Summary of Recent Updates to Industry Standards

Posted by Jonas Jaanimagi On September 07, 2023 ad tech matters, industry standards

IAB Tech Lab develops, oversees and updates critical global technical standards and solutions – designed to enables and support a healthy and sustainable digital media and advertising industry. Key areas of focus are transparency, fraud, identity, data, consumer privacy, ad experiences & measurement, and programmatic effectiveness.

As there are wide range of standards and specs we thought it might be useful to regularly provide updates and more details on the some the changes to a select few. In this update we’ll focus on OpenRTB , OPJA & ads.txt

OpenRTB 2.6 Protocols

IAB Tech Lab initially released v2.6 of the protocols for real-time bidding in April 2022. Since then there have been incremental improvements every few months or so, with a particular focus on CTV. The latest version is 2.6-202303 and was released in March 2023.

There are three key recent updates to ORTB that are worth being aware of:

Ad Podding

The initial key features of these new protocols dramatically improved programmatic buying of CTV inventory by better enabling structured, dynamic and hybrid ad pods. As a result, media owners could now better monetise CTV commercial breaks by allowing their advertising clients to:

  • place multiple ad requests within one bid request.
  • have greater flexibility in the number of ad slots and their length.
  • have access to a much more comprehensive range of CTV inventory.

The addition of ad pods in CTV brings ad buying in line with the way traditional TV advertising is bought and sold, with the added benefit of flexibility enabled by digital real-time programmatic ad bidding – giving buyers the best of both worlds. A summary of the three types of ad pods are below.

Structured Pod: The seller offers a fully defined pod structure; the number of ad slots, their slot in the ad pod, and duration is predefined and static.

Dynamic Pod: The seller offers a pod structure where the number of ads and the duration of each ad in the break is indeterminate, but the total duration and maximum number of ads are constrained. In other words, the total duration of the pod is known, but the number and duration of the individual ads within the break may not be defined ahead of time. This allows bidders more flexibility to optimise their selection of ads across the demand on their platform.

Hybrid Pod: The seller offers a pod structure containing both structured and dynamic components. In other words, the ad pod is composed of some combination of ad slots with predetermined durations, and ad slots constrained by a total duration and also a maximum number of ads.

This update to ad podding allows for a single request to be sent out for the entire ad pod, and whilst this gives media owners more control and provides buyers with greater transparency – it is also critically much more efficient.

Why is this important? These latest protocols are not only more effective for both buyers and sellers of CTV, but importantly much more efficient. With sustainability becoming an increasingly critical focus it was heartening to see the results from a recent collaborative study from Index Exchange, Publica, and the Trade Desk which showed an 84% reduction in ad selection carbon emissions when CTV ad spaces were purchased from a programmatic supply chain using OpenRTB 2.6’s pod bidding, versus older OpenRTB protocols.

Video placement improvements in OpenRTB

Another important update in OpenRTB 2.6 is the alignment with the recently updated Video Ad Format guidelines with new technical guidance for advertisers to better differentiate between in-stream and out-stream placements. This involves working with a newly redefined set of categories that better reflect the current state of video players, so as to enable advertisers to programmatically differentiate between in-stream and out-stream ad placements. The ability to distinguish between these two inventory types is important because streaming services invest enormous resources into developing quality content that attracts larger audiences, for which advertisers justify paying a premium fee. These updates are designed to help buyers better determine the value they bid for genuine in-stream video inventory.

  • In-stream video players will be required to be set to ‘sound-on’ by default at the start – but due to Chrome’s auto-muting of most video players that can’t be the sole criteria. ‘Explicit demonstrated intent to watch the video’ is also suitable for in-stream classification.
  • There will be a new field called ‘plcmt’ that will contain the new values and can exist in tandem with the legacy ‘placement’ during an ample migration period.
  • There should be a distinction between outstream placements without editorial video content and those that only contain standalone ads.
  • The previously defined values of in-article and in-feed were found to be a confusing distinction without much difference and were removed in favor of the new categories, which are a better proxy for value. If these style players contain video content, they will fall under the collapsed new category called “Accompanying Content.”
  • The category of in-banner has been largely preserved and clarified to be called “No Content / Standalone.’ In-article or in-feed players today that don’t have video content will also fall under this category.
  • There is now an interstitial category for full-screen takeover video ads, whether web or in-app.

Why is this important? Some DSPs are looking to enforce these new standards before IAB Tech Lab’s March 2024 required adoption date. As a result SSPs are working with clients to adopt these new values and most major publishers are now working to make the necessary corrections, but there may be some operational headaches. There could also be a period of transition for both buyers and sellers and to avoid any issues we recommend that you speak to your vendors and refer to the migration guidelines outlined in the implementation guidance.

Guidance on the Use of Floors

The next iteration of OpenRTB 2.6 is likely to be released next month (v2.6-202310) and an interesting proposal for this next release has just this week been published for comment/feedback, proposed by Index Exchange into IAB Tech Lab’s Programmatic Supply Chain Working Group.

It relates to a proposed new OpenRTB object called ‘DurFloors’ (duration floors). Duration floors would allow a seller to specify pricing for creative durations in a number of ranges enabling them to price inventory based on the multiple possible durations of video or audio creatives that bidders may return in their bid responses.

The current protocols allow sellers to specify a desired number of creatives and duration, and set dynamic price floors based on CPM per second using the ‘mincpmpersec’ field. Now sellers can also express a non-linear relationship between the duration of creatives and the associated floor price of the impression opportunity.

Why is this important? Yield management is critical for sellers and they want the ability to make trade-offs between creative duration and potential monetisation. Some sellers may prefer to show one 15-second ad at a $30 CPM rather than two 10-second ads each at a $15 CPM to meet their commercial goals whilst showing the consumer a shorter ad break. Media owners being able to specify floors for video and audio bids of various duration ranges, in both podded and non-podded bid requests, should become a useful tool. Ultimately the more transparent and informative sellers can be to buyers the better and the increased flexibility and capabilities of the ever-evolving OpenRTB protocols is genuinely impressive.

To access and review the latest version of the OpenRTB protocols simply click here

To review the implementation guidance and ‘DurFloors’ proposal simply click here

Open Private Join & Activation (OPJA)

In July IAB Tech Lab released some excellent initial Data Clean Room Guidance, to help support and define the growth in interest in these types of data collaboration solutions. More information on these (and much more!) can be found in our recently published Data Collaboration Platforms Explainer.

Alongside this guidance and designed to work in tandem – the OPJA protocols (Open Private Join & Activation) were also released, enabling advertisers to activate audiences with their first party data without leaking private information. The specs leverge cryptographic techniques and Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) including public-key cryptography, private set intersection, and commutative encryption.

Some key updates were included in the final release, based upon industry feedback to the draft version. A critical element of this was the use of the call signs protocol specification from the ads.cert 2.0 standard as the key management system. Ads.cert 2.0 are a set of open standard cryptographic security protocols originally developed by the IAB Tech Lab to help secure the programmatic advertising ecosystem, particularly for CTV. It’s interesting to see these a key part of these protocols now being leveraged for OPJA.

It shows both consistency in approach but also the flexibility of these protocols when they were developed to provide a method to establish internet domain names that formally identify a participating business to other.

Why is this important? Ad tech vendors are fast embracing these specs (e.g. Optable) and Magnite have also committed to incorporating these into the Magnite Match solution. OPJA is quickly becoming the standard process for safely matching first-party data sets between advertisers and publishers (even when using different data clean room providers) and enabling the activation of any resulting anonymised matches for privacy safe ad targeting.

To access and review the OPJA protocols simply click here

ads.txt v1.1

ads.txt (and app-ads.txt) stands for Authorised Digital Sellers and is a simple, flexible and secure method that publishers and authorised partners can use to publicly declare the companies they have sanctioned to sell their digital inventory. Meanwhile app-ads.txt is an extension to ads.txt and is suitable for advertising within in-app environments.

The first version of these foundational transparency standards came in 2017.  Since then we’ve seen  number if iterations with the latest (v1.1) being the fourth. The v1.1 update includes two new values for publishers to declare within their ads.txt files, ‘ownerdomain’ and ‘managerdomain’ which helps increase the transparency into seller relationships via sellers.json and further strengthens ads.txt as a tool to reduce fraud in buying and selling of advertisements on websites, mobile apps and connected TV.

The ‘ownerdomain’ value is used to specify the domain of the business that owns the website that the ad is being served on. This helps to connect the seller domain for PUBLISHER entries in sellers.json files, which has previously been hard to programmatically validate resulting in mismatched seller domains, especially when an entity owns multiple publisher properties.

The ‘managerdomain’ enables the publisher to declare the primary or exclusive monetisation partner of that sites inventory. This new addition to ads.txt will help to level the supply path optimisation (SPO) playing field for small to medium publishers in particular. Many of these publishers outsource yield management, and transact under their manager’s seller ids. As a result they are automatically made to appear as though they are multiple hops required to access their inventory – which is a challenge when SPO focuses on buying inventory via the fewest number of hops in the supply chain.

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Why is this important? The addition of the Manager Domain in ads.txt enables sellers to provide more information on how their inventory is managed and streamline safer and more efficient supply paths. With improved insights, buyers now can know that even with multiple hops, this may still be the most optimal route to access that publisher’s inventory, and can therefore bid accordingly with greater confidence in the supply they wish to access. It’s another small, but meaningful step, on the programmatic transparency journey by IAB Tech Lab.

To access and review ads.txt v1.1 specs simply click here

To review the implementation guidance simply click here

To keep across key topics such as these, learn more about product trends and network with like-minded people in our industry register for our forthcoming Melbourne Digital Ad Ops event (click the link below).

Melbourne Digital AdOps Event (Weds Nov 15th 2023)

The Melbourne Digital Ad Ops event will be held on November 15th and is an annual event attended by some 200-250 industry professionals in ad ops, programmatic, product and ad tech roles. The event covers key topics, from both a local and global perspective, affecting the online advertising industry specifically from product, programmatic and operational perspectives.

Key topics include:

• Programmatic Transparency & Responsible Addressability

• Privacy Review – an update on key proposals & industry response

• Data Collaboration Platforms & operational guidance on Clean Rooms

• Sustainability in Digital Advertising – a discussion & early recommendations

• Best practices & recommendations for Brand Safety & Fraud

• AI in Digital Advertising – Pros & Cons

• Supporting Talent in our Industry and Nurturing Careers



Jonas Jaanimagi