App-ads.txt: Who's Responsibility is it, Anyway?

App-ads.txt may be the solution to the messy ad supply chain problem, but who is going to adopt the technology to get the ball rolling?

As the industry continues its effort to clean up the supply chain, in-app is next in line to adopt ads.txt. By all accounts, ads.txt adoption was a widespread success on web, with 75% of all web publishers implementing the file since the IAB released it in May 2017. As more budgets move to  in-app placements, the IAB is hoping to see the same success with app-ads.txt. 

The difference is that this time around, DSPs and SSPs - who were in direct contact with web publishers and were largely responsible for the rapid adoption of ads.txt - don’t commonly have direct relationships with the app developers and publishers responsible for implementing the protocol. So who is most likely to take up the mantle of responsibility for pushing the adoption of app-ads.txt?

The App Developers?

The obvious answer would be app publishers themselves. Ultimately they’re the ones creating the app-ads.txt file and adding it to their websites, and it will be up to them to see the implementation through to the end. By implementing the file, app publishers stand to benefit from the potential increase in revenue from brand advertising spend and reduced ad fraud.

However, since there isn’t a centralized body that all app publishers belong to and that sets policy for the industry, there is no central organized effort to drive adoption among the app publishing community. Moreover, while having a critical mass of app-ads.txt certified inventory will be central to the success of the standard, individual developers benefit regardless of widespread adoption.

More critically, unlike web publishers who were dependent on budgets from brand marketers for revenue, many app developers have traditionally made the bulk of their revenue from user acquisition campaign spend. As such, app developers aren’t feeling the ‘pain’ of imminently losing brand advertising budgets if they don’t implement the standard, and may even be unaware or unconvinced of the immediate or significant benefits of doing so.

The App Stores?

An original version of the app-ads.txt proposal suggested leveraging the app stores to push widespread adoption of app-ads.txt. The stores would provide an API endpoint to read the app-ads.txt file which would bypass the accompanying web domain entirely. As single entities with direct access to the majority of the world’s app publishers, in some ways it makes sense to look to the stores as a convenient vehicle for ensuring adoption of the standard.

However, the app stores have no motivation to push app-ads.txt into their ecosystem. Their focus is on ensuring an uncluttered and efficient ecosystem for users to discover and access new apps, not on monetization for publishers or solving problems for brand advertisers.

SDK Ad-Monetization Providers?

Ultimately then, the group that is most likely to take responsibility for pushing adoption of app-ads.txt must have both direct access to app publishers, and a vested interest in adoption. The only party to fit both criteria are SDK based ad-monetization providers.

SDK monetization technology providers including ad mediation platforms and ad networks engaged in brand activity - are already required to participate in the process and  communicating with app publishers directly to provide them with their app-ads.txt line. They also have the one-to-many relationship with publishers necessary to effect implementation on a large scale. Finally and perhaps most importantly, legitimate direct supply sellers have an interest in ensuring the adoption of app-ads.txt, since it will ensure a cleaner, more secure and premium ecosystem likely to increase buyer trust and ultimately budgets.

While the mobile app ecosystem might not be quite as fragmented as the web ecosystem, it’s also traditionally been an industry much less dependent on brand advertising budgets to survive or thrive. Beyond any one individual party taking responsibility for pushing implementation of app-ads.txt, for the standard to really see wide penetration app developers will need to believe that brands will see the advent of the standard as a catalyst for investing more budgets in-app. 


This article originally appeared on App Developer Magazine.