Is programmatic advertising easier than partnership?

New buying tools are transforming podcast advertising, but they’re not a silver bullet

Programmatic advertising is slowly transforming podcasting. Driven largely by investment in the tech that allows for dynamic insertion of audio ads by platforms like Acast, programmatic has quickly become a significant part of the media mix. Its proponents point to the speed and versatility with which ad spots and campaigns can be bought and sold. This, the argument goes, allows for a democratisation of revenue opportunities much the same way that the medium itself allowed for a wider array of voices.

As a result, the proportion of podcast ad spend enabled by programmatic is set to rise over the next few years. While it only accounted for 1% of overall podcast spend in 2021 according to the IAB, it is set to sharply increase to account for just under 20% of podcast ad spend in the US by 2024. It is also likely that the ability to buy programmatically is partly responsible for an increase in podcast ad spend overall. Insider Intelligence forecasts that overall adspend on the medium will reach $3.53bn by 2026 – with the entrance of new advertisers through programmatic contributing to that total.

Matt Sayward is chief strategy officer at Platform Media. He says that programmatic is opening up new opportunities within podcast advertising: “The shows that best fit your brand might be obvious from looking at what’s popular within the subject matters that resonate with your target audience.” 

“But equally, they might not. And that’s fine too, because the ad tech platforms in this space have come a long way in the last few years – and if you pick the right platform with the right inventory, you’ll have everything from psychographic targeting to age, location and gender demographics at your disposal.”

It’s also true that programmatic allows for re-use of creative in a way that partnering doesn’t always offer. Lina Wangfang is senior director of inventory at StackAdapt. She explains: “With programmatic, you just need one creative that can run in hundreds of thousands of podcasts. It is a lot easier and cost-effective compared to host-read.” 

“With programmatic podcast advertising, our strategy is to reach the desired audience across all inventory. So you are a lot more likely to get desirable performance with lower cost.”

Overcoming preconceptions

However, given the relative nascence of programmatic for podcasts and a need for more education about podcast advertising in general, there are obstacles to overcome. One such issue is an overall reticence to use demand-side platforms (DSPs) to buy podcast ads, which is cooling takeup overall. 

That partly concerns the issue that many of the most sought-after podcast advertising opportunities are still sold directly. That benefits the biggest podcasting platforms like Spotify and iHeartMedia – but does limit the appeal of buying programmatically.

In some ways programmatic is actually significantly more effort on the part of the media buyer or agency. A partnership with a platform usually ensures that the onus to prioritise and set KPIs is shared between partners; through a DSP, that responsibility falls solely on the buyer. That, in addition to the responsibility to pore over and investigate the results of a campaign, creates more effort overall for a conscientious buyer.

“When it comes to measurement,” says Triton Digital chief product officer Benjamin Masse, “advertisers need specific tools that help them understand the success of their podcasting campaigns so they know where to spend to get the most value.” 

So while it is possible that using programmatic can streamline the process, it still requires an awful lot of work on behalf of the brand and buyer. As a result, most podcast advertisers believe that, rather than being an easier route to the same destination for advertisers, programmatic is a complementary service with different aims.

Complementary, not competitive

Alice Sandelson is commercial director for audio at Tortoise. She argues that the rise of programmatic for podcasting is welcome – not for any ease of use case, but for the additional choice it offers for advertisers.

"The beauty of podcast advertising is that there are numerous ways to promote a brand, and the more open and creative the conversation between brand and publisher, the more exciting the campaigns, and better the result.”

“Equally exciting are developments in dynamic audio ads, which will no doubt bring brands that are not currently spending into audio advertising.”

Christiana Brenton is co-founder of Telling Media. She explains that a mix of the two – partnering and programmatic – is likely to yield better results: “The best format combination to maximise your results is 60 to 90-second host read sponsorships leveraging the unique power of influencer advocacy in highly attentive environments, supplemented by 30-second audio ads with a combination of contextual or audience based targeting to help drive scale and frequency.”

It is likely that programmatic is facing an uphill battle around advertiser preconceptions. Host-read ads played a key part in the early days of attracting investment to the medium, while the bigger platforms have made direct sales a huge part of their pitch to advertisers. Against those expectations, programmatic can therefore seem like a faster and more straightforward route for advertisers. 

The idea that programmatic is an ‘easier’ route into podcast advertising than partnering with media owners, however, is nuanced at best and incorrect at worst. It is likely that some of the perception comes from advertiser familiarity with programmatic’s use for buying digital display advertising, which has a much more comprehensive journey from start to to finish. 

However, as the proportion of programmatic spend on podcasts increases and the tech matures, it’s likely we will see a correction of those perceptions. Programmatic podcast advertising may not be a silver bullet for easy reach, but it's more than earned its place as a key tool in media buyers' arsenals.