A look at the surprising state of ads.txt in India

Of 1685 publishers, only 494 have hosted an ads.txt file - That’s 29.32% of the total.

It’s been almost two years since the IAB Tech Lab launched ads.txt. Though the benefits of supporting a simple text-based tool have been proven to be effective, publishers’ adoption seems to be slow.

3ve is a recent example you could look upon to understand the significance of ads.txt. Despite using advanced techniques like tag evasion, 80% of the 3ve operation could have been stopped just by enforcing advertisers to buy from authorized sellers listed on ads.txt files.

The state of ads.txt for principal markets are already on the radar. So, we set out to find the state of ads.txt in India and we are surprised by the results, to say the least.

Adoption of ads.txt

Of 1685 publishers, only 494 have hosted an ads.txt file - That’s 29.32% of the total. Apparently, there’s still a lot needs to be done.

As per PwC’s outlook, India has grown its programmatic ad spending at a rate of 24% last year. eMarketer predicts the digital ad spending in India will reach almost $2 billion this year. Considering the growth and predicted spending, it is quite evident that the region will accrue prodigious ad spend with the increased adoption rate.

Who owns the supply?

Google has either a direct or reseller relationship with 485 publishers. In other words, almost 98% of the publishers integrate with Google’s ad platforms to monetize their traffic. The company is also the most-listed direct partner and reseller partner, with a total of 8,693 lines in ads.txt files.

Google, in other words, established itself as the de facto monetization partner for the top publishers and without a doubt, it’s hard to chip away Google’s monopoly in the market.

AppNexus comes second by accruing 378 publishers and 5,517 mentions in publishers’ ads.txt files. Surprisingly, Freewheel has almost 300 publishers under its belt.

Here are the top 10 direct partners and resellers on the top sites.

a. Exchanges Listed As ‘direct’ Partner On Top Sites

b. Exchanges Listed As ‘reseller’ On Top Sites

Is India the reseller market?

Resellers account to more than 70% of the lines in ads.txt files - putting India on par with other markets. Direct partners take up almost 30% of the lines in the text files.

Resellers need to have their share to apportion the supply to exchanges other Google. As you could see, most of the exchanges excluding Google, got access to the supply with the reseller accounts.

Another perspective is, publishers may prefer to have managed solution provider and access the demand which they couldn’t through direct partnerships. Its worthy to note that Google runs an ad network (not just an exchange), but the remaining partners are strictly exchanges.

Are the publishers ignoring the opportunity to have direct accounts? No. Just 0.6% of the publishers have no direct accounts with any of the exchanges. The rest of them tend to have at least one direct exchange relationship.

The reoccurrence phenomenon

Interestingly, publishers have listed the same monetization partner multiple times in their ads.txt files. Though it is usual to see exchanges listed more than once, the numbers are a bit higher than expected.

For instance, on average, Google has been listed almost 18 times in publishers’ ads.txt files. AppNexus, another major ad exchange has been found approximately 15 times.

There are two ways we can interpret the reoccurence.

a. Publishers are working with companies who use Google or AppNexus as the backend technology company. Most probably, this will be the reason for the escalated number we see here.

b. The same impressions are sent back to the same exchanges over and over through the resellers.

State of adtech vendors

Unlike its neighbor China, India has enough adtech partners to uplift programmatic auctions. On average, publishers in the top 2k cohort work with 35 ad tech partners and have 177 accounts. But the numbers will vary when we eliminate the publishers with extreme ads.txt files.

Longest Ads.txt files

As mentioned above, there are sites which have more than 1000 lines in their ads.txt files (To be exact, 3 percent of the publishers have more than 1000 lines in their ads.txt files).

For instance, Dunia Digest had 1,285 ads.txt lines at the time of crawling. And, most of the lines go to Google and a few major ad exchanges.

What’s next?

With over half a billion Internet users and increasing Internet usage, digital ad spending is pre-ordained to soar in India. However, a lot of publishers are missing out on the opportunity by failing to host a simple ads.txt file.

Considering the fact that a publisher (who has ads.txt) in the top 2000 group works with approximately 35 adtech partners, it should be fairly simple to push the rest of the publishers to host ads.txt - Any one of the 35 partners need to make the ads.txt mandatory.

The resellers, on the other hand, can educate the non-ads.txt publishers on how they are passing up the lucrative bids from the advertisers who opted to buy only from their counterparts.

Methodology

We curated the top 2000 Alexa sites in India and weeded out the walled gardens owned by Google and Facebook as they don’t use third parties to sell their inventories. We also removed all the non-brand safe content sites before running the analysis. We were left with 1685 publishers who sell their inventories programmatically through third-parties. We built the ads.txt crawler in-house and used it to run the analysis.

Rasheed Ahamed is an inbound marketer at Automatad

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