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Sound and vision: where the industry is at with programmatic audio


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

May 20, 2019 | 7 min read

As Spotify, Google and Adobe form an alliance to get agencies and brands to make programmatic audio a coveted spot on their media plans, The Drum explores the current state of play.

programmatic audio

Audio streaming is having a moment / Spotify

In 2018, a surge in audio streaming prompted the fastest growth in UK music consumption since the late 90s. Listens via platforms like Spotify have increased by 51.8% since 2016, to cover some 68 million albums.

In the US, meanwhile, on-demand streaming now accounts for the majority of audio consumption. In 2019, consumption of on-demand streams reached 611 billion in 2018 marking a 49% bump year-over-year.

Podcasting is a booming business too, with the number of weekly podcast listeners in the UK having almost doubled in the past five years to reach 5.9 million pairs of ears each week.

Audio streaming is having a moment but compared to other automated formats it’s been slow to catch on with spend still minuscule compared to programmatic display, video and native.

In world where people are oversaturated by display ads, connected devices are on the up and where brands are looking for pinpoint measurement, the likes of Spotify are trying to get marketers to funnel more budgets into programmatic audio.

The platform has teamed up with other players in the space like Google, its exchange partner Rubicon Project and Adobe to take their pitch to marketers around Europe with a series of 'Love Audio' events.

The Drum attended one of these pitches last month. Here's what some of speakers had to say on the changing face of audio and what more needs to do be done to turn it into a bigger media buy – including education, consolidating media and standardising measurement.

Answers have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity

Zuzanna Gierlinska, head of automation for Europe, Spotify

What’s been the biggest change in the programmatic audio space over the past year?

We’re seeing a tipping point where consumers will spend the next decade in screenless media. Increasingly people are using [audio streaming] when they’re working, cooking or driving, so it just enables more touch points with people in ways brands can get with visual media.

It’s really opened up a whole new way for brands to connect with audiences and more moments in which they can do that.

That, overall, is the broad consumer shift driving attention into streaming audio, if brands start to apply programmatic execution then brands can really get that layer of personalisation and deliver the right message at the right time.

In the last year we’ve seen a marked shift in brands leaning in and trying it as a medium.

How are brands typically measuring programmatic audio campaigns? And what’s your take on the call for more standardised measurement across the industry?

Some brands like Nestle are using incremental reach. Audio-specific metrics are things like listen-through rate and mute rate, which the DSPs have baked into their platforms already.

Standardised measurement will come. If you look at video, there are a lot of verification technologies out there. None of these have a metric for audio, yet, but it’s not far off – I know a lot of them are investigating it. As adoption grows and expands those layers of verification and development will expand.

Stephen Wing, managing director UK, Ireland and Nordics, Rubicon Project

How are you pitching programmatic audio?

We’ve spent the past 10 years trying to work out what to put on screens and as we drown in display, the opportunity to get immersed in audio is really powerful. Agencies and brands can do lots of great stuff – in streaming audio especially – now.

This is a really crucial skill for the future in terms of how advertisers engage audiences and drive performance.

How have you seen the uptake of programmatic audio buys change over the past two years?

We don’t break out our figures, but we’ve only seen growth and it’s only continuing so it’s a really bright spot. It’s not a blip, it’s a pronounced trend from a consumer perspective and a digital investment perspective.

On the topic of oversaturation, are we going to reach a point in the next 10 years where we reach a frequency tipping point with programmatic audio?

I hope not. At the moment part of what’s beautiful about programmatic audio for advertisers is the really high share of voice. Yours is the only ad in that break, it’s natively delivered, it’s a headphone and invite-only environment, it’s intensely personal.

When you get into the car and voice-activated speakers in the home it starts to become more of a shared experience. So we’ll need to wait and see but I’d like to think brands and agencies will take all the good stuff they’ve learned from digital and programmatic in terms of transparency of targeting and measurability and combine that with frequency capping.

Paul Cocks, EMEA product strategy lead, Google

How have your clients being using programmatic audio?

We’re seeing clients add audio to their existing video and display campaigns to get the full benefit of it – so not just testing out a new channel but also consolidating their programmatic into a single platform to get a single view of the user.

We ran a campaign with Nestle and Zenith last year to test the effectiveness of this where we used all three and looked at the incremental reach on display and video by themselves versus display, video and audio bundled together. We kept the budget and frequency the same. The latter showed an incrementality of 58% reach.

The audio proportion of that was 30% of the budget but it reflected 51% of the reach – so even from a standalone perspective audio was strong.

Our part there was from the technology side, not only adding audio into the campaign but using fixed price and programmatic guaranteed.

And when you’re running campaigns like that – is there still a lot of education to be done on the client/agency side?

For sure, at least for the next year or so programmatic audio is going to be heavily about education, not only from our side but from the audio platforms in terms of educating their own stakeholders.

We need to all connect the dots on the client side between the programmatic teams and those who hold the audio budgets.

There’s a huge amount of education to be done, and we’re only at the start of the journey.

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