2019 has been a crazy year with the growth of header bidding, ad block usage and the drop in Google’s share of publishers’ ad inventories. Things have definitely been shaken up last year and as a result two major bankruptcies have occurred. While Say Media technically isn’t bankrupt, they seem pretty close according to many publishers that used to run them and still have not been paid by them. Mode Media used to be worth over $1 billion and is now bankrupt. Publishers are unsure if they’ll ever receive a penny from Mode Media’s unpaid ad revenues.
What is the common theme of these two bankruptcies? Both companies failed to adapt to the industry and adopt header bidding. As a result, they are now in the header bidding graveyard. Both bankruptcies have been very painful to many publishers because they lost huge sums of unpaid ad revenues. Unfortunately, these two bankruptcies are not the last ones either. We expect there to be more bankruptcies in 2020. Below are the most likely ad networks that will go bankrupt in 2019:
A few years back, Matomy was fairly strong running a combination of IBV and unique demand. They would be quite aggressive with their flat CPMs and 100% fill tags which was great for publishers. As their ability to generate profits on those tags decreased, they slowly decreased the demand that they would run. As a result, the company seems to have downsized significantly compared to several years back.
With the emergence of header bidding and the lack of Matomy’s participation, this downward trend shall continue. Similar Israeli ad networks have surpassed Matomy over the years and have thrived with header bidding like Sekindo and 152 Media. Matomy has failed to take advantage of the header bidding evolution in the industry which could very well be the last nail in the coffin for Matomy. If you’d like to replace Matomy with an ad network that performs well and is header bid compatible, check-out Sovrn.
If you are running Matomy, make sure you do not have long payment terms. If they end up going bankrupt and not paying out their ad revenues, net 60 vs. net 30 payment terms would be a lot larger loss for your business. We recommend if Matomy tries to extend their payment terms or is late on any payments, pause them immediately. You do not want to drag even more revenues down the drain.
Sonobi has been known as one of the most deceptive ad networks or supply side platforms (SSPs) in the industry. As a result, publisher trust and loyalty has been very low. Although Sonobi has been relatively early into the header bidding game, their header bidding technology is still very low quality. Their on-page header bid solution (HBS), Morpheus, is one of the worst header bid solutions in the industry. Many publishers have reported broken pages, spiked page load times, broken JS elements on the page, non-optimal DFP setups and sometimes even lower revenues versus not running header bidding at all. Bottom line, do not run Sonobi’s HBS directly on-page. If you do run them, run them via a header container and run their newer adapter (They will try to push you to run the old adapter that is less optimal for publishers but it gives Sonobi an unfair advantage in the header bid auction).
As more ad networks have become header bid compatible, Sonobi has become less competitive. Many publishers have reported dropping win rates as 2016 progressed. We have not seen any innovations on Sonobi’s side to reverse this trend. As publishers become more header bid savvy, they will drop the header bid partners that do not have high enough win rates. In most cases, Sonobi will be part of that group.
If you decide to take the risk on Sonobi, only run their header bid demand via a header container. Do not run their standard ad tags or their on-page header bid solution. Both will lose you money versus running an optimal header container. Make sure to negotiate tight payment terms with Sonobi. If they end up going bankrupt, you don’t want to end up with 3 months unpaid ad revenues. Make sure they pay on-time as well. If they start missing payment deadlines, it means they are having cash flow issues which is the first major sign of impending bankruptcy.
Totally Her was known as one of Mode Media’s main competitors. They had a very similar business model especially in the early days. Both were representative ad networks that would run a lot of direct sales deals, focus on the female demographic, charge really high revenue shares (~50%), have very strict contract stipulations and have long payment terms. It’s an understatement to say Totally Her is not publisher friendly and the reason they were competitive at one point was because of the unique demand they were able to bring.
As we head into January, the worst seasonal month of the year, Totally Her is really going to feel the squeeze. Direct sales is already dying and companies like Totally Her feel that the most. The direct sales budgets are moving towards programmatic buys via DSPs rather than more archaic methods of purchasing media like buying through Totally Her to get access to publisher inventory.
The biggest reason why Totally Her will eventually fold is because their lack of innovation and technology focus. They still have one of the worst reporting interfaces in the industry and it’s clear by looking at the executive team that they will never be a technology focused company. There is a very low chance that Totally Her will be able to adapt and catch up with their competitors and will most likely see a similar fate to their old competitor, Mode Media.
Running Totally Her is even more risky because of their long payment terms. That’s part of the reason Mode Media was so devastating for so many publishers, because their payment terms were so long and then they were late on payments. Some publishers lost over 6 months worth of ad revenue! Do not let this happen to you. If Totally Her still performs well for you, consider reducing their volume to send more impressions to header bidding. If you don’t have header bidding implemented yet, make sure to implement ASAP. Once you have an optimal header bid setup, you’ll have no need to run Totally Her. Otherwise, proceed with caution. Totally Her could very well be the next ad network to tank and be your next write-off.
Rubicon has been the first to publically admit that their dropping company performance is due to them adopting header bidding too late. Since that first large drop in stock prices and layoff, their stock prices continue to drop and doesn’t seem to be settling down as we approach the lowest seasonal month of the year. Their executive team are leaving the company in mass exodus as well.
Rubicon’s days seem to be numbered. It has helped for them to become header bid compatible but they still lack unique demand and competitive advantages. Other header bid partners surpass them in win rates and overall won ad revenues and that gap seems to continue to rise. The majority of Rubicon’s most valuable talent has already left and the rest should be leaving soon. Expect a slow decline of stock prices over 2017.
If you’re running Rubicon, make sure it is only via header bidding. Do not run their managed demand tags because they don’t add value to your ad inventory and are especially not worth it if Rubicon eventually goes bankrupt and does not pay out. Rubicon made a recent desperate effort to increase profits by charging $0.10 CPMs on ad requests. Now Rubicon has had some horrible contract stipulations but this one of the worst we’ve ever seen. If Rubicon tries to pull this maneuver on your business, reject it immediately. They will not hold firm. Check your invoices in January as well because they may try to sneak it in. Watch the payout deadlines from Rubicon very closely. If they are late on any payments, we’d recommend to stop their demand immediately. This is the first major sign of bankruptcy. You don’t want to lose out on more unpaid ad revenues.
Pubmatic has been drowning in mediocrity for years now. From all the publishers that we spoke with that have run Pubmatic, we get the same underlining feedback:
- Very strong promises
- Underwhelming performance
- Horrible support
- Mediocre technology
- No unique demand
- Header bidding demand has very low win rates
- Lack of innovation
The only positive feedback we heard from publishers is that they are header bid compatible, however, if they are not winning many ad impressions, then they are not worth including in the header bid stack. As more ad networks become header bid compatible, more publishers will exclude Pubmatic from their ad inventories. 2016 saw a large layoff from Pubmatic and expect more to come. The future of Pubmatic does not look bright.
The only way it would be worth taking the risk to continue to run Pubmatic is via header bidding. Running their standard tags is not worth the risk of eventually not getting paid for these ad impressions since Pubmatic standard tags perform horribly. If you don’t have a header container yet, get one setup immediately if you have a large developer team or get header bidding implemented for you then pause all Pubmatic standard tags. If you are running a header container, then it would be worth including Pubmatic if they get win rates above 5%. Watch their payout schedule very closely though. As soon as they’re late, it’s time to drop them. This could be a sign that they are going out of business.
Update: PubMatic reached out to us in disagreement with our outlook. Information regarding this disagreement is included in the discussion below.
Tribal Fusion (Exponential)
Of all 6 ad networks mentioned, Tribal Fusion is the most likely ad network to go out of business. We have seen the same signals with Tribal Fusion as we saw with Say Media and Mode Media:
- Arrogant approach that publishers are lucky to run their demand
- Horrible support makes them difficult to work with
- Use of deceptive strategies to trick publishers into non-optimal setups
- Long payment terms
- Technology from the stone ages
- High revenue share and a dependency on direct sales
- Narrow minded executive team that has zero plans of becoming header bid compatible
- Dropping performance that is becoming less competitive every year
- Lack of trust from publishers
The outlook for Tribal Fusion is looking quite dreary. They are heading into the worse seasonal month, direct sales is dying, they have no plans on becoming header bid compatible, their advertisers are moving their budgets to platforms that can facilitate private marketplace buys (PMPs) and loyalty from their publishers is minimal. As more publishers implement header bidding, they will drop Tribal Fusion from their ad stack. Tribal Fusion will no longer get away with tricking publishers into running their ad tags directly on page, calling their platform an “ad server” and then running any ad impressions they don’t buy as passbacks to other ad networks. Publishers are leaving too much money on the table with that setup.
Normally we would say to run these risky ad networks with caution, however, Tribal Fusion is by far the riskiest. If you are running Tribal Fusion, we would recommend pausing them immediately and letting your AdX and header bidding demand replace that portion of your ad inventory. You will get less passback impressions which will improve your site performance and you won’t be stuck with unpaid ad revenues. With such long payment terms and very little if any boost in ad revenues when including them in your ad inventory, we’d recommend dropping Tribal Fusion from your ad inventory to be safe rather than sorry.
*** Update March, 6th, 2017 ***
We received recent feedback that Chitika has missed two pay periods so far. Excuses were made that they were changing payment platforms, however, no payments have been made since then. Chitika support is now refraining from answering questions which is a huge red flag! If you are running Chitika and waiting for payments still, we’d recommend shutting them down at least until the pay all unpaid earnings. They are showing symptoms of dissolving and potentially never paying out.
If you have been paid by Chitika lately or have any news to add, please place a comment below in the comment section.
*** Update April, 12th, 2017 ***
Chitika has paid each publisher after being many months late. Please comment below if you still have been paid by Chitika
We have been notified by many large publishers that Technorati is very late on their payments. Some publishers report late payments of up to 6 months! Of all the publishers we have spoken to that run Technorati, all of them have late payments due from Technorati. This might have something to do with their header container solution called Contango that came out early-on in the header bidding boom but has been struggling in the market recently. Many other header containers have outperformed Contango and publishers have switched away from Contango as a result.
If you’re running Technorati, we’d recommend shutting them down immediately to avoid having more unpaid ad revenues. Please comment below if you have recently received a payment from Technorati or if you’re still waiting to get paid.
*** Update July, 18th, 2017 ***
We have just received news that Pub Gears is being liquidated. If you are running any Pub Gears ad tags, we’d strongly advise you to stop them immediately to avoid any further unpaid ad revenues.
*** Update August, 29th, 2017 ***
Totally Her’s parent company, Evolve Media, had a large round of layoffs last week including several senior employees. This coincides with many publishers reporting no received payments in months and some receiving very late payments. We saw similar symptoms with Say Media and Mode Media.
If you are running Totally Her as a demand source, we’d highly recommend you pause them immediately to avoid the risk of late payments or perhaps not getting paid at all.
*** Update May, 30th, 2018 ***
There was yet another round of layoffs at Totally Her’s parent company, Evolve Media, on May 25th. This time around the layoffs included the Head of Sales for the TotallyHer Division, Chief Product Officer for the company, Head of Integrated Marketing, among many others. This is the 3rd layoff in the last year and a half.
*** Update June, 13th, 2018 ***
After missing many rounds of payments across most publishers, Defy Media is closing their ad network business to focus on their publishing business. According to several publisher sources, it doesn’t appear they are planning to honor the due payments either. Defy Media has not declared bankruptcy and is in negotiation with many publishers to potentially pay them out at a percentage of what they owe.
A big reason in this increase in major ad network bankruptcy is because the volatility and innovation in the ad tech industry. It has never been higher in the history of the industry and expect it to continue to accelerate in 2020. That means more ad networks will be left by the wayside and will eventually end up in the header bid graveyard with Mode Media and Say Media.
We’ve seen the horrible effects to publishers from unpaid ad revenues due to ad network bankruptcy. Don’t let this happen to you! Diversify your ad revenues. Also make sure to understand your key metrics and ask questions to avoid any other shady practices used in website monetization.
The best way to do this is to implement header bidding via a header container and run an optimal auction free of passbacks. Once implemented, it’s easy to add or drop new ad networks. With a header bidding setup, you can earn higher ad revenues while also avoiding the riskiest ad networks that we mentioned above.
If you would like advice how to implement header bidding, you can contact us here. Also, feel free to contact us if you have not been paid by Mode Media. We might be able to help. More ad networks will go bankrupt. Be smart and protect your business so you don’t lose a huge portion of your ad revenues overnight in 2019. If you are looking to replace some of these ad networks with higher value ad networks, than check out our top 20 list here.