The SSP Market Isn’t Dying – It’s Rightfully Forcing Change

By Damian McKenna, Chief Operating Officer at Emodo

The digital industry was recently disrupted with two very high-profile departures from the supply-side platform (SSP) space – Yahoo’s closure of its own SSP, coming in tandem with a 20% reduction of staff across the company, and the bankruptcy filing of Big Village Media and its own SSP, EMX Digital. These seemingly sudden developments left industry leaders scrambling for clues about what it all might mean for the SSP business. We’re hearing a lot of commentary about how supply and demand have become commoditized, and how brands and agencies have been struggling to understand what value SSPs are really adding to the supply chain.

Despite these challenges, there is still significant potential for innovation and growth in the SSP space. But let’s not mistake these changes in the ad marketplace as a sign that the market is soft, or evolving beyond a need for SSPs. We need to look at how successful SSPs have invested in their product in ways that make its value add obvious and real. This is not an ending, but a watershed for other SSPs to win – if they make the right moves for their own businesses and, crucially, the interests of their buyer partners. To succeed, SSPs will need to focus on three key areas: supply-path optimization (SPO), innovation, and measurement.

SPO: Enhancing Efficiency

From one angle, it might appear that the SSP industry is mainly under pressure from DSPs to reduce the number of paths they are buying from. The fuller picture is more complicated. An SSP with higher win rates may ultimately be a more worthwhile option for a DSP than an SSP that can be reached in the fewest steps. An SSP that facilitates bid shaping or smart throttling, or that passes better data in a bid request than the competition, may provide value that’s worth a slightly longer path. SPO provides true and evident value by allowing DSPs to customize paths based on their goals and strategies. By optimizing the supply side, SSPs can increase efficiencies for their clients, optimizing spend and reducing the operational lift. SSPs that are able to enhance their SPO capabilities and provide more value to their clients will be in a strong position to stand out in a crowded market.

SSPs that come out on top will need to take an active role in the basics of SPO and begin to build towards a real time SPO strategy based on the live campaigns a DSP is currently running. There are still some common misconceptions about the goal of SPO – notably, the one that suggests it’s about eliminating intermediaries along the chain and simply accessing desirable inventory in the fewest possible steps. It’s a misunderstanding that greatly underestimates SSPs’ agency, and their ability to advocate for publishers about the best paths to inventory, for everyone’s mutual benefit. SPO isn’t about eliminating intermediaries. It’s about eliminating redundancy. If SSPs want to appeal to marketers who are interested in SPO, they’ll need to offer unique value and the most direct route to that value – whatever the ever-fluctuating prospect of unique value means on any day of a full campaign.

Innovation: Standing Out from the Crowd

As SPO quickly becomes table stakes, it won’t be a long-term differentiator. To remain competitive and differentiate themselves in the marketplace, SSPs must go beyond industry standards by innovating and investing in R&D to support clients. Direct integration of supply filtering, immersive and exclusive formats like native and CTV, along with AI-based Smart throttling and yield optimization are among the technological capabilities that SSPs should offer buy-side clients, and must continue to build on in the future.

Development of unique ad formats and creative opportunities, such as native and CTV, is especially necessary to engage consumers more deeply than commoditized formats such as banners. These opportunities offer differentiated and unique demand to both advertisers and publishers and new monetization opportunities for publishers. Additionally, SSPs should lean on new generative AI tools to support creative development, helping resource-strapped publishers reduce internal operations while making their inventory more desirable to buyers demanding high-impact campaigns.

Measurement: Providing Accurate Data

Finally, accurate and transparent data is crucial to the success of any ad campaign. SSPs that are able to provide better measurement and reporting capabilities will be in a strong position to win market share. This is another place where AI capabilities are a great boon for publishers: AI tools can create a data feedback loop to power and continually optimize measurement, shining a light in the darkness that’s fallen with the loss of third-party cookies. By providing granular, recent, accurate data on ad performance, SSPs can help advertisers optimize their campaigns and help publishers better understand the value of their inventory. Providing better measurement and reporting capabilities could involve developing new reporting tools and providing greater transparency into ad performance.

In conclusion, while the SSP industry is facing critical challenges, there is still significant potential for innovation and growth. The departure of Yahoo and Big Village Media from the market presents an opportunity for other players to step in and make their mark. By focusing on SPO, innovation, and measurement, SSPs can differentiate themselves and provide real value to publishers and advertisers. SSPs that are able to enhance their SPO capabilities, deliver innovative ad formats and creative opportunities, and provide better measurement and reporting capabilities will be in a strong position to succeed.

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