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February 14, 2023 | By Sara Guaglione

Despite improvements in podcast advertising that have made it easier to buy ads through programmatic channels, buyers are slow to adopt true programmatic podcast buying through a demand-side platform, according to buyers who spoke with Digiday.

There are a variety of reasons for this: host-read ads are still king in the medium, not all podcast networks or shows have inventory available to buy programmatically, and buyers often feel the need to vet the content to ensure contextual alignment when targeting specific audience segments or category verticals across a number of podcast networks.

However, while some buyers have little to no interest in buying ads through a DSP, others are planning to test out or put more money into buying ads programmatically this year, as the technology and targeting and measurement capabilities continue to improve and more inventory becomes available to buy programmatically, according to conversations with four buyers.

The share of podcast ad dollars being spent programmatically remains a sliver of podcast ad spending. In 2021, programmatic represented 2% of total podcast spend, per the Interactive Advertising Bureau. By 2024, it will account for just shy of 10% of U.S. podcast ad spending, predicted Insider Intelligence.

“Programmatic is still relatively in its infancy in the audio space compared to other channels in media,” said Robyn Meyers, vp of programmatic for AdsWizz.

Why the hesitancy around programmatic ad buying?

Why are some podcast ad buyers resistant to buying ads through a DSP? One of the reasons is certain inventory isn’t yet available to buy programmatically, buyers said. Larger buys, sponsorships, host-read ads and custom formats are typically bought directly from a platform such as Spotify, Pandora or iHeartMedia, buyers told Digiday.

Maria Tullin, vp and managing director of advanced and digital audio at Horizon Media, said buying podcast ad inventory through a DSP is “not appealing to my team.”
Kristen Coseo, director of podcast and digital audio strategy at Ocean Media, said her team prefers to work directly with networks due to the relationships they’ve built. “The majority of the reps that we work with, we’ve been working with them for a lot of years now. So the trust is there.”

Buying podcast ads through a DSP would also, in some ways, mean more work for the agency, Coseo said. Her team would need to ensure everything is running efficiently and monitor results, she said. When working directly with a podcast network, the network “sets everything up based off the parameters we give them. By going direct, we are putting trust in our partner to make sure they are selecting the correct targeting parameters and setting up our campaign as we requested,” she added.

It’s also more difficult for brands with smaller budgets to bid for a “preferred placement” — such as an ad placed in a top podcast show — on a DSP, said Mark Pappas, svp of innovation at CMI.

One buyer — who did not feel comfortable speaking on the record to summarize agencies’ hesitancy to buy podcast ads programmatically — said there is a “sect of the podcast ecosystem that is anti-programmatic that does not exist in other mediums,” which they believe is due to being “burned” by issues with programmatic display ad buying.

Why some buyers prefer programmatic

For those buyers who are transacting through a DSP, the biggest benefit is better reporting. Buyers can see which shows and episodes the ads ran in and can control frequency management, or how many ads were served in a specific household. This can’t be done (yet) with direct buys, two buyers said. That being said, iHeartMedia CEO Conal Byrne said the company offers that level of reporting for its direct-sold inventory.
Just buying an audience or buying a content vertical doesn’t give you quite enough guardrails.

Molly Schultz, svp of integrated investment at UM, said her team prefers to buy through a DSP because they can target a specific audience segment across networks. Because of this, buying ads through a DSP is also better for clients that have smaller budgets and can’t “commit to massive spends,” CMI’s Pappas said. Clients can test the podcast space with those smaller budgets going into DSPs to get their “feet wet with audio,” he said.
It’s also a pricing strategy: programmatic buying means “being able to pay what the market demand is,” Schultz said. Programmatic buying gives a “real-time rate,” she said.

Despite Schultz’s preference for buying podcast ads programmatically, she noted her team still has to vet a host and the content of a podcast series by having direct conversations with networks. “The same types of third-party verification tools that we use [for other media channels] aren’t available when within podcasts. So we do have to rely on a lot of first-party intel to help ensure safety,” Schultz said. “Just buying an audience or buying a content vertical doesn’t give you quite enough guardrails. You still have to dig in a little deeper,” she added.

Alex de Ruwe, Philips Domestic Appliances’ head of media, said “With OMG we have found a media partner that enables our growth and enables us to achieve our ambitious goals. OMG’s tech, tools and talented people take media to the next level through integration, standardization, automation, simplification and innovation. We look forward to a good and long-term cooperation with our new agency.

Florian Adamski, Omnicom Media Group chief executive, added: “OMG and Philips Domestic Appliances have a common goal: to transform the consumer experience to enable long-term growth. This goal is the foundation of our bespoke media platform and all the brands our team will work on.”

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