Programmatic audio advertising challenges and opportunities

In 2018, audio streaming services started showing the fastest growth in UK music consumption since the late 90s. Listens via platforms like Spotify have increased by 51.8% since 2016, to cover some 68 million albums. In the US, last year use of on-demand streams reached 611 billion in 2018, marking a 49% yearly bump.

Podcasting and audio streaming are booming. Only in the UK the number of weekly listeners has grown 2x in the past five years reaching 5.9 million people listening to the podcasts every week. 

However, despite having a moment now, audio is still slow in attracting ad dollars compared to programmatic display, video, and native.

Joe Yakuel, the founder and CEO of WITHIN shared his thoughts for this article. Specifically, here’s Joe’s take on where we are now with programmatic audio: 

Similarly to TV, we’re still in the middle of the ‘exploration’ phase of programmatic audio.

“Tracking and targeting are getting more robust, with more platforms and integrations furthering their capabilities. However, there are still several issues, like lack of inventory, measurement capabilities, and readiness to look at programmatic audio through a direct-response performance lens.”

How advertisers can benefit from programmatic audio advertising

Audio is engaging, emotional, and it completely differs from what other digital ad formats bring in. When it comes to opportunities, here are several benefits marketers get by leveraging programmatic audio ads.

From various perspectives, programmatic audio ads bring quality and trust, more control of where ads appear, and allows advertisers to craft compelling, targeted narratives – well personalized and highly relevant.

Besides, nicely put by Joe Yakuel, audio space serves a unique purpose as you’re able to target users while they’re in very specific mindsets – exercising, studying, working, cleaning, relaxing, etc. These all represent behaviors when consumers have limited exposure to other ads, and you get to own that time. Aural branding is often overlooked in favor of visual, but just consider how easily we recognize the opening themes of entertainment companies like Disney, 20th Century Studios, HBO, and NBC.

Also, Jayanti Kataria, founder and CEO at Moon Technolabs finds programmatic audio ads to be a great way to share the voice and reach the larger audience, especially across mobile devices.

Shortfalls and challenges

Along with advanced personalization opportunities and gaining more control, advertisers also want another essential benefit: opportunity to reach their audiences with audio using the same platforms they use to buy all the other programmatic inventory. Now, what makes it still challenging to embrace that. 

Data and privacy

With the introduction of GDPR and more regulations coming, the use of data in the digital audio world will change the way it is. With standards improved and new solutions coming up in the adtech industry, we’ll also see specific steps applied to audio. For now, it’s part where everyone in the industry needs education.


As audio shifted from traditional radio stations to the digital, the industry needs to work on standardization of audio creative. Previously, programmatic audio creative could be delivered in 2 methods: DAAST and VAST, each limited by its own inventory. After IAB had released updates in VAST protocol, audio got a single standard template and more audio inventory became available for purchase at the open marketplace.


Audio is still a very new format when it comes to buying ad inventory. That’s why there’s still a lot of old-fashioned manual buying and upfront deals in place. However, ad tech is gaining ground. According to IAB Europe, programmatic-enabled buying marketplaces for audio continue to make big strides in offering the industry an alternative, data driven way of buying audio ads. 

Other issues related to audio ads purchased programmatically, are the lack of transparency, limited technical integrations, and restricted measurability. 

Measuring programmatic audio campaigns

Measurement is still a challenging aspect when it comes to programmatic audio ads. Apparently, we can’t apply the same measurement logic that works for standard – basically visual – digital ads. 

Yet, that logic is what measurement of audio still focuses on today. 

Mainly, this relates to the lack of data used for planning audio campaigns, and generally limitation in terms of touch points. What can help here is considering  audio as part of a broader campaign. For instance, accompanying audio ads with banner displaying at the same platform. That can add another dimension to measurement and make campaign more effective. 

Specific metrics may vary across different platforms, still, generally they include start, midpoint, completions, impressions, clicks, and a couple more. Some programmatic audio DSPs also provide more audio-specific metrics like listen-through rate and mute rate. 

Where programmatic audio advertising market is going

As audio ads can not only attract listeners, but also immediately convert them into customers, this will lead to growing number of audio streaming services, increasing audio inventory purchases, and will logically require technical capacity extension. 

In terms of inventory expansion, Joe Yakuel thinks isn’t much of it coming in the near future. Spotify has overcome Stitcher as a top-three medium for podcast consumption, which will increase space for both programmatic and direct buys. 

Also, re-thinking measurement for audio campaigns will need to take place. Listeners are in a much different mindset when they are consuming audio content vs scrolling through social media feed, reading or watching videos. Therefore we as digital marketers need to challenge our traditional assumptions about tracking direct-response conversions. 

Connecting the dots

Apparently, for the next year or so programmatic audio is going to be heavily about education, starting with streamers and tech vendors and followed by agencies and brands. There’s a huge amount of education to be done, and we’re only at the start of the journey.

Looking for a single platform to run all your programmatic campaigns? Drop us a line to see how Markpoint DSP can help with that.

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