March 27- 30 AMA with Emry Downinghall, Vice President of Advertising at Chegg Inc


We’re excited to have Emry here to answer your questions during March 27-30.

Many of you might already know Emry since he’s a favored guest speaker at digital advertising events, sharing his impressive depth of knowledge.

Emry is the Vice President of Advertising at Chegg overseeing programmatic strategy and advanced ad tech solutions. He specializes in maximizing yield while preserving UX from non-guaranteed programmatic inventory, custom publisher monetization solutions, and header-bidding.

Past Digital Advertising Panels, Industry Presentations and Teaching:
:diamonds: [2013] Google Think Publisher Summit: Publisher Panel
:diamonds: [2013] NYC Ad Pub: Viewability Panel
:diamonds: [2014 - 2015] General Assembly Instructor: Digital Advertising: Introduction to yield and ad optimizations
:diamonds: [2015] AdMonsters Publisher Summit: The Tagless Option (Note: Requires Tags)
:diamonds: [2015] AdMonsters OPS: Balancing Multiple SSPs to Maximize Yield
:diamonds: [2015] AdMonsters Panel: Let’s Talk Tagless
:diamonds: [2016] AdMonsters Publisher Summit: Balancing Act: Maximizing Value From Multiple SSPs
:diamonds: [2016] AdMonsters Tech Forum: Header Bidding: From Hack to Holistic Approach
:diamonds: [2016] bRealTime Publisher Summit: Publisher Panel

About Emry
Emry serves as the Vice President of Advertising for Emry joined Chegg in the acquisition of ImagineEasy Solutions where he had been the companies first hire and founding member of StudyBreak Media. StudyBreak Media focuses on advertising optimization, utilizing custom ad tech, data science, analytics and engineering to maximize the value of their inventory. StudyBreak Media was an early adopter of header bidding and strives to be at the vanguard of programmatic technology.

Where to connect:

Reminder! If you want to post questions, then you need to Sign Up for Sovrn Community.

Note: This is the actual AMA thread! Please place your questions in the thread below for Emry.


Emry, have I got questions for you! I want to start on a different tack than I think a lot of the questions you’ll get this week. I know in the programmatic community you have a reputation for really knowing the insides of header bidding and programmatic, but your responsibilities extend beyond just optimizing yield. I thought it would be interesting to hear from you what else you do in your role and if you can offer any career advice for those in a programmatic operations role who aspire to do more and get to the next level in their organization.


Hey Rob! That’s a great question. When I began in the space, our company was so small (I was the first hire at Imagine Easy Solutions, the company where StudyBreak began) I was not only running the ad business but also the helpdesk and helping out wherever I could (with the founders) on whatever else needed doing.

As we began to grow, I quickly shifted to an only ad focused (since it was something like 88% of total revenue) position and once modern programmatic was established (which I really view as when AdX and dynamic allocation rolled out) we quickly realized this was something a single person couldn’t do alone.

Today I’m lucky enough to work with an expanding and extremely talented group of people and while I still like to get into the weeds whenever possible and influence our roadmap, they are very capable in running the yield and dev sprints and driving the day to day.

As a result, the most important aspects of my job are to work with SBM team leaders to make sure we have an aligned focus on what’s most important, and therefore what’s being worked on, week to week. Internally I’m very fortunate because Chegg has been super supportive of our ad efforts but I’m always trying to understand what areas of the team we should be focused on and building out - if we had more resources, what more could we do as a busines? I need to help my C-Levels understand those things so I can assist them in making the right decisions for our company as a whole.

I spend a lot of time talking to the SBM team and understanding what’s working well, what isn’t and what we can change. I try to make it clear that everyone on the team has a voice and an influence in our work as a whole and to do that properly takes a lot of time and a lot of discussions.

Finally, I spend a lot of time researching and learning about trends in the space. I do this from publications but mainly talking with, and picking the brain of, other publishers. We have such an advantage as pubs that we can share our thoughts, ideas and failures with one another. I’ve always tried to help others where I could and in turn, others have helped me learn a ton about programmatic. This gives you the unique advantage of potentially avoiding the mistakes or capitalizing on what’s working for other people.


Thanks for your insights, Emry! It’s great to see you here!

I wanted to ask you a few questions, too. They’re a bit all over the place, so please excuse me, I’m just going to fire them off

How do you feel about the number of header bidders versus latency versus revenue? On our site, for example, we check if the user is on a mobile device and then we severely limit the number of prebid requests we send out (ie. fewer networks and ad sizes), while on desktop we send more.

I know that for every website the sweet spot is probably different, but what do you base your decisions on whether you add a new demand partner to your setup, or whether you remove one? Or have you gone full S2S or single-request?

What analytics tools do you use to evaluate your header bidders?

Also, you say that it was 88% ad focussed at SBM. What other revenue streams have you added?

Lastly, you say you spend a lot of time researching trends in the space. What are your predictions for the big trends in 2017?

Thanks a lot for your time with this!


Thanks for the questions, Jan. Haha, no worries, happy to answer whatever I can. My answers are a little all over the place as well =)

  • How do you feel about the number of header bidders versus latency versus revenue?

It’s a great question and as you indicated, there really isn’t one specific answer since every pubs setup, site and goals are going to be much different. We’re nearly 100% driven by programmatic revenue so header has been huge for us.

In terms of thinking about latency, you first have to asses what your capabilities are in assessing performance. Something every publisher can measure no matter their team size or analytical capabilities is how header (or adding header partners) is affecting your pageview to impression ration. Track your PV growth YoY, establish that baseline. Track your impression growth YoY, establish that baseline. Mark the days you went live with a specific header bidder or header bidding if it’s new, what sort of impact are you seeing? Ideally your PV and impression growth is closely tied but if you add a new partner and all of the sudden you’re seeing impression growth no longer keeping up with PV growth, you may have an issue.

(Keep in mind things like ad blocking will impact this which is why finding your current course and speed baseline is so important for accurate measurement)

When we first went live with header we relied on things like this and while it’s obviously far from perfect, it’s much better than nothing.

Today we’re able to roll a new header partner out to a specific segment of traffic, say 5%. From there we’re able to look at how that partner is impacting both revenue (what lift are they providing) and GPT fire time (latency) and with that information we make a determination about whether the increase in lift makes up for the increase (or hopefully there isn’t an increase) in GPT fire time.

Keep in mind that GPT fire time can be impacted even with a fixed timeout.

So that’s a long way to say, I don’t think there’s a right answer but understanding what’s right for your property is really all about understanding how you’re going to measure. If the first version of what I described doesn’t suite your business needs then I think the conversation becomes, how do we improve to the point where we can get closer to the second method I described. Or I suppose this is a good time to challenge the industry as a whole to figure out how publishers can get this sort of data in a way that’s clearer to understand.

Simpler ways to think about it would be talking to other pubs who might have tips on implementation or partners they’ve seen and fixed latency spikes from. How did they achieve that? Take those best practices and put them to work.

  • Question: Or have you gone full S2S or single-request?

I love the idea of S2S but we’re still on client side. I don’t think there’s a clear winner in the space yet and while I’d love to explore it, I’m not overly eager to be an early adopter until I have a clearer sense of what will shake out. We continue to look at options and will be testing sometime down the road.

  • What analytics tools do you use to evaluate your header bidders?

We use a combination of Google Analytics with imported DFP data as well as Kibana for more realtime/performance related metrics. Kibana handles the visualizations but a ton of effort and engineering went into getting us to a place where that could be evaluated as a realtime optimization tool. We’d need to do an AMA with engineering for that complete download!

  • Question: Also, you say that it was 88% ad focussed at SBM. What other revenue streams have you added?

Our sites offer a subscription tool as well which allows users to sign up for extended features and functionality.

  • Lastly, you say you spend a lot of time researching trends in the space. What are your predictions for the big trends in 2017?
  • Server to server will continue to emerge and it will matter but client side header bidding will remain relevant.

  • More and more ad budget will shift into PMP as agencies and brands are realizing the controls and efficiency increases it provides.

  • EBDA will roll out and it will matter to publishers in the space but it will be a compliment vs. replacement for code on page for advanced publishers and an excellent tool for publishers with high direct sell through rates. It will also raise the bar and improve the conversation around latency, pushing S2S to be adopted (both through EBDA and on page) to more and more pubs.


My assumption is that Chegg users are an engaged audience, probably spending a decent amount of time on the site when they are using it. Have you considered any of the “cost per time” models. Regardless of whether you’ve considered it, do you think there might be something to moving to time based models for some publishers?


The ‘Cost Per Time’ model is interesting because it communicates to brands that they aren’t just an additional part of a sites advertising experience but an integrated part of the entire user experience on the site - it’s a great opportunity to go beyond the banner and create an immersive experience that extends well beyond programmatic means.

I think that has value in digital, especially in an age where we as an industry are still perfecting how to evaluate, communicate and understand the most impactful way to spend media dollars and return the highest ROI for clients.

All that said, this isn’t something we’ve focused on at Chegg yet but it’s something we should and will evaluate because what we’re offering students is immersive and providing a lot of value and we need to figure out creative solutions to communicate that message.