Podcasts are providing a safe space for all women, and the brands who support them
Since 2017, Acast has pioneered programmatic ad buying for the podcast industry. And 2020 saw all our hard work begin to pay off, as we achieved 215% year-on-year growth in our programmatic ad sales revenue.
2021 is shaping up to be better than ever, and we’re currently hiring for an Account Manager for programmatic sales based in New York. But it’s not been an easy ride to get to this point — and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way.
Here are some of the most important things we’ve discovered in four years of testing and learning. We’ve even split them into four sections to make them easier to digest.
“We were confident a thorough education for everyone would benefit all parties”
Training everyone involved in the ad sales pipeline — including both our own people and all the partners we work with — really has been at least half the job. And, particularly when applying technology to a relatively new channel like podcasting, what’s key is how you educate those people.
The watchword for us throughout the whole process has been “transparency”, because we were confident a thorough education for everyone would benefit all parties (particularly our podcasters and advertiser clients) and help us to address any concerns around introducing programmatic execution.
Internally, this helped get buy-in from around the business. When Michael joined the company, most of the sales team had little idea of how programmatic revenue worked or how they could track it for their clients — today, they know exactly what’s going on and have become true advocates.
Externally, right from the start, we were honest with everyone we spoke to: this is new, and it’s going to be more challenging than you’re used to with, for example, display or video, but the potential is huge. And that did lead to some buyers and partners admitting they probably weren’t ready to jump in with us at that point.
But now, four years after we started that educational journey, we’re reaping the rewards — as shown by our programmatic ad sales revenue growth. Advertisers are coming back to us with much bigger briefs that show they’ve really understood what our automated solutions can do for them.
So, how did we do it?
Here’s how we approached the task with our buy- and sell-side partners:
With key buyers:
And, crucially, with podcasters:
We’re not big fans of using technical solutions just for the sake of it, especially when we know it simply wouldn’t work for our creators. Take host reads, for example. We could have tried to implement programmatic here, but in reality very few buyers are currently asking for it — and it presents far too many hurdles in terms of production and quality assurance.
We will always be led by the best use of technology for the market, and the only ad format we’re currently hearing people ask for the ability to automate is standard audio ads. More to the point, we will never back an idea that undermines high quality sponsorship reads (the product that tends to make our creators the most money).
While one-to-one PMP deals have been the standard, from initial experiments with buyers using open-access deal IDs in DSP inventory discovery tools, we’ve seen that — as long as we have creative control — these solutions within partner buying platforms can offer some of the flexibility of OMP in other mediums.
This, plus the option for buyers to set up both PMP and PG directly with Acast, makes us confident in DSP open access executions as a gateway to our supply.
Where OMP enables anyone to buy via a DSP with limited contact, our ultimate approach will always maintain a human element — because it’s our belief that podcasting needs hands-on curation.
And that’s why we run a curated marketplace, where we can still vet brands and individual ads to ensure they work for our creators, as well as making sure individual podcasts are suitable for our advertisers.
“Programmatic guaranteed has now become the most popular execution type in our marketplace”
By necessity, we were on a fast-growth, test-and-learn footing — but that didn’t mean we could afford to under-deliver or leave buyers unsatisfied. It was important that we made good on all the education we’d been doing, by proving that programmatic in podcasting works in practice
We needed a testing ground — and we found the perfect market in Australia. It’s a highly developed region with broad adoption of programmatic, but not so large as to be unwieldy or difficult to manage.
That allowed us to do the following:
We were able to take all those learnings and translate our success in Australia to the next group of markets: the UK, Ireland, France and the US. Now, in our fourth year, Acast is listed in the inventory discovery tools of six major DSPs and we’re working with buyers based in 20 markets, using multiple execution types.
We’ve reached the point that, while PMP is still used across the board, by mid-June 2021 programmatic guaranteed has now become the most popular execution type in our marketplace.
On top of this, we have a fully fledged vendor onboarding process that we’ve honed in multi-market engagements, in response to clients’ requests that we work with their chosen ad tech — but more on that later.
Next, we were ready to scale things up:
Eventually, we’re aiming to get to the point where everything runs smoothly and the whole thing just ‘works’. But we’re also realistic. We know that’s still some way off because — while a lot of audio specialist buy side adtech platforms have nailed it — there’s still a lack of standardization for audio execution among big ad tech companies and the omni-channel DSPs.
Reorienting major vendors and their customers to the intricacies of the podcast ecosystem will require a lot of hard work, and a healthy dose of patience.
“We focus on contextual targeting, relying on and understanding the context of the conversations happening within podcasts on our platform”
The fact is, podcasting in the open ecosystem means Acast’s supply is more constrained — predominantly due to reliance on IP addresses, because there’s a lack of logged-in users across third party listening platforms and apps.
While that means we don’t work with a lot of data, it also means — with cookies set to be consigned to the history books in late 2023 — we’ve developed solutions specifically for podcasting which means that we’re 100% future-proof.
The landscape is slightly different inside and outside Europe:
At Acast we focus on contextual targeting, relying on and understanding the context of the conversations happening within podcasts on our platform, rather than needing first-party user data. That includes keyword targeting using AI-powered speech-to-text transcription, and curated podcast collections hand picked by our experienced global content teams.
This works particularly well in podcasting versus other channels because of the wide range of genres — both niche and mainstream — that are available. It’s influencer media at its best, and today’s buyers are demanding transparent, contextually targeted, premium supply sources.
However, we also believe that ingesting universal IDs — which will replace cookies and device ID — is a feasible solution for the open podcasting ecosystem. Adoption has already started in the US and, while some players are yet to be convinced, we will once again be working to educate the whole industry on its potential.
Our position as a creator-first, tech-savvy podcast platform means Acast can be the single trusted middleman between podcast content, buyers, and multiple vendors.
As Jim Rubio, Associate Director, Digital Activation at OMD in New York City, said: “I recognize that Acast’s programmatic capabilities in the podcast space is at the forefront of the industry. Acast was the only tech partner that was able to activate our niche B2B audiences in podcast, programmatically (through a DMP).”
“Acast is still the only podcast company aligned with all four of the IAB’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines 2.0 metrics — and the IAB even hosts its own podcasts with us”
When we looked at automating the direct IO, we wanted to start from scratch with a truly transparent and democratised approach:
Here’s Nathanial Thompson, Associate Media Planning Director at Essence Global: ““We’re extremely happy with the success of the campaign we ran with Acast. Not only were we able to see results in product recall, we were most excited by the statistically significant uplift in purchase consideration driven during the campaign. The partnership with Acast allowed us to immerse ourselves within the conversations already happening between creators and their listeners, making the advert feel authentic and relevant to the listener — with minimal disruption.”
Acast is also still the only podcast company aligned with all four of the IAB’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines 2.0 metrics, and we’re a leading partner in the 2.1 recertification in process right now. In fact, the IAB even hosts its own podcasts with us.
However, as a prominent member of the IAB Tech Lab Podcast Working Group, we believe the industry needs to go further. We need:
If you’ve made it this far, you’ll know we’ve had to follow a winding road to get us to this point. But, after four years of testing and learning, 2021 is the year programmatic has really started to pay off for Acast. Here’s to the next four — and beyond.
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