Now In MadTech: In-App Header Bidding

header bidding


As most programmatic managers know, header bidding has been transformative to the AdTech space – it put pressure on the major exchanges and allowed for smaller DSPs and exchanges to truly compete, driving up rates and revenue for publishers.  


The Road to Widespread Implementation 

Today, in-app AdTech trails more established desktop ecosystems, but what about tomorrow? Header bidding is bringing mobile to the next stage. My expectation is that we will see the same impact on in-app programmatic as we saw on desktop.

As a mobile publisher, it is imperative to push for in-app header bidding, and work with exchanges, DSPs, SSPs, and advertisers to begin an aggressive move towards buying through headers – unless we’re okay with plateauing rates and permitting a few major demand players to dictate industry economics.

Before I get into details I would like to address the term “header.” As there is no header in apps, this isn’t technically a header bidding solution, but rather a pre-bid tool that acts, fundamentally, identically. To be consistent, I’ll continue to refer to this as header bidding.


The Landscape

Much like mobile programmatic, desktop was dominated by one partner – DoubleClick Ad Exchange. For (most) mobile, it is Twitter’s MoPub.  

Direct partners are managed in waterfalls to compete against the MoPub Marketplace. Until recently we didn’t have the option to leverage header bidding – to create a layer of aggressive competition.

In addition to header bidding, in-app AdTech is behind in other areas, namely: data and viewability:

  • Targeting Data: there are no cookies in-apps. This segment has grown tremendously this year.

  • Viewability: Many brands withhold budgets on in-app advertising until viewability clarity can be established. Within the past several months most major exchanges and DSPs have made detailed viewability metrics available to buyers.


In-App Header Bidding Challenges

Still strides behind desktop, in-app header bidding certainly faces a few hurdles.  There are two critical issues that must be addressed in order to catch up:

  • Integrating new partners is much more difficult in mobile
    • Software Development Kits (SDKs): In-app AdTech often requires SDK integration, which is both time-consuming and weighs down the app. As publishers, we must be selective with SDKs and the number of direct partners we integrate.

    • All integration we do in-app must be completed twice in order to accommodate both Android and iOS platforms.

  • Demand:There are only a few header bidding solutions currently available, which are mostly desktop legacy businesses. While they have introduced in-app solutions, they have yet to move the revenue or eCPM needles. This is simply due to the fact there’s not enough unique mobile demand.


In-App Header Bidding Solutions

As always in the AdTech space: when there’s a problem, someone will solve it. Mobile header bidding is no different. There are a number of companies, both startups and established organizations, currently building and/or testing solutions to solve the two core concerns.

  • SDKs: In order to solve the SDK issue there will need to be a “wrapper”, or one SDK that contains multiple headers or demand sources. While technically challenging, the issue has been addressed by several partners who believe they have solved this problem and can manage multiple bidders with one SDK.

  • Demand: If we’re going to make this happen quickly, it will require cooperation from multiple parties: publishers, demand partners, and tech developers working together.

    • The most pressing issue is bringing on mobile-first demand. The industry needs tools created for and by companies with the view of mobile-first. As these companies enter the header bidding space (and this is happening) we will begin to see higher prices and better-quality demand flow into apps.

    • Because everyone’s solutions are different and standards have yet to be defined, header bidder developers will need to be flexible and nimble enough to work with multiple partners.

    • Larger DSPs and exchanges need to be willing to give up direct integrations, partnering with those offering wrapper solutions. Wrappers will require demand sources to agree and work with the tech directly. Obviously, this is more challenging than taking someone’s header bidding demand and plugging it into an open source container.

    • Larger publishers must be proactive in moving this agenda forward – we need to to bring tech and demand partners together. To get smaller exchanges and DSPs to move from the large exchanges to header bidding platforms will require support and motivation from publishers.


Final Thoughts

Mobile header is on its way!In-app advertising still faces many challenges. Over the next year I expect to see continued growth in many facets of the space, but I believe the header bidding solution is ready for tremendous strides over the next year. In-app header bidding will bring on mobile-first demand, create a more competitive ecosystem, and increase overall revenue for publishers.

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Bill Alena
Bill Alena
Bill Alena has been a digital media professional since 1998. Alena has served as The Meet Group’s (NASDQ: MEET) Chief Revenue Officer since 2007. From 2002 to 2007 Alena served as the Director of Internet Advertising at Scholastic Inc., a global children’s publishing, education, and media company. He began his digital media career with DoubleClick in 1998, where he helped to establish one of the industry’s first ad networks.