Thought Leadership

You Can’t Afford to Ignore the Rise of Programmatic Audio

June 14, 2018
By Nina Harvey, Head of Audio, Rubicon Project

The rise of digital audio — both as a medium, and as an ad opportunity — is a trend that is impossible to ignore.

The proliferation of devices and changing habits of consumers globally means people are increasingly streaming music and podcasts to their phones and other connected devices.

This upsurge creates unique ad opportunities — but let’s put that into context.

Industry analysts put global monthly listenership across leading apps like Spotify and iHeartRadio at somewhere between 600 and 900 million. A recent XAPP Media report estimates that of the 1 billion streaming listeners globally, nearly nine out of ten choose ad-supported channels. The same research showed that in the U.S. alone, ad-supported revenue for internet radio doubled between the years of 2014-2017 (reaching $4 billion)!

For us here at Rubicon Project, we have also seen investments in programmatic audio increase, powered by a proliferation of private deals across the suite of sellers available through our exchange.

Quality supply from audio providers such as Spotify, SoundCloud and TargetSpot means that global brands and agencies are consistently booking deals. Pre- and mid-roll audio campaigns across 15- and 30-second slots are able to meet both brand and performance goals, while reaching a highly-engaged, captive audience.

“Audio is increasingly a part of consumers’ everyday experiences, especially with the rise of mobile and connected speakers,” said Chris Blackburn, Head of Global Sales & Partnerships at SoundCloud. “We’re excited to bring brands the opportunity to connect with SoundCloud’s unique audience, and partnering with Rubicon Project has been incredibly impactful in these efforts. Working with their quality support team helps us to easily tap into their premium orders solution for digital audio buys.”

Future challenges (and opportunities)

Globally, there’s a growing hunger for programmatic access to an even more diverse and scalable audience of listeners — good news for publishers and media companies with audio inventory.

Yet amidst all the excitement, it is important to recognise that audio is still an emerging format within the programmatic ecosystem.

Standardisation is a challenge, as there are currently two primary methods for delivering programmatic audio creative:  DAAST and VAST. While Rubicon Project executes our audio activity through a combination of VAST and private deals, some providers and publishers are still using the DAAST standard.

Industry trade groups like the IAB are working to streamline standardisation and ensure that advertisers can measure audio campaign effectiveness. For example, the IAB is sunsetting support for DAAST, and currently moving forward with ratification of the new VAST 4.1 protocol. This will enable audio to be transacted across a single standard template. VAST 4.1 adoption will also enable more audio inventory to move into the  open marketplace, with the additional liquidity providing new opportunities for buying and selling audio at scale.

Audio is the universal language

The programmatic audio opportunity is also one that’s truly global, with performance in markets like EMEA and Australia adding even more reasons for this positive outlook.

Across Europe, there is a massive shift away from analogue radio broadcasting (think of this as a standard “FM” signal), to digital audio broadcasting, or DAB.

In the UK, the DAB listening audience is forecast to top the 50 percent mark this year, which will ultimately trigger an end to support for analog AM/FM radio, following Norway’s region-by-region shutdown of analog radio that began last year. These changes are giving rise to further digital audio opportunities — and a ripe audience — for buyers.

Additionally in Australia, the IAB Australia reported that media buyers were increasingly “splitting their investments between traditional radio spot buys and newer technology-driven approaches involving programmatic.”

All of this opportunity exists and we haven’t even talked about smart speakers, cars and other connected devices as programmatic audio channels!

Comscore predicts that by 2020, roughly half of all searches will be voice-activated, a nod to the growth potential of voice connected speakers as channels for brands to provide value with info about the products and services consumers may be searching for.

The age old complaint around the “lack of creativity” in programmatic is ripe for the smashing as the audio revolution continues, as it seems like video hasn’t killed the radio star yet… or ever! Tune in to the next edition of our audio series to hear more.

For more information about programmatic audio here at Rubicon Project, please reach out to your account director or email us at We would love to hear from you.

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