Note: Story updated to point out Forrester analyst Susan Bidel, who authored the report, is a former PubMatic employee. Bidel tells AdExchanger she does not hold equity in the company.
Forrester Research's Wave reports are harrowing events for tech startups, which find themselves labeled Leaders, Strong Performers, Contenders or – heaven forbid – Risky Bets. And those labels often stick.
Luckily for the six vendors in Forrester's latest Wave on sell-side platforms (SSPs), all companies reviewed were in one of the first two categories. Or as your kindergarten soccer coach said, "Everyone's a winner."
Except that's never quite true, is it?
Rubicon Project, PubMatic and Google were called out as "Leaders" in Thursday's Wave, the research for which was conducted in February. And within that top tier, PubMatic took the cake as the only remaining company focused exclusively on the interests of the publisher – or, in the words of Forrester analyst (and former PubMatic staffer) Susan Bidel, "the last of the purebred SSPs."
Meanwhile the second tier of "strong performers" included AppNexus, OpenX and, bringing up the rear, new kid on the block AOL Platforms.
Each of the six firms – with the exception of PubMatic and possibly AOL – also functions as an advertising exchange player. And if the report has a bias, it could be in this adherence to the righteousness of monetizing only through publisher revenues – and not through "buy-side" margins and fees.
Bidel wrote of PubMatic, "This vendor offers the most comprehensive set of integrations with data management platforms and is ahead of the curve on both mobile and video integrations. PubMatic’s ability to facilitate alternative buying scenarios, including private exchange, preferred deals, and programmatic premium, offers publishers the greatest variety of selling options."
Meanwhile PubMatic's managed services were praised, and its reporting capabilities gently chided.
Here are highlights from the other five SSPs in the Wave:
DoubleClick Ad Exchange. Publishers on Google's platform benefit from the industry's most comprehensive guards against fraud and data leakage. Among the drawbacks are Google's weakness in service and platform navel-gazing. As one publisher client told Forrester, "Monetization outside of Google demand is something we would desire."
Rubicon Project. The newly public SSP won accolades for supporting private exchange and direct orders, but its video and mobile capabilities are still limited. It has a broad vision to "automate all advertising" but that breadth of thinking may be its Achilles heel, wrote Bidel, "as client references referred to the slow nature of its product development."
AppNexus. Perhaps the largest of the RTB platforms in terms of volume, AppNexus won the respect of Forrester and the clients it spoke with for supporting the largest of publishers (e.g., Microsoft) with robust tech. Like Google, its antifraud credentials are strong. But, it's not for the lightweight – or even midweight – publisher, said the researcher. "AppNexus is not geared toward working with publishers that do not have large and mature technical teams supporting their programmatic selling initiatives."
OpenX. It's a great testament to OpenX's investment in quality initiatives that, after its (reportedly) rocky history as a safe harbor for black-hat display ad tactics, Forrester credited OpenX with strong fraud and brand controls. But according to Forresters' client citations, the UI needs work and management should ease up on pure faith in technology and the "algorithm." Service should matter more, one client kvetched.
AOL Platforms. The newest comer to the SSP party, AOL also has the most room for improvement. It was ranked highly for private exchange capabilities, but needs to build its video and mobile chops, and could be more responsive to client needs.
In its assessment, Forrester gave 50% weighting to "Current Offering," 50% to "Strategy" and 0% to "Market Presence" as measured by number of clients, financial viability and employees.