Media Buying Briefing: Brand safety in digital audio (especially podcasting) gets ‘more surgical’

podcast listening

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News headlines about brand safety tend to focus on the video side of the content business, what with continued challenges to keep advertisers away from content they don’t want to be associated with, but also an overreliance on exclusion lists to the detriment of better engagement. 

Media buyers and sellers in the world of digital audio are taking preventative steps to ensure they don’t suffer similar challenges, particularly as the podcast subset explodes with new content and ad revenue plays. 

Jen Soch, executive director of speciality channels solutions at GroupM, offered up a stat that crystallizes that explosion: GroupM estimated that a new podcast was created every 30 seconds in 2020, amounting to 885,000 in total.

“As video dollars take off and supply goes down, audio is a natural place for the money to go,” said Soch. “I’m bullish on the ability for podcasts to continue to grow. It’s a very active conversation with clients, but it’s still in the innovation stage, so there are still a lot of things we need to do. We do have inclusion and exclusion lists that we use when it comes to these areas.”   

Audio platform Spotify, which has bet big on podcasting as a source of growth, went so far as to become the first (and only, so far) pure-play digital audio service to sign up to the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), a move that was news to the media buyers contacted for this story. 

Khurrum Malik, Spotify’s head of advertising business marketing, explained the impetus behind working with GARM. “We saw a really good partner to to help meet that need [to stay ahead of brand safety issues],” he said. “It’s a community composed not only of our customers from a marketer perspective [or] from an agency perspective, but also a fellow platform that ensures we’re not just meeting industry standards, but we’re working together to continually improve.”

Malik said work with GARM has already had an effect on how Spotify is putting safeguards in place, notably in podcasting. The platform recently launched a product area called Sensitive Topics for Podcasts, which allows brands to exclude certain podcast content. A CPG brand, for example, trying to reach moms in California, can use AI-boosted transcription tech to exclude adult content, crime and violence content and/or mentions of weapons. 

“It’s early days, but GARM is already impacting our product roadmap,” said Malik.

“There’s not enough transparency and control in all of digital,” which includes audio, said Robert Rakowitz, the initiative lead for GARM. “The more we can create that level of transparency and consistency, the better we can all control and monetize” the immense amount of content being created. 

Though he said he believes the podcasting space is generally a more brand-safe environment thanks to transcription technology, Rakowitz wants to see exclusion lists become “more surgical.”

GroupM’s Soch (who oversees Specialty Channels that centralized all audio, digital and terrestrial, into one unit, but also houses advanced TV, publishing, direct response and local video), agreed that transcription technology has helped to refine exclusion lists, so that specific sub-topics can be either sought out or avoided in various podcasts.

Still, more work needs to be done. “We need to improve the reporting on the backend of podcasting,” said Soch. “We’re still blind in the downloads not listens. The standards are basic today, more is needed, just as it is in video.” 

Jacob Schwartz, associate media director of national audio investments at IPG’s Mediahub, noted that one element working in podcasting’s favor relative to video players such as YouTube, is that podcast platforms’ algorithms don’t try to feed consumers content other than what they’ve selected. “I don’t know of an platform that’s going to automatically play you content other than the specific one you selected,” said Schwartz. “If I’m listening to Joe Rogan, it’s going to keep giving me Joe Rogan episodes,” and not offer up Alex Jones or Rachel Maddow content. 

In the end, there’s only one way podcasting ad revenue will go — up, said Schwartz, noting that the segment will hit $1 billion in revenue in 2021, and willl double to $2 billion by end of 2023.

Color by numbers

In its latest report, Influencer marketing platform Collabstr is projecting impressive growth for the influencer marketing world. Having grown 42 percent from $9.7 billion in 2020 to $13.8 billion in 2021, Collabsty projects a $15 billion by the end of 2022, much of it on the strength of short-form videos as seen on platforms like TikTok. The report notes that the most popular platforms for influencers are Instagram (94 percent are doing branded content on it), TikTok (64 percent) and YouTube (19 percent — the report attributes that smaller percentage to the fact that it’s harder to build an audience on YouTube than the other two). Finally, the report also notes that 77 percent of influencers identify as women. 

Takeoff & landing

  • Stagwell Media Network (SMN) last week promoted three senior veterans of the media agency world to take on global roles: Jon Schaaf becomes chief investment officer, moving up from SMN’s Gale Partners where he had the same role; Shannon Pruitt becomes chief content officer, moving internally from her prior role as president of content and managing director at MDC Media Partners; and Rick Acampora becomes chief client officer, moving up from the same role at SMN’s Forward PMX.   
  • Dentsu’s iProspect made its own global promotions last week: Shenda Loughnane was named global managing director, moving up from group m.d. with Dentsu Ireland; supporting her will be Dan Friel, who was named global client president & head of iProspect Global, up from global client president of Vizeum, which was absorbed into iProspect.
  • Media planning tech firm Telmar bought AI-driven audience intelligence platform Helixa, and Helixa’s CEO Florian Kahlert will join Telmar’s executive team. 

Direct quote

“I tell people Spotify is Stockholm patience, New York hustle, all in a bow of kindness.” 

— Khurrum Malik, Spotify’s head of advertising business marketing

Speed reading

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