How to use header bidding for video ads

Video header bidding has been gaining popularity in recent years and has even become a buzzword in the ad tech world lately. Video ads have great engagement levels and high revenue potential, so it’s only natural that both advertisers and publishers are interested in them. Before header bidding, the programmatic video was being implemented through the old-school waterfall method. With the advancement of technology, however, video header bidding is gradually becoming the norm. Let’s see how it works.

What is video header bidding?

Video header bidding is the means that publishers use to open up their video ad inventory to multiple demand partners at the same time. The goal is to have a fair auction and increase the competition. Just like header bidding for display ads, video header bidding can be conducted both on the server and on the client-side. Video header bidding is similar to traditional header bidding, but the execution is different. The main distinction in the process stems from the fact that video advertising involves a player. We will now discuss each type of video header bidding to see how they differ.

Client-side video header bidding

To run header bidding, the publisher has placed a header bidding wrapper in the header of the website. With client-side video header bidding, once an impression is available, the wrapper calls the SSPs/Ad Exchanges and conducts the bidding on the user’s browser, most often after a specified timeout. The winning bid in the auction is then passed to the publisher’s ad server, which further compares it to other guaranteed and non-guaranteed items and selects the highest paying video ad to send to the video player. The final step is displaying the creative to the user in the video player.

Server-side video header bidding

With server-side video header bidding, the auction for the video ad impression is conducted on the server. The winning bid is passed from the server-to-server partner to the header bidding wrapper on the page, which then passes it to the ad server. The ad server will then compare it to other options like direct deals and Google AdX inventory and finally send the highest paying video ad creative to the player.

Advantages of video header bidding

Higher Ad Revenue

Maximizing ad revenue has always been the ultimate goal for most publishers. And video header bidding can help with that due to the increased competition for your ad inventory. Furthermore, video ads tend to have much higher rates than traditional display ads, as they are more engaging and thus more effective for advertisers. 

Better Fill Rates

More demand partners translate to higher fill rates. This is a big win for video header bidding as with the standard waterfall method there are only a few participants in the auction that bid in a sequence. This usually means that publishers wait in a queue for a buyer to accept their inventory and/or are left with unfilled impressions. Whereas video header bidding allows for a unified auction where multiple demand partners compete at the same time. 

Auction Transparency

In video header bidding, the demand partners are directly plugged into the wrapper. Therefore, publishers have access to information about the exact bids and they can see what share goes to the intermediaries in the supply chain. With more robust data, performance analysis can be much more meaningful to publishers. Although server-side video header bidding can be less transparent, if you use open-source solutions (such as Prebid Server) publishers can still leverage the full set of data about their inventory.

Disadvantages of video header bidding


This caveat of video header bidding is particularly valid for browser-side header bidding. As with traditional header bidding, page load times go up when you add more demand partners to your wrapper. With video header bidding, a JavaScript code is added to the player as well. Adding to the inevitable increase in page load due to videos being rich media files, latency can become a real issue if not managed appropriately. However, the right mix of SSPs, ad networks, and exchanges, along with additional speed optimizations to your pages can help counteract the negative effects on user experience.

Technical challenges

Video header bidding requires that publishers use video players that support JavaScript code. However, most players are compatible with Flash videos instead. Thus, publishers will often need to switch the player they’ve used for video on their sites if they want to add video ads to their inventory. 

Furthermore, video ads require that publishers use VAST tags to serve the creatives on the player. Sometimes, publishers may also want to use VPAID and VMAP standards on top of it, for additional features and data. Although a good video partner may assist with choosing and implementing the right formats, publishers would generally need more resources for the technical implementation of video ads.

Data Vulnerabilities

Even though increased transparency is good for publishers who are usually in the blind for middlemen shares, video header bidding opens a door for demand partners to exploit as well. All of your plugged-in demand partners can now access users’ cookie data without actually bidding for those impressions and then target the same audience elsewhere, at lower rates. This, however, can be expected mostly from lower-rate networks, SSPs, and ad exchanges, therefore publishers can mitigate this risk by partnering only with reputable demand partners and monitoring their bid and win rates.

How to set up header bidding for video ads?

Now that you are aware of all the pros and cons of video header bidding, it’s time to see what the implementation process looks like. While this may vary depending on your wrapper of choice, here are the general steps:

  1. Set up video ad units.
  2. Set up the line items and ad creatives in your video ad server.
  3. Add ad units to your wrapper. Set appropriate timeouts for your demand partners. 
  4. Integrate the header bidding wrapper and the video player to be able to pass the winning bid creative from the auction to the player. 

The devil is in the details, they say. And implementing video ads definitely needs more attention to the details in order for everything to function smoothly and deliver a good user experience. Having the right partners in this endeavor can save you a lot of trouble and swiftly boost your ad revenues.  

Wrap Up

Despite the technical complexity, with the right partners, video header bidding can be a great way to try to boost your revenues. As with anything in ad tech, whether or not this is right for you depends on many factors, and testing it is what should truly weigh in.