OpenX Ad Server Alternatives

On March 31st, 2019, OpenX will be officially shutting down their ad server product, in order to focus on programmatic and video.

This means that current OpenX ad server users will soon need to find an alternative. Most will undoubtedly flock to Google Ads Manager (previously DFP, or DoubleClick for Publishers), but there are many reasons why this strategy may not work for everyone.

openx ad server

So, what happened to the OpenX ad server?

To be clear, OpenX is not going under. This is a move that smartly acknowledges how the publisher-side ad server industry has evolved over the last couple years.

As background, OpenX was founded in 2008 as an ad tech software company. By 2013 they had seen 44,000% growth and were the second largest ad server, behind Google.

Since then, a lot has changed in the ad server market, and Google is solely to blame. After their acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007, Google did a fantastic job improving this product and creating an ad server for both the long-tail and the large media brands, making it hard for others to compete.

Indeed, after Google made their ad server free for anyone with fewer than 90 million monthly impressions, it became difficult for independent players to find paying customers. During this period OpenX focused more and more resources on fleshing out their programmatic ad products, including their ad exchange and SSP, instead of doubling down on their ad server arm.

Google thus destroyed what was once (in the early 2010s) a diverse and crowded ad tech industry. In fact, in the last few years, their three largest ad server competitors have all shut down or pivoted, with Atlas being bought then closed by Facebook in 2016; AppNexus focusing on programmatic ads, header bidding, and ad server capabilities for networks; and now OpenX.

It should also be noted that OpenX's ad server was originally a hosted solution of a free open-source ad server they released. This open-source ad server still exists, but is no longer affiliated with OpenX and goes by Revive Adserver. It's unlikely the OpenX announcement means much for Revive users.

revive ad server

So, what should OpenX ad server users do?

With this surprise announcement, OpenX users now have a choice: find another out-of-the-box ad server or build their own, fully-customized ad server.

The right choice for many is switching to Google Ads Manager. It's going to be the cheapest, simplest, and most similar option. But it won't be ideal for everyone, depending on what one is looking for:

What you care about Google Ads Manager Build your own ad server
Programmatic ads Ideal: You'll have instant access to AdSense (Google's ad network), AdX (their ad exchange), and many other programmatic integrations Not ideal: You'll have to add ad code for individual exchanges and/or build your own server-side integrations with partners
Launching ASAP Ideal: Google Ads Manager is easy to implement, and the learning curve is not steep. You could get something going in hours Not ideal: Building your own ad server could take a while, requires engineers, and involves continual maintenance
Cost Depends: Free for anybody with fewer than 90MM monthly impressions. Costs increase rapidly for larger users Depends: At very high volume may be cheaper than paying a third-party ad server, but there are hidden costs around engineering time, server costs, and more
Fast, server-side ad calls Not ideal: JavaScript-based, which slows down page speeds and makes it difficult to do ad serving for non-standard content like podcasts, emails, VR, etc Ideal: Employing server-side ad calls with your internal ad server (1) speeds up page load times and (2) enables seamless integration with your CMS
Native ads or sponsored listings Not ideal: GAM was never designed for eCommerce sponsored listings or fully integrated native ads, which usually require CMS integration and ad server white-labeling Ideal: Since you're building the system with your content in mind, you can have the ad experience be as native to organic content as possible
Data Management Platform Not ideal: GAM does not come with a DMP and you'd need to integrate with a third-party Ideal: You can build your own database for incorporating user-level information in ad targeting
White-labeled, self-serve ad platform Not ideal: Creating your own platform like Google's, Facebook's, and Amazon's is not possible on the back of GAM Ideal: Design the platform with your branding, domain, and CSS - as well as integrate it with any user portals you already have
Programmatic campaign management Not ideal: GAM has APIs for automated campaign management, but their functionality is limited (nearly everybody uses GAM's UI for campaign changes) Ideal: Automate the entire campaign process by connecting it to an internal UI, vendor dashboard, etc

Can you please summarize that for me?

Definitely!

Google Ads Manager is best for companies that:

  1. Need to migrate to a new ad server ASAP with as little work as possible
  2. Rely on programmatic ads for most of their revenue
  3. Used OpenX's ad server to serve standard banner units
  4. Don't have access to engineering resources

Building your own ad server is best for companies that:

  1. Want full customization over the ad platform, including the look/feel of the ads, targeting options, and more
  2. Want server-side ad calls for faster response times
  3. Have ads / internal promotions that are not standard banners
  4. Want to offer a self-serve platform
  5. Have direct advertisers and don't need programmatic demand
  6. Have an issue sharing data with / enabling Google

Why building your own ad server isn't that hard

This statement is a little misleading; building an ad server from scratch is quite difficult.

But it doesn't have to be hard: Adzerk's APIs allow you to build your own ad server in just weeks. You get all the benefits of a fully-customized, server-side ad server without all the work.

Brands use Adzerk to build platforms for sponsored listings, native ads, server-side ads, internal promotions, and e-mail ads. We power the ad serving infrastructures behind Bed Bath and Beyond, Ticketmaster, Wattpad, EllieMae, Strava, and many more.

Adzerk won't be for most OpenX users, but if you used OpenX's ad server and didn't find it flexible enough, it may be the right time to build your own. Reach out if you'd like to learn more.