time, and in the right context, with the decision on how much to bid for an impression, and which ad to serve to who, all made in milliseconds. This inevitably places a massive burden on ad tech firms’ engineering teams, as Julian Savitch-Lee, director of client services at BidSwitch, explains.

“The ecosystem in real-time trading grows at a very fast pace,” he says. “For example, the first Open RTB protocol initiative supported by the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) was just for desktop, then video; mobile applications and native followed with audio and connected TV efforts starting in 2016. Even though the IAB only comes out with a new specification every six to nine months, if you are a DSP who is integrated with 20 partners and they require you to upgrade, then you have to do 20 separate pieces of development work and possibly create new products in order to keep up. You are constantly rushing to stand still.” In addition, says Savitch-Lee, the DSPs have to pass on the cost of doing these integrations to their clients in order to survive, so it’s not only a time-consuming process, but a costly one too.

It’s a problem that IPONWEB seeks to solve with its BidSwitch solution. BidSwitch came out of IPONWEB’s core business, which is building and engineering ad tech platforms, including DSPs, SSPs, DMPs and exchanges. It’s been doing this since 2001, with a team of 300 people, including two major engineering centres in Moscow and Berlin.

Once a client takes delivery of an ad tech stack, they typically want to use it to trade, which means connecting to other companies. BidSwitch initially emerged as in internal solution to connect different players in the ecosystem together via a middleware layer, hosted in the cloud. Once you’re connected to this middleware layer, you’re automatically connected to everyone else who is connected to it and can trade with them in most instances with a oneclick request from a demand side client in BidSwitch’s user interface. It’s a much more efficient way of doing things, which offers access to a myriad of programmatic platforms and inventory options through a single integration.

“BidSwitch translates each partner’s unique platform ‘tech language’ into a universal one,” says Savitch-Lee. “We proactively maintain the complex, technical translations involved in direct Supply/Demand integrations so our partners can ‘speak’ and work seamlessly. Like a network switch, a single integration with BidSwitch opens the door to a multitude of pathways that would take years to build and would be expensive to maintain independently.”

There are currently around 110 SSP and 160 DSP partners plugged into BidSwitch, including many of the major players. But Savitch-Lee says he’s happy for BidSwitch to remain in the background, quietly connecting the different players in order that all can work to maximum effect.

“We do our work in the background, and prefer they put the names of the SSPs they use BidSwitch to connect to in their user interface and reporting for agencies and marketers to see instead of our name, because we don’t sell inventory. We are not a media organisation; we are a company that intentionally exists behind the scenes so that advertisers and publishers can trade at scale, efficiently and sustainably with 100 per cent uptime. We’re the plumbing if you like, not dissimilar to the under-sea cables that keep the internet running.”

While the analogy works on one level, on another, arguably, it does not. For where those cables perform one simple, rudimentary function of transferring bits and bytes across the globe, BidSwitch works with different partners in a variety of ways.

“Open RTB does not work as people would hope it does,” says Savitch-Lee. “People think the IAB document standardises all the different ways that companies submit a bid request, but in reality, the IAB document is just a guidance note, so we work with individual partners who give us their protocol document and then we develop that into one that can be traded at scale. BidSwitch was created a few quarters after the onset of Open RTB protocol and what we do for our DSP clients is massively varied and tailored to their needs, whilst remaining a standardised product that DSPs can pick and choose what they need.

“Examples include a retargeting company that has built its business on requesting to join real-time auctions when their user is recognised by a pixel that does not exist on mobile, with the exception of the mobile web on Android, so they might use us to access mobile app traffic and iOS devices in order to find more mobile users, without changing their multiple desktop legacy integrations with Supply platforms. Another example are multiple US companies wanting to move into Europe. If they have 10 partners, they would have to set themselves up with each of those, and that could take three months. With BidSwitch, you can plug in one endpoint and turn on all 10 partners simultaneously.”

With programmatic adoption growing, BidSwitch’s ecosystem position offers some interesting insights. Adoption of Deal ID has grown to 40+ suppliers and accounts for more than 11 per cent of total spend globally, proving that while efficiency can be gained, the desire for deals and transparency is very strong from publishers and agencies. Mobile-specific application traffic now makes up more than 30 per cent of available inventory from BidSwitch suppliers, with in-app video the fast growing segment. It accounted for 9 per cent of available application traffic in November 2015 yet surpassed 20 per cent of the same by July 2016.

With users adopting mobile devices quickly and incoming bid requests from mobile devices overtaking PCs in November 2015, the industry has been expected to consolidate. However, this has not been the case, despite 74 per cent of all respondents in an Exchange Wire research report saying that there are too many programmatic advertising technology companies and 88 per cent of respondents preferring to work with less technology partners if it did not impact performance or revenues.

Native, audio, TV and digital out-of-home, not to mention developments in emerging regions of the world, ensure a constant procession of new entrants to BidSwitch’s development queue. New Supply and Demand platforms keep emerging for mobile users. “To some degree I am surprised at the volume of new companies and new ideas in real-time ad tech. It is not cheap to be an excellent DSP or SSP, but if we can save our clients some time and cost, I am sure the consumer, publisher and advertiser will be content to provide and use free, ad-funded services, without even knowing we exist.”

This sponsored article first appeared in the June 2016 print edition of Mobile Marketing. You can read the whole issue here.