• Header Bidding

Detailed Review and Comparison of Managed Services by Top Header Bidding Platforms

Eugene Dorfman
7 Aug 2020
17 min
Detailed Review and Comparison of Managed Services by Top Header Bidding Platforms

With the development of header bidding technology in full swing, the number of features and services available to publishers skyrockets. However, the abundance of choice is the downside of header bidding popularity. When choosing a header bidding platform, publishers should thoroughly evaluate each solution. We know that making such decisions is no small feat, so let’s discuss and compare the providers of header bidding managed services, including those rendering services to mobile publishers.

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    Choosing a header bidding technology provider — what factors to consider?

    Although there is no silver bullet to solve header bidding programmatic issues, there are reliable networks that help publishers, including mobile ones, keep tabs on their operations. Each publisher’s situation differs because of their diverse locations, target audience, devices used, and the vertical they operate in. We’ll focus our attention on the most respected header bidding platforms, with lightweight SDKs, and those that can cover the majority of publishers’ needs.

    In our review, we’ll go through the following parameters that make a difference with header bidding technology in general, and in-app header bidding in particular.   

    • Ease of setup and management. Too often, instead of a free and transparent approach, that was called for to eliminate programmatic complexity, publishers face oppressive intricacy, particularly with open-source header bidding solutions. Header bidding providers should focus on providing an excellent user experience.
    • Transparency. Especially with the server-side header bidding technology, access to data, reports, and analytics directly depends on the willingness of a provider to share. 
    • Features and automation. The available features and automation capabilities can help publishers manage operations and drive revenue by reducing time spent on manual adjustments. In our review, you’ll find a feature set for each platform so that you can focus on what is most important to you.
    • Open-source vs. paid. Open-source wrappers don’t require any initial or ongoing investment. Yet one needs to invest in engineering resources to continually develop operations or analytics and make sure things run smoothly.
    • Analytics and UI. Transparent and unified reporting matters. The absence of a useful UI and poor UX prevents open-source header bidding, including the Prebid wrapper, from even wider adoption.
    • Capabilities of mobile SDK. App publishers simply can’t go without a sound app monetization model. Only lightweight solutions optimized for mobile environments won’t hinder the app performance.
    • Demand-side partners (DSPs). The number of DSPs, as well as the partners included in the auction, impacts the revenue you get. The more DSPs, the greater competition, and revenue. We suggest choosing a platform that can provide you with a large number of out-of-the-box DSPs. You may choose to make a list of demand partners that you want to work with and then look for a wrapper that supports them.

    The Best Header Bidding Platforms with Mobile SDK – Publishers’ Perspective

    In today’s article, we feature some of the most popular ad networks that, in our opinion, are the most rational choices for the header bidding configuration. Having reviewed them, you’ll be able to include one or two (but mind that their demand shouldn’t intersect) appropriate providers in your header bidding setup. Keeping in mind how rapidly the mobile advertising ecosystem is developing, special attention will be focused on platforms that provide header bidding managed services for mobile publishers. So here is the list:

    • FairBid by Fyber
    • Amazon TAM and UAM
    • Appnexus
    • Rubicon Project
    • PubMatic OpenWrap
    • PubNative HyBid
    • Stack BidMachine Bidder 
    • Smaato Unified Bidding
    • ironSource LevelPlay
    • AppLovin MAX
    • UberMedia ClearBid

    FairBid by Fyber

    Launched by Fyber in 2018, FairBid is a unified auction that takes place in the mobile app environment. Through Fyber’s mediation platform and mobile-focused RTB exchanges, all the SDK-based ad networks can be included in every auction, alongside all top DSPs and direct advertisers. 

    Ease of setup and management

    What is peculiar, the platform allows us to choose how to monetize ad experience, using either a waterfall setup or real-time unified auction. Fyber’s website contains a profound section featuring all the required information regarding setup configuration or integration of FairBid, depending on the platform the app is running on. It also offers qualified 24/7 support.

    Transparency

    Fyber promises to preserve the value of each impression through FairBid’s real-time environment. They offer the reporting option to get as much transparency of the revenue details for each DSP as possible.

    Features and Automation

    As long as you have created the Fyber account, you can access the following features and in-app header bidding options:

    • Adding an app to the console
    • Adding mediated networks
    • Creating ad placements
    • Multi-testing facilities
    • Instances and manual prioritization
    • Payments management page

    As to the ad formats, FairBid supports banner ads, interstitial ads, and rewarded ads.

    Analytics and UI

    FairBid platform features a dashboard to add apps, manage ad monetization setup, and analyze data with a proprietary Dynamic Reports tool. Use dashboard to:

    • Add apps, create and configure ad placements, and manage demand sources.
    • Evaluate demand sources and campaigns against the revenue they bring.
    • Optimize ad setup to drive higher revenue. 
    • Configure metrics and dimensions — eCPM, bid responses, demand fill rate, demand source type, placement name, and bid status — to be included in Dynamic Reports.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    Being first of all, a mediation platform, FarBid allows integration with SDK-based ad platforms. Each integration differs and depends on the platform the app is running on — Android, iOS, or Unity. Properly integrating mediation requires configurations in the demand partner dashboard and Fyber’s console. For more information on SDK integration, please check the Mediation page in FairBid’s docs section.

    Demand-side partners

    Fyber offers their clients profound access to demand for their apps’ inventory. The company works with Mediated Ad Network Partners, which include offers from brands such as Vungle, AdColony, AppLovin, Facebook Audience Network, AdMob, and others. You can view the entire list here

    Amazon Publisher Services

    Maintaining a reputation of a technology titan, Amazon decided to make a difference within the header bidding technology market. Amazon Publisher Services offer two server-side header bidding solutions called Transparent Ad Marketplace (TAM) and Unified Ad Marketplace (UAM). TAM is targeted at enterprise publishers, while UAM’s target audience is small and medium publishers.

    Ease of setup and management

    TAM requires a more extensive initial setup on the part of the publisher, while UAM offers a solution where Amazon handles all the demand partners on the publisher’s behalf. In both cases, Amazon provides a simple reporting interface where publishers can find transparent fee structures, auction level reporting, and see how bidders compete.

    Postindustria has developed our own header bidding setup tool – PubMonkey – and Amazon TAM is among platforms we support there. Here’s why publishers, including those working with Amazon, appreciate PubMonkey: 

    • Superfast line item and order creation. 
    • Flexible granularity, automatic generation of the rates, and keywords for header bidding.
    • Export and backup orders with any number of line items into a simple JSON file. 
    • Import and transfer orders from JSON. Either use previous exports or come up with your own. 
    • Copy orders without re-entering the same settings. Just set up new line items and run your experiments.

    Transparency

    Amazon keeps up with the best practices of S2S header bidding, meaning all their bidders compete equally for inventory, and the highest bid will always win. While the auctions occur in the cloud, publishers have full visibility into who’s bidding on their impressions, who’s winning and why.

    Features and automation

    What really helps Amazon’s header bidding solutions to stand out is access to their ads. The product ads from Amazon are highly targeted — no wonder, e-commerce is Amazon’s primary business. Look at it as a possible solution to one of the biggest S2S header bidding issues —  the cookie mapping problem.

    Open-source vs. paid

    Under the TAM model, Amazon does not charge publishers anything to use the platform and instead charges bidders a nominal $0.01 CPM. UAM charges a 10 percent transaction fee by deducting 10 percent from SSP bid prices before conducting the first-price auction.

    Analytics and UI

    Amazon offers neat UI and useful analytical insights. They feature reports on earnings, bidder metrics, bid distribution, and supply metrics.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    In terms of in-app header bidding, Amazon has positioned themselves as an “experienced mobile ad tech partner, powering in-app header bidding for developers since 2015”. This makes sense as they do provide access to advertising campaigns from Amazon and the Amazon DSP.

    Demand-side partners 

    Publishers have access to Amazon’s demand partners alongside exchanges, SSPs, and ad networks pre-integrated into TAM.

    AppNexus

    A trailblazer of open-source header bidding, AppNexus, the Xandr company, are the creators of Prebid.org. The company is a reliable provider of enterprise products for buyers and sellers of digital advertising.

    Ease of setup and management

    AppNexus promises rapid integration and diverse management options. With that said, we’d only recommend AppNexus to advanced publishers with a deeper understanding of header bidding programmatic advertising and sufficient engineering capacities.

    Transparency

    Thanks to the open-source code, the company offers the right level of transparency. Prebid also returns a list of each bid submitted for every impression, so publishers have insights into the yield.

    Features and automation

    With AppNexus, publishers can configure a hosted or managed Prebid server (managed by AppNexus) and install Prebid.js, Prebid SDK, and/or Prebid Server. AppNexus’s Prebid Server offers two options:

    • A hosted Prebid Server solution. Although, or better yet, because it’s free-of-charge, it comes with a bare-bones configuration UI. What you get is self-service with no analytics and minimal or no support.
    • A fully-managed but paid solution. It will include implementation and maintenance, as well as consulting support for publishers with their own tech resources.

    Open-source vs. paid

    Open-source code is publicly available on Prebid.org’s GitHub.

    Analytics and UI

    While the free version comes with no UI and analytics, a paid AppNexus solution offers a configuration user interface, demand setup, and analytical capacities.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    Thanks to Prebid.org, publishers can get SDKs for Android and iOS with extensive documentation and technical and community support on GitHub.

    Demand-side partners

    With Prebid-powered header bidding technology, deals capabilities, and curated premium demand, AppNexus lets publishers access an enormous pool of DSPs as well as control and manage them across all channels and formats.​

    Rubicon Project

    A cloud-based platform, powered by Prebid Server, Rubicon Project is a reliable technology trusted by the largest publishers. The company emerged in 2007 and has become one of the world’s largest digital advertising exchanges. In terms of Rubicon Project Prebid Servier, publishers will deal with either a free but limited (in terms of UI and analytics) hosted Prebid Server solution or fully-managed but paid solution. The latter will entail intuitive UI and on-demand support from Prebid and yield management experts. 

    Ease of setup and management

    User-friendly interface and good user experience — that’s what publishers say after using Rubicon Project. They have a very responsive customer service team, which follows a personalized approach by trying to solve each publisher’s issues. 

    Transparency

    Rubicon Project declares transparency among its key values. Ryan Mulcahy, Head of Revenue, North America, even explains Rubicon Project’s commitment to transparency

    Features and Automation

    This fully-managed Rubicon Project Prebid server solution supports display and video ads across desktop and mobile app environments via Prebid.js, Prebid SDK, and Prebid Server. Other Rubicon Project features that publishers emphasize as the most useful are:

    • Ad unit availability which allows publishers to select which ad units to be bid on in real-time.
    • Impression targeting to set which impressions to make available to bidders.
    • Floor price. A minimum price at which an ad unit can sell in an ad exchange.
    • Advertiser restrictions to disallow bids or restrict ad categories, brands, or buyers that a publisher doesn’t wish to advertise on your website.
    • Bid reporting to see which advertisers are bidding on and buying ad units. 

    Open-source vs. paid 

    Open-source code is publicly available on Prebid.org’s GitHub.

    Analytics and UI

    Rubicon Project features interactive analytics for publishers, including the following criteria and metrics:

    • Performance of multiple ad formats in terms of different metrics – impressions, revenue, eCPM, and others. 
    • Net revenue, impressions, and eCPM from different bidders. 
    • Sellers value and how they affect page load time.
    • Campaign delivery, sales performance, and programmatic revenue. 

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    Rubicon Project positions themselves as a company with mobile-first publishers attitude. As an active supporter of Prebid.org, Rubicon Project works on top of Prebid’s header bidding solution for mobile apps

    Demand-side partners

    Rubicon Project offers proprietary technology — Demand Manager — built on top of Prebid’s open-source wrapper. It makes it easy to add and remove Prebid partners without adding undesired latency, which impacts performance.

    PubMatic Open Wrap

    PubMatic is an established player in digital advertising. With the launch of the OpenWrap in-app header bidding solutions, the company made a considerable stake in enterprise-grade management and analytics tools combined with the transparency and flexibility of Prebid open-source.

    Ease of setup and management

    By developing their solutions based on Prebid open-source, PubMatic offers publishers a simpler UI and a better UX, along with support and control over the integration and bidding processes. 

    At Postindustria, we developed our own header bidding setup tool – PubMonkey – which saves publishers’ time by instantly creating hundreds of line items for header bidding orders. PubMatic OpenWrap is among the platforms we support there. PubMonkey also supports generating orders for Amazon TAM, Prebid, Smaato Unified Bidding, and PubNative HyBid.

    Transparency

    Through a custom-built UI, OpenWrap offers good transparency and control. 

    Features and Automation

    PubMatic’s header bidding solution includes the following key features:

    • Identity hub — integration with Identity Hub, PubMatic’s ID management tool. 
    • OpenWrap SDK — an extension of Prebid SDK, which uses Prebid as the core library for all partner integration.
    • Omnichannel support — access to all ad formats, including video, in-app, native, and CTV (Connected TV) on various devices.
    • Support for fraud detection.

    Analytics and UI

    In OpenWrap, PubMatic offers enterprise-grade analytics to get data insights and optimize yield. Management of demand partners is held in a cloud-based UI, with no changes required to an SDK, app, or need for app store approval.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    PubMatic OpenWrap is a combination of the lightweight Prebid SDK with enterprise tools. Within one UI, publishers manage setup and have access to demand partners.

    Demand-side partners

    The company offers supply path optimization (SPO) deals with top demand partners, including integrations with numerous DSPs.

    HyBid by PubNative 

    PubNative, one of the leading mobile monetization platforms, launched HyBid, a solution that leverages server-side exchange bidding and in-app pre-bidding technologies. HyBid promises publishers to increase revenue and reach more buyers by making each impression available to a massive pool of demand partners.

    Ease of setup and management

    HyBid offers a low-latency S2S integration and requires minimal development resources. There are four integration methods available for the HyBid SDK:

    • As a standalone SDK (Android, iOS).
    • If you are using MoPub’s mediation and require an adapter as part of the waterfall (Android, iOS).
    • With a pre-bid feature for MoPub’s ad server (Android, iOS).
    • With a pre-bid feature for DFP’s ad server (Android, iOS).

    Transparency

    A simultaneous auction solution ensures bid competition with maximal price transparency.

    Features and automation

    PubNative’s HyBid follows a kind of hybrid approach to mobile header bidding. We’ll explain what it means. First, like in ordinary header s2s bidding, the auction takes place on the server side in real-time, following the request that hits the server. Next, the client receives the winning bid and sends it to the primary ad server as a keyword. At this point, however, happens something that makes this approach a hybrid one. Unlike the orthodox pre-bid, rendering is done not by the Primary Ad Server SDK, but by the PubNative HyBid SDK. That is in a hybrid pre-bid + native rendering way.

    The winning bid and creative are sent back to the HyBid SDK to compete with price transparency against the exchanges and networks integrated into the publisher’s SDK. On top of that, PubNative enriches bids with the publisher’s first-party and CRM data, which it can also use to predict price floors and create audience segments.

    PubNative also features cross-platform creative optimization between formats, selecting whatever is most likely to yield the best price for the publisher, whether that be native, display, or video.

    Open-source vs. paid

    Open-source code is publicly available on GitHub:

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    PubNative’s HyBid SDK sends the request straight to the PubNative’s server. It is enriched then with all available first-party PubNative’s CRM data to receive the best offer. The winning bid is then passed back to the HyBid SDK. 

    Demand-side partners

    HyBid allows publishers to increase revenue and reach more potential buyers by making each impression simultaneously available to multiple demand partners, including the direct demand ones.

    Stack BidMachine Bidder

    Stack, a California-based ad technology company, offers its programmatic ad exchange, BidMachine, as the right resource for mobile app publishers. It features BidMachine Bidder, a wrapper around Prebid Server. Working under the in-app header bidding concept, BidMachine claims their hallmark is the direct way mobile app publishers can connect with ad demand sources. 

    Ease of setup and management

    With BidMachine, there is no need to change the current ad mediation setup. The integration is possible in two ways:

    • Through a lightweight SDK 
    • Through S2S via OpenRTB (MRAID, VAST, NAST, creatives/ads)

    Transparency 

    The prebid-powered solution is open-source and complies with basic transparency principles. Moreover, Stack open-sourced their entire programmatic ad exchange solution, so, once again,  standards of transparency in programmatic advertising are observed.

    Features and automation

    BidMachine Bidder supports a great variety of ad formats including video ads, rewarded videos, playable ads, banners, interstitials, and native ads.

    Open-source vs. paid

    Open-source code is publicly available on Prebid.org’s GitHub

    Analytics and UI

    Stack’s BidMachine offers transparent performance analytics assembling insights on which of the DSPs are winning ad impressions and the value they generate. The Prebid solution allows gathering analytics from SDK bidders and DSPs in one spot, eliminating the need for multiple integrations.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    Prebid Mobile open-source library is used with the ad server’s Mobile SDK to communicate with Prebid Server and request and receive bids over RTB. The bids return from demand partners, and the highest bid wins in less than a second. These bids can then compete directly with bids from your primary ad server.

    Demand-side partners

    Prebid allows publishers to connect to the desired ad exchanges and offers a traditional set of DSPs. On top of that, BidMachine grants access to over 70 pure programmatic DSPs on top of the current mediation stack. They also claim a reach of over 25 million daily average users through more than 10,000 mobile apps and serving over 1,2 billion impressions monthly.

    Smaato Unified Bidding

    Smaato’s Unified Bidding is an in-app header bidding solution based on real-time pricing competition (in beta testing as of June 2020). Moreover, the company completely redesigned their SDK for Android and iOS, offering increased control over in-app inventory. Postindustria has first-hand information, as we were invited to participate in beta testing of their Unified Bidding.

    Ease of setup and management

    The Smaato NextGen SDK is available for download on their website along with an integration guide available on the Developer Docs page

    Transparency

    Thanks to the first-price auction concept, both supply and demand sides of header bidding get added clarity.

    Features and automation

    Unified Bidding currently supports the following ad formats: banners, interstitial display, rich media, interstitial video, and rewarded video ads. The next release will come with the support for native, vertical video and playable rewarded ads. 

    The company is actively working on featuring the most effective practices against in-app advertising fraud, like multi-level checks, including a customer identification program and stringent traffic reviews.

    Open-source vs. paid

    The Smaato NextGen SDK is free to download from the company’s website.

    Analytics and UI

    One of Smaato’s core products, a publisher platform, gives publishers full control over their inventory monetization through a comprehensive UI. With the help of Smaato Dashboard, publishers get access to data visualization solution with detailed performance analytics.

    Demand-side partners

    Smatto has its own wide network of DSPs, plus they allow bringing publisher-owned ad network connections.

    ironSource LevelPlay

    What helps ironSource stand out is their specific niche and target audience — game development and mobile gaming app publishers. Among their clients, you’ll find such high-street names as Gameloft, Ubisoft, and Zynga. They offer multi-platform support including iOS, Android, and Unity.

    Ease of setup and management

    ironSource offers detailed documentation and round-the-clock support. You can find extensive product information, integration documentation for all SDKs, and dashboard information in their Knowledge Center

    Transparency

    ironSource promises full visibility, transparency, and control over the performance of publishers’ efforts. Additionally, they offer mediation to set flat eCPM rates and customize the configurations of the waterfall. 

    Features and automation 

    Among the reasons why ironSource is trusted by so many global game producers is their ability to provide multi-platform support, offering the lightweight SDK and stability of the service.

    Open-source vs. paid

    Although ironSource SDK isn’t open-source, the proprietary software available by ironSource Mobile Ltd. may include or link to certain third-party software generally available under free and open-source software licenses.

    Analytics and UI

    The company provides structured analytics on user segmentation, A/B testing, and data analysis. It gives the option to view monetization reports via the Dashboard Reports or API Reports. Configuration variants include performance reports, user activity reports, and reporting API.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    ironSource offers iOS SDK, Android SDK, Unity Plugin, and Adobe Air Plugin. The company’s SDKs are integrated into millions of devices while serving over one billion daily impressions within their ad network.

    AppLovin MAX

    MAX by AppLovin is an in-app header bidding solution that is targeted at mobile game developers. MAX allows them to reduce workload and adjust campaigns in real-time. The technology is used to reduce latency, ensure quicker fill on every request, and increase impressions per daily active user.

    Ease of setup and management

    The header bidding company follows a developer-first integration process and offers tools to assist game developers with automation. To get access to the documentation, a publisher must be registered and approved by MAX.

    Features and automation

    MAX, being integrated into the AppLovin platform, offers publishers high global demand, better attribution with a unified platform. It also calculates the return on advertising spend (ROAS) across networks, provides decent analytics with A/B test, and insights on how much value each impression and DSP brings. 

    Open-source vs. paid

    Open-source code is publicly available on GitHub.

    Analytics and UI

    The company provides in-depth API reports and performance statistics and built-in A/B testing capability.

    Capabilities of mobile SDK

    MAX features iOS and Android SDKs.

    Demand-side partners

    With AppLovin’s own network, publishers can count on high bids. This network includes close to 90% of the top mobile gaming companies, over 300 million daily active users, and one billion installs for gaming companies each year. 

    UberMedia ClearBid

    A growing header bidding solution designed for in-app mobile advertising, which is offered by UberMedia. Initially intended for UberMedia’s own apps, ClearBid is now gaining popularity with mobile publishers.

    Ease of setup and management

    ClearBid’s growing popularity can be explained by publisher-friendly SDK.

    Transparency

    With ease-of-use and user-friendliness in mind, ClearBid gives publishers easy access to bid information and the ability to monitor performance.

    Features and automation

    ClearBid’s SDK is lightweight and allows users to optimize ad revenue by creating an open auction with minimal impact on app performance. It eliminates frequent, unnecessary redeployments thanks to on-the-fly-updates to the ad stack. It also features support for engineers by engineers.

    Analytics and UI

    ClearBid offers analytics in the form of a dashboard. Its functionality is a bit limited and simplistic but transparent and flexible. It allows monitoring of ad unit performance in near-real-time, including CPMs, requests, impressions, clicks, and bids won and received.

    Demand-side partners

    As of summer 2020, the header bidding company claims to have 10+ demand sources covering the best mobile ad exchanges on the market – OpenX, Rubicon Project, AppNexus, and others. 

    Bottom line

    The thriving market of header bidding solutions encourages tech providers to offer more transparent services with extended analytical capabilities. While header bidding platforms work to squeeze out competitors, publishers should continue to invest in platforms that make online advertising seamless. Choosing the right platform is critical to revenue optimization. We hope this review will help you make the right choice!

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