The RTB Project: A Lingua Franca That Drives Growth in Programmatic

A “Lingua Franca” is a common language enabling people from various countries and cultures to understand each other. For instance, Latin imposed itself as the common language throughout Europe during the old days of the Pax Romana and French was used widely across diplomatic missions until the beginning of the 20th century. Today, English is the uncontested universal language of commerce, trade and business for the ease of exchanging information and making communication standardized.

The same purpose underlies the creation of the RTB project, as its mission is officially to “spur greater growth in the RTB marketplace by providing open industry standards for communication between buyers of advertising and sellers of publisher inventory.”

In November 2010, tech leaders from three demand-side platforms (DataXu, Turn and MediaMath) came together with those representing the supply-side platforms (The Rubicon Project, PubMatic and Admeld) to develop and launch a pilot project that would be a new API specification for companies interested in an open protocol for the automated trading of digital media across a broader range of platforms, devices, and advertising solutions. Initially known as the OpenRTB Consortium and later renamed as the RTB Project, it creates common industry standards that ensure all parties can transact RTB at scale and build future industry innovation.

A Short History of OpenRTB Standards

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After the Version 1.0 block list specifications released in December 2010, minor edits were made to include the real-time exchange of creative attributes in the next versions to come. The release of Versions 2.0 and 2.1, in 2012 enabled unified support for display, mobile and video capabilities: improvements in geographical data definition, third-party data segment support for audience targeting and enhanced attribution support, improved VAST video across RTB, and location targeting support.

The next big set of innovations came in January 2015, with the release of Version 2.3 that expanded to include support for native ads, allowing for the purchase of native ads through real time bidding. This was a game changer as it allowed “for native ads to be targeted, optimized, and transacted on programmatically, reducing workload on publishers and advertisers alike.” Also in 2015, the IAB announced the release of OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads API 1.1.

Neal Richter, chief scientist, Rubicon Project, and co-chair of OpenRTB, called it as a “big step forward” for OpenRTB and the programmatic ecosystem. “Standardization brings scale. With the new potential for revenue, more app developers will enter the market. Mobile monetization via native ads is underdeveloped today and a key direction is to expand the reach into the programmatic world. … Finally, by standardizing the process and removing the need for the integration of multiple SDKs, mobile apps will render more quickly and will be less likely to crash, thus delivering an optimal user experience,” he said to AdExchanger.

When OpenRTB 2.4 came in earlier this year in March, publishers could then declare whether they wanted to impose a skip button on the ad — something that they had very little control over until then. OpenRTB 2.4 supports skippable in-stream video advertisements. In addition to this, another main advancement of this release was the enhanced location feature that allows buyers to know when and which IP source was used to derive a given geo-location. Jim Butler, VP Mobile Exchange Technology at AOL Platforms and co-chair of the OpenRTB Working Group called this version the “product of the greatest level of community participation in recent memory” and said that it is an indicator that the OpenRTB standards will “continue to be a key enabler of the programmatic ecosystem.”

The Way Forward

What does the future hold for the RTB project? We gathered the opinions of various key industry executives on the matter.

A standard protocol by the way of the RTB project has made the ground fertile for the growth of programmatic by “reducing friction in the marketplace and providing a common language for DSPs and SSPs to trade on new and innovative ad formats,” the IAB said.

Ionut“OpenRTB is the backbone of programmatic advertising. It is the underlying standard supporting transparent trading of ads in open and private marketplaces. By providing transparency, efficiency and alignment between buyers and sellers, OpenRTB is connecting the dots between users and advertisers, providing scale to the open digital marketing ecosystem (outside of the walled gardens of Google and Facebook) by making these players speak the same language. It has served the desktop world, it has moved to mobile and now it’s moving even forward towards native advertising,” said PubNative’s Co-founder and MD Ionut Ciobotaru.

Rishi Agarwal

He added that the evolution of this standard “closely reflects” the evolution of the digital ecosystem. “The next release (OpenRTB 2.5) is still in development, but it could bring better support for header bidding, outstream video, improved publisher categorization as well as viewability metrics for mobile ads, further supporting innovations on the buy and sell side on both desktop and mobile ecosystems.”

Rishi Agarwal, MD DataLift Enterprise, summed up his expectations from the next release as: “It will be interesting to see how OpenRTB standards evolve to include header bidding in its ambit in the Release 2.5. Also, with the rapid innovation on the technological infrastructure beneath the programmatic landscape, both publishers and advertisers have much more exciting times ahead.”

We will not fail to keep you informed about the actual advancements brought about by the OpenRTB 2.5 when it is released, so stay tuned!