Thought Leadership

Getting Programmatic Audio on the Mainstream Media Plan

August 27, 2018
By Nina Harvey, Head of Audio, Rubicon Project

Streaming volume continues to grow and produce interesting user behavior trends across on-demand, programmed, and audio streaming content. Social highlights also offer buyers unique and timely opportunities to reach target audiences — the World Cup, popular podcasts, or new music from popular artists released on Fridays, just to name a few.

Regardless, programmatic audio is not consistently included in digital media plans. Despite this growing opportunity, there remains a disconnect between marketers and content providers as to the intrinsic value of audio. This disconnect stems from a number of factors, mainly tied to the relative “newness” of the medium in the age of programmatic. Many buyers may lack trust in current measurement standards, inventory quality, or the ability to measure performance.

In an effort to bridge this gap and shed light on this unrealized opportunity, many organizations are working to review and promote audio-specific insights and standards with the intention of building trust in audio and bringing it into mainstream digital planning.

Standardizing Measurement

Currently, the MRC requires an audio ad to be played with the digital audio player un-muted at a non-zero volume for minimum of 2 seconds to be considered audible.

However,  there is a desire across the industry to dig deeper into defining what qualifies as an audible impression with scientific research.

Taking valuable lessons from the work already done to define viewability and its importance as a trading metric in display and video, the audio community hopes to further hone current MRC guidelines to ensure a baseline for campaign effectiveness in various audio environments. While audio is not yet in the mainstream for buyers, this type of research will help to create a new standard of performance-endorsed measurement, which could reaffirm investment across the medium.

Building Trust

The IAB is also working to address buy-side concerns about inventory quality and transparency across audio supply. The IAB Brand Safety and Digital Audio white paper outlines the nuances of audio streaming and downloaded content. Advocates of audio consistently champion the fraud free nature of the landscape as most publishers use server-side ad insertion to monetize their audio content. This in turn reduces the potential for fraud to insert itself into the bid stream or for invalid traffic to be generated.

Curating inventory from trusted suppliers and controlling access through PMPs is another routine buying technique in programmatic audio. Whitelisting and targeting deals to quality supply surfaces all of the endemically valuable elements we love about programmatic – control, transparency and efficient buying across the supply chain.

These demands from buyers and sellers alike have been a common theme in recent years, and the industry has worked hard to address this, including Rubicon Project. Through the acquisition of traffic shaping technology nToggle, removal of buyer fees, and a free bid shading tool to buy more cost-effectively in first price auctions, our buyers see a more concentrated bid stream that matches their demand to publishers’ deals. This results in greater win rates and decreased capital expense for buyers, as well as increased revenue for sellers.

Tracking Success

One of the most important dependencies for audio spend to grow is the ability to track and measure its effectiveness. Audience measurement and impression tracking methods vary according to the way the content is consumed. There are two ways to consume digital audio — streaming or downloading. For now we’ll focus on streaming audio, where programmatic RTB based monetization is most prevalent.

Accredited streaming audio measurement tools are provided by Triton Digital’s Webcast Metrics™ (MRC accredited) and provide credible third-party data that is translated into traditional and digital metrics to facilitate both streaming and downloaded media buying. Nielsen provides measurement for streamed AM/FM services using a proprietary SDK.  Big data, census-style measurement is combined with third party demographic information and then calibrated with Nielsen’s Portable People Meter (PPM) panel to present measurement of over-the-air and online listening.

Overall, the ease of execution and transparency of programmatic presents an easy way for marketers to extend omnichannel strategies to digital audio and as a highly relevant standalone solution. “Programmatic audio is only in its early life stages, but is already showing off its immense potential and unique possibilities, says Eric van der Haegen, Global Head of Programmatic at TargetSpot. “This emerging channel gives advertisers new and efficient ways of purchasing advertising and integrating digital audio as a part of an omni-channel strategy and is necessary for the future of digital advertising.”

The evolution of programmatic audio has only begun. We’ve seen our own programmatic audio ad spend triple in just the last quarter. As more buyers gain a better understanding into its measurement and tracking, audio is set to become a staple in media plans.

In our next blog post in the audio series we will focus on the unique opportunities which audio presents to leverage creativity and maximize brands’ success.

In the meantime, to learn more about Rubicon Project’s programmatic audio offering, reach out at

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