Presented by AdColony

About four years ago, a report came out that showed the average number of SDKs used by gaming apps and the number wasn’t pretty — it was nearly 18 SDKs per app, with gaming categories like Trivia, Strategy, Casino, and Role Playing games even higher.

It was an eye-opener for the industry, because app developers up to that point were very enthusiastic about SDKs, as they provided apps with all sorts of capabilities and features (e.g., analytics, communication, monetization) that would be time-consuming to build.

However, you have to proactively invest in analyzing and monitoring SDKs’ behavior and keeping them updated and compatible — much like you’d take care of a child — to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact your app performance. SDKs can cause app size bloat, bugs, slowness, battery drain, and privacy issues.

Now imagine 18 of these high-maintenance, ill-behaving SDK children running around amuck in your house. Only instead of broken furniture and floor spills, you’re seeing poor performance, dissatisfied users, and uninstalls. You might even get banned from the App Store or Google Play if you haven’t properly vetted your partners and vendors. (Yes, that can and will happen.)

Many app developers said enough is enough and started Marie-Kondo-ing their apps, removing SDKs that no longer brought them “joy” (measurable utility and/or money). Publishers really focused on the tippy-top ad networks and removed many others as not worth the storage space.

As this was happening though, advanced bidding was taking off, which increased inventory access and auction efficiency for all ad sources by replacing the traditional ad waterfall with simultaneous real-time bidding (RTB) from ad networks and DSPs. With more buyers, there is more chance to match an impression with a higher value bid, as well as increased fill at higher values from exposure to more bidders.

Then came Apple’s Privacy rollout with iOS 14.5. With the privacy rules now in effect, apps must get explicit user consent before collecting and using consumer data for targeting purposes. While some apps and categories are getting workable opt-in rates, no one has or will get 100% or even close to that. This means that there are significantly fewer addressable devices, and ad networks will be forced to optimize targeting in other ways (cue: contextual). Every company will have different signals, too, including devices that have opted in, and while many will have some sort of solution in place, some will have none.

So in a complete reversal from the calm and collected few, highest-performing ad SDKs, and assuming you want to maximize your revenue, it makes more sense to have as many people publicly bidding on your inventory than just a couple of people. It’s like a cattle auction, where you have a high volume of bidders who desire one item versus Sotheby’s, with a far smaller group of potential buyers. Granted, the latter is auctioning off high-ticket items so they are looking for a premium audience, and with a cattle auction, it can get a bit chaotic.

The best way to avoid the chaos of too many SDKs is to adjust in accordance with the overall weight of your app. That is, if your app is lightweight, like a hyper-casual game, you’ll have more space to work with and could reasonably fit 10-15 SDKs. If you have a more hardcore game, I recommend having under five. Ironically, it’s the apps that are less bulky that tend to rely more on ads for revenue generation, so they’d need more monetization options and a larger auction audience.

Generally speaking, though, while you do want to optimize toward less battery consumption and network data use, not every app is like Pokémon Go, where your battery runs out at lightning speed. More ad SDKs will serve your monetization goals, as long as you vet them carefully to make sure they’re not breaking privacy rules, because remember, the buck stops with publishers. The actions of your ad network ultimately come down on you!

Additionally, the balance of power for ad networks is up in the air right now. Just because you got great results from an ad network before Apple started enforcing the privacy rules of iOS 14 doesn’t mean you will get the same results now! It’s time to reconsider your monetization partners and select the ones that are equipped and ready to be successful in this new environment.

Justin Welter is VP Brand Performance and Business Development at AdColony.

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