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A look back: OpenPath, SPO, and today’s era of supply chain benchmarks

A giant chain being untangled by four miniature humans.

Illustration by Holly Warfield / Getty / The Current

In the ever-evolving world of programmatic advertising, change is not only inevitable but often critical. Just over a year ago, The Trade Desk’s OpenPath made its debut, sparking a deluge of industry chatter and speculation. And one year later, contrary to many initial prognostications, we at Index Exchange have observed an encouraging uptick in The Trade Desk’s ad spend. We perceive this trend not as a mere coincidence but as a testament to a broader industry shift — one that increasingly recognizes and rewards not only efficiency but genuine value generation.

By its nature, OpenPath introduced a novel competitive dynamic into the supply chain. Its presence offers The Trade Desk a benchmark to assess the value of various supply-side platforms (SSPs) and exchanges in what can still be a murky and confusing landscape. The outcome is an attempt at a more equitable fight — where the worth of a supply path can be compared against this benchmark.

The question often asked is: What’s stopping The Trade Desk from directing 100 percent of its customer budgets through OpenPath? The simple answer is that doing so would dismantle the very benchmark OpenPath has established. The benchmark functions only when it operates alongside contrasting efficient paths to supply, including the ones that we at Index Exchange are proud to provide.

Let’s be clear: The presence of supply-focused benchmarks in programmatic has been accelerating for years, driven initially by agency holding companies in service of enhanced value creation for their customers. The first supply path optimization request for proposal (RFP) that we saw hit our desks in 2018. Today, these efforts continue to scale globally and have all been focused on the same premise — demanding a higher standard of transparency, efficiency, and quality from supply-side players.

The widely anticipated consolidation in programmatic was never about reducing the multitude of SSPs and exchanges down to a single outsized winner. Choice and optionality remain critical, and the contrast among a select few is invaluable. Now The Trade Desk has taken its own measures to efficiently discern value generators from value takers. As the landscape matures, OpenPath is undoubtedly gaining share. But from whom? It is plausible that this share is being redirected from players in the supply chain that have historically taken more than they give.

OpenPath has instigated a “zig” in the market — a zig that, we believe, aligns with our trajectory at Index Exchange. It has fostered an environment where efficiency is acknowledged and rewarded, a shift that resonates with our ethos. We welcome the competition and the challenges it brings.

Let’s also be frank. The Trade Desk will undoubtedly remain steadfast in their mission to drive results for their customers by using every opportunity to drive costs per mille (CPMs) down. This doesn’t deter us; instead, it emboldens us. At Index Exchange, we’re relentlessly pushing the envelope and pioneering innovative solutions to amplify yield for publishers while preserving robust CPMs. This dynamic tension isn’t a cause for concern but a sign of a healthy, vibrant marketplace. It’s a compelling dichotomy that underscores our industry’s competitive spirit, encouraging us all to continuously strive for excellence, innovate, and enhance the value we deliver.

Rather than embracing this shift toward value creation, some ecosystem players have elected to “zag” and extend their operations by venturing into the buy side. We view this as a misstep. The presence of benchmarks doesn’t detract from the exceptional value we offer our publisher customers. We also don’t believe that attempts to introduce conflict into business models will aptly address the needs of marketers or media owners.

For those who view this latest benchmark as a looming threat, we offer a different perspective. Rather than recoiling in apprehension, why not rise to the challenge and aim to eclipse it? Why not leverage it as a catalyst to reinforce your unwavering commitment to efficiency and quality, rather than hastily and unnecessarily complicating your business model? After all, the emergence of OpenPath wasn’t a signal to retreat — it was a resonant call for advancement. Instead of spending time on elusive techniques designed to game DSP algorithms, we believe in focusing our efforts on creating real value for media owners.

This evolution and era of supply chain benchmarks is not just about Index Exchange or The Trade Desk; it represents an industry-wide shift toward efficiency and value. It’s a rallying cry for all players to raise their game, innovate, and deliver genuine value to their customers. The industry has embarked on a new era — one that encourages competition, rewards efficiency, and leaves no room for those unwilling to adapt.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.