Flex Frame Ads: The Beginning Of The End For The Publisher-Side Ad Server?

ianhewetson_sellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Ian Hewetson, vice president of client services at Eyereturn Marketing.

The New York Times generated quite a buzz last week with the announcement that it’s doubling down on its Flex Frame initiative, which could radically reduce its reliance on old-school standard IAB formats.

Flex Frame ads are large, with a horizontal aspect ratio, and they dynamically resize depending on the device and window size. The ads currently run through a responsive DoubleClick template, which takes basic client-supplied assets and dynamically places them within the ad. Advertisers can also work with the Times’ in-house creative shop to produce something more bespoke.

This story offers a modicum of intrigue – will advertisers embrace the new formats? Will the Times blaze a trail that’ll be followed by every other publisher on the planet? Will these LEAN but respectfully engaging ads spell the end of ad blockers? Will anyone be talking about this in six months?

But look a bit deeper, apply a bit of imagination and consider this: Could the Flex Frame ads be the beginning of the end for the publisher-side ad server? While responsive ads aren’t necessarily a catalyst for a change like this, they are one step on the path to holistic ad serving.

Think about it. The traditional role of the publisher-side ad server has been to manage a waterfall and fill a bunch of prebuilt ad placements. With header bidding threatening the concept of the waterfall and responsive placements threatening the concept of the hard-coded ad placement, the heavy lifting of the publisher-side ad server is now being done by other players in the system.

Header tags could manage the demand for every page. Ad size and format could be added to the header auction. If an advertiser saw a particularly valuable user loading a page, the advertiser could up the ante from a standard-sized ad to a larger format because there would be an array of options within the page. Some pages would show more ads, some would show less. Maybe some would show none.

As an added bonus, which the industry desperately needs, ad creative could be improved. With a larger, more flexible canvas at advertisers’ disposal, ads wouldn’t be confined to the usual tiny boxes and rectangles. Page layouts would start resembling more functional mobile-style news feeds rather than print pages. Ad delivery would be one step closer to the page, reducing latency.

On the reporting side, advertiser-side ad servers and verification systems already produce far more detail and dynamic options than the publisher-side ad server. And once that publisher-side ad server is gone, you can also say goodbye to an entire source of discrepancies, which would streamline billing.

Publishers would retain control by managing their private marketplaces, floors and advertisers through the supply-side platforms (SSPs) already on their sites. Or – if this trend were to really take hold – publishers could even disintermediate the SSPs by creating a more direct line to demand, cutting out yet another cost layer of the supply side.

Of course, this scenario doesn’t replace everything that the publisher-side ad server currently does. And I doubt that even The New York Times sees its rollout of some new ad formats as the first step toward a complete overhaul of the publisher-side ecosystem. But in an increasingly dynamic marketplace, it just might be the beginning of the end for the publisher-side ad server.

Follow Eyereturn (@EyereturnMktg) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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