What’s unique with OpenX’s platform is where the auction takes place – in the user’s browser. OpenX’s customers have just started using the new platform and while it’s questionable how the change will affect rates, there are some potential benefits to a browser-level auction, even if the effects are likely only “marginal,” according to Gartner's Frank.
“By pushing out a lot of the decision-making off of the server, in principle you can get more scale. You can get closer to the user context which gives you some advantages, (such as) incorporating viewability into the decision-making process ... you might also have more information available at the browser level,” Frank said.
Scalability is important to large publishers, and OpenX touts Yellow Pages, TV Guide and the New York Observer as users of the new platform.
In choosing a vendor, “any (ad tech vendors) that have interesting features but don’t have scalability behind them fall of the list,” said David Lebow, vice president of digital markets at Yellow Pages. “I look at scalability as an advantage and a lack of scalability as risk. When you look at the size of a network – an 80 million-user network like YP has – you have to look at scalability as a positive.”
The trade-offs are possible latency issues involved in trying to conduct an auction on each user's browser, rather than a single server, Frank said, as well as the fact that a collection of browsers are more diverse than a single server and may be more difficult to control.
The question of whether a server-level or browser-level auction will significantly alter the end goal – higher ad rates for publishers – remains to be seen, Frank said. However, in an environment where a SSP vendor might be taking a 15% to 30% cut of a publisher’s net ad revenue for the promise of higher ad rates, even marginal changes can give one vendor the edge.