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Media Planning and Buying Media Ad Spend

iHeartMedia harnesses AI to power new brand safety tools for podcast advertisers


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

February 27, 2023 | 5 min read

Brands seeking to advertise in the increasingly hot podcasting space will gain the ability to assess ‘brand suitability’ in advance of campaign deployment with new tools from iHeartMedia and Sounder.

Collage of man sitting in chair with podcasting microphone

As podcasting gets hotter, advertiser concerns about brand safety and suitability grow louder / Adobe Stock

Radio and digital audio giant iHeartMedia today announced new brand safety technology available to podcasters through a partnership with audio intelligence firm Sounder.

Sounder’s technology integrates with iHeartMedia’s podcast hosting platform Omny Studio to evaluate and interpret the content and context of a given podcast episode to help brands make judgments about brand safety and suitability. More specifically, Sounder’s artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities are used to develop content summaries, detailed brand suitability analysis, topic analysis and dynamic segmentation (helping advertisers target audience cohorts based on their recent behavior) for a given podcast episode – before a brand runs an ad. The tool can evaluate the content of iHeartMedia’s biggest shows as well as more niche podcasts from emerging creators.

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Previously, most brand safety and suitability metrics for audio advertisers have been limited to primarily post-campaign analytics. iHeartMedia and Sounder claim that its new pre-campaign episode-level analyses represent a first for the industry.

“Audio had been without a truly operative brand safety tool that gave advertisers the ability to run without risk at a national scale. The process was labor intensive, fragmented and often failed to deliver the level of protection brands truly needed,” iHeartMedia’s chief data officer Brian Kaminsky said in a statement.

Kaminsky went on to say that the new tool “changes the future and opens up endless possibilities,” because it enables advertisers to avoid content they see as inappropriate earlier on in the process.“Our partnership with Sounder has set a new benchmark for transparency in audio advertising that has been long overdue.”

The announcement comes at a time when podcasting in particular is attracting more ad spend than ever before. In 2023, the podcast advertising market is projected to surpass $3bn. And with an ever-growing deluge of content in the space, advertisers are increasingly wary of brand safety and suitability.

“Demand for podcast marketing is at an all-time high,” said iHeartMedia’s chief marketing officer Gayle Troberman in a statement. “But [marketers are] not willing to accept unnecessary risk to do so. This tool solves this challenge by providing objective, third-party brand safety verification and unlocking access to more content that moves the needle for marketers.”

Trust in brands more broadly is decreasing, Troberman pointed out, making this the opportune moment to tap into podcast advertising as a means of providing “authenticity, impact, and rebuild[ing] trust.”

The iHeartPodcast Network houses more than 750 podcasts spanning categories from sports and business to comedy and spirituality. Among its most popular titles are ‘The Ron Burgundy Podcast’ with Will Ferrell, the true crime show ‘Paper Ghosts’, ‘Fake Doctors, Real Friends’ starring Scrubs costars and IRL friends Zach Braff and Donald Faison and ‘You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton’. Plus, the network hosts 100-plus unique shows hosted by its own on-air talent.

iHeartMedia and Sounder hope that its partnership will open up new inventory options for advertisers of all kinds and create greater transparency in podcast media.

“Sounder's brand safety and suitability solutions are here to usher in the next stage of growth for podcasting and audio advertising,” said Sounder CEO and co-founder Kal Amin in a statement. “Our technology provides the transparency needed for confident decision-making and transacting across publishers, agencies, and ad tech partners.”

Ultimately, iHeartMedia’s Troberman noted, the partnership aims to help marketers “leverage the full power of human connection and contextual relevance that podcasts provide – without the fear and risk of unsafe inventory.”

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