What is bidstream data in programmatic advertising?

Data is king! Alright, that may not be the exact phrase, but there is still some merit to that claim.

Without data in digital advertising, publishers wouldn’t be able to identify high-quality audiences. Advertisers could potentially show ads to users who might not be interested in their services.

So how exactly do we combine the two in order for users to see relevant ads? That’s where bidstream data comes in.

Simply put, bidstream data includes certain markers about a user that’s sent from the publisher to the advertiser to let the latter know if said user is worth showing an ad to.

Let’s dive into that a little more. Read on to learn what bidstream data is, and how it impacts digital advertising in a nearly third-party cookie-less world.

What is bidstream data?

The term ‘bidstream’ refers to a network of advertising requests. These requests are meant for the specific delivery of a brand’s ads to a publisher’s website, and all the data that gets passed along the way with a bid request make up the entirety of bidstream data.

A bid request is a piece of code that enables a publisher to be able to sell their ad inventory.

Starting with a publisher’s website or an app, the data within the bidstream can include any of the following,

  • A unique ID of the bid request, provided by the ad exchange
  • Website information
  • User device type
  • User IP address
  • Ad-specific data (website domain, ad format, ad size, ad destination, name and version of the ad mediation partner, bid floor, etc.)

Bidstream data does not, however, include personal user information — also referred to as personally identifiable information (PII). As such, bidstream data is still considered to be privacy-compliant.

How is bidstream data collected?

Bidstream data is of great value for ad tech players simply because it provides advertisers context as to what content their target market is interested in. This is valuable for publishers who are able to package that data for advertisers.

Now, publishers and advertisers may be the stakeholders who benefit from using bidstream data, but they aren’t the only players involved. It would be difficult for publishers to send bid requests to multiple advertisers directly, so they employ the use of supply-side platforms (SSPs). The same goes for advertisers, who rely on demand-side platforms (DSPs).

How is it used?

With that in mind, let’s cover how exactly bidstream data is used. It all begins with any real-time bidding auction during which a user is visiting a site or using an app.

From there:

  1. The publisher (and whichever SSPs they work with) collects user information such as their location, device type, and any other data markers from their server.
  2. Then, they combine the data markers with information about the specific ad unit looking to be filled, like the bid floor or the ad format. All of this information is turned into a bid request.
  3. The SSPs send the bid request to an ad exchange or ad network, which then pushes the request to DSPs. Keep in mind, these DSPs will receive numerous bids from various ad exchanges/networks.
  4. The DSPs share all the information about the user and the ad placement with advertisers, who start bidding on requests that match their target audience.
  5. The bids are sent through ad servers that select the winning bid, including the advertiser’s ad creative.
  6. The winning bid is sent back to the SSP and its ad creative is loaded and displayed to the user.

Essentially, once a perfect match has been made, the winning bid is recognized and its information is sent back along with the ad creative information to the SSP. Once this happens, the user will be able to see the winning bid (the displayed ad). All of this transpires within seconds of the user landing on the publisher’s website.

What happens to bidstream data in a world without third-party cookies?

Advertisers rely on third-party cookies to collect user-related data points such as age, gender, occupation, location, page history, and more. Some of which get passed along the bid request. So what happens when third-party cookies eventually go away?

The short answer is that there’s no definitive solution that publishers can enable right this instant to replace third-party cookies. However, multiple stakeholders across the ad tech industry are working on said replacements.

Cookie-less ID solutions

Cookie-less ID solutions such as Universal ID 2.0 (UID) by The Trade Desk, Universal ID by ID5, Fabrick ID by Neustar, the Advertising ID Consortium, and the New York-based Britepool ID are just a few available options at the moment.

Some of these solutions rely on anonymizing email addresses as the identifier. Others use a combination of soft signals combined with first-party storage mechanisms to identify users. Once these ID solutions are implemented within ad tech platforms, non-personal user data can resume being collected and shared through the bid request.

Global initiatives

And it’s not just ad tech vendors like LiveRamp or ID5 putting together cookie-less solutions. Google and the IAB are also involved through their respective initiatives put forth. Namely, Google’s Privacy Sandbox and Project Rearc by the IAB. Both of these global initiatives aim to unite the digital advertising industry by leveraging an effective way for advertisers to personalize their ads in a way that doesn’t compromise user privacy.

The good news is that bidstream data isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s only going to evolve as privacy regulations evolve.

Aside from third-party cookie replacement solutions, advertisers can still use bidstream data for contextual advertising rather than rely solely on the user’s web history.

In summary

Bidstream data refers to the information publishers collect about their users and their available ad inventory which is then passed on to advertisers to bid on. This process usually involves the assistance of SSPs, DSPs, ad exchanges, and ad networks.

The information can include a combination of markers such as the unique ID of the bid request, website-related data, the user’s device type, IP address, as well as any ad-specific data.

An important thing to note is that bidstream data does not include or pass personal user information to advertisers. Since it does not use PII, it’s still considered privacy-compliant.

Some of these markers rely on third-party cookies, but all is not lost in the event that Google finally deprecates them. Various ad tech vendors across the industry are working towards cookie-less ID solutions as a replacement for third-party cookies. Additionally, advertisers can still leverage bidstream data for contextual advertising, if specific markers are unavailable.

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