Some of 2022's hottest audio topics included brand safety, contextual targeting, making podcasting a top tier player, and creative strategy. As we close out our 2022 On the Mic season, we thought it best to end on a subject that could potentially present a creative option for each of these topics: Programmatic Ad Buying.

In today's episode, Lindsay Smith sits down with Bryan Barletta of Sounds Profitable fame and Jordan Bentley, Founder of Audiohook, to discuss how programmatic ad buying works, the evolutions in the technology, and why we shouldn't be afraid to embrace this emerging tech.

We actually use Scribd in our home.

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Vizzy has been in my fridge all summer.

All right, well, Jordan and Bryan, thank you so much for joining us on On, the Mic today to talk about Programmatic. I wanted to start off with just some brief introductions. Bryan, let's start with you, our recurring friend of the podcast.

I love that. Thank you so much for having me back. It's always fun to be here. So I'm Bryan Barletta. I am the funding partner of Sounds Profitable, who now has Tom Webster on board as my partner as well. And so we are an advisory consulting service focused on educating and guiding the future of the podcast business. We have a weekly newsletter, five podcasts, two of which are in Spanish. We run monthly events, quarterly live events, do cutting edge research and work with these great companies here that we're talking to today.

I don't know how you do it. All five podcasts.

Yeah, not a lot of sleep.

And Jordan, welcome to On the Mic for the first time.

Thank you. Excited to be here. So I am Jordan Bentley, I am the Founder and c e O of Audiohook. Audiohook is an audio focused D s P or demand side platform.

Awesome. Well, since you introed Audiohook, let's just jump right in here and talk about the basics of Programmatic, Ad, Buying. How does all of this work?

Yeah, great question. So Programmatic is the buying and selling of impressions is automated. So a publisher, when they have an ad that they want to fill, will send a request out to an exchange, and then A D S P like ourselves will get those requests and we will respond if we want to buy that impression on behalf of one of our clients. So it's very kind of automated buying and selling of impressions, whether that's audio, th this is done in video and display and in a lot of industries as well.

There's been a lot of talk about kind of Programmatic in the future of what that looks like. What are Some of the pros to this overall approach of, of buying within the audio space?

So the benefits of Programmatic is all of the automation that's involved. So not only does this make it efficient when you're placing your media buys, it allows you to help optimize your campaigns in ways that aren't really practical or even possible when doing manual buys. An example would be frequency capping. So when you're using Programmatic, even if you're running ads across four different podcasts or publishers or inventory sources, you can make sure that the end client only hears your ad twice without Programmatic advertising. That becomes very difficult to do because, you know, podcast one doesn't know how many times those listeners have heard an ad from your brand.

Same with podcast two. And so you can place individual frequency caps within a given podcast or buy to say, Hey, they should only hear it twice per, you know, podcast or something. If the user listens to podcasts from different publishers, they could hear the ad four times or six times, eight times, or times. And so it, that frequency capping is just one example is hard to do without Programmatic. This also really helps with other measurement techniques. So whether that's attribution or even just understanding how many people you're reaching when you use Programmatic, you can unify all of that data so you can make sure that your attribution is consistent across all of your buys, as opposed to, again, one publisher or podcast using one attribution vendor and another podcast or publisher using a different attribution vendor that then makes it very hard to compare apples to apples.

That's awesome. We've had so many conversations about attribution on the podcast, and I know it's a huge talking point right now in the space, so that is an excellent pro to hear. I'm gonna kind of switch things around, what are the cons?

I think it's important to differentiate between Programmatic in terms of this automated buying and selling and really the process versus how people have implemented it. So I think one of the cons people often talk about with Programmatic is like, oh, it may be a race to the bottom, or there's cheap inventory or, or the inventory's low quality, but those aren't really cons with Programmatic. They're cons with maybe how they've been implemented. So there's nothing explicit about Programmatic, that means rates have to be low. You can do Programmatic with very high quality inventory, with extremely high rates.

So I'm a bit biased. This is probably a good question to, to throw at Bryan to say what the cons are because I think it's mainly pros. Yeah. So Bryan, you know, what do you think the cons are?

Yeah, I I'm really glad that you set this all up. I mean, for the people listening, we actually had a chance to record this previously. We had some internet issues and the flow was really good of it, but I, I don't think we staged it as well as we're doing now, which is really exciting. I think Jordan did a killer job there. The, the cons really are, the technology isn't built right now to handle this appropriately. I mean, Programmatic is meant to be ad servers talking to each other behind the scenes. There's structure and there's process for how this is all done. And the podcast industry, the the ad servers are part of the hosting platforms. That's, you know, Squarespace doesn't serve your website ads. These are separate pieces in display and video and all these other areas.

So the link there is tough. Then the fact is that many of those hosting platforms also offer ad sales. So they're very interested in filling your inventory before it goes anywhere else. And then programmatics usually the layer on top of that when you think about how many hands before it gets outside of your system, that becomes a little bit of an issue there. Not really a bad thing overall, but like, just something to think about that there's a lot of people who can make money on the way before Programmatic gets in there. So these tools aren't built so that you can have everything compete all at once and the highest revenue one wins. So I think that's really the biggest con today, like the podcast ecosystem, the technology here wasn't built to support it, so now it has to be retrofitted to support it.

We're using vast, the idea of instead of making a call or set of filling with like a, a specific audio ad, making a call to another ad server for a campaign, that's the most common way to do it right now. But we're already seeing partners build that into their backend, make server to server calls and start to give people more control. That's really the only con I see. A and I wanna echo the pros that Jordan says, and I think these are really important to highlight right now today, we don't take into account what a CPM would be for the finance person, the account person, the reporting person, the sales, all of these things, right? And Programmatic is at its core an operational flow.

It's two systems talking to each other. It's all of that pre-negotiated, right? An S S P and a D S P have already negotiated how they handle finance. We don't have to worry about sending W nine s and sending invoices and hoping they're processed. Like there's agreements, there's process, there's a cadence already there that's very attractive. Sales is built into a lot of all of this, right? Like, it's a way to say you can purchase our inventory here, we'll open it up to you. So it takes out Some of the commission and salespeople to a degree, but it also opens up a whole new breadth of that and it opens up extension in other aspects there. But I, I really think that the core thing people need to understand is that Programmatic is the first time in podcasting where the advertiser has their own ad server, has their own base, it is the place where they put their creative, it's the place where they put their tracking.

It is the place where they deliver that to everybody they work with. And in one hub see the results of their campaign, not just in audio, but also in everything, right? And not just in podcasting, even in broadcast radio, in streaming audio, in everything that's incredibly powerful. We take for granted what it means for a buyer to log in and see podcasting as part of their dashboard for their total campaigns, for everything they're running, instead of logging in to see every one of their campaigns. And then, oh, going next door to the little shop that sells them podcasting and looking at that pretty PowerPoint presentation, we think that's cool.

It is not cool. It hurts us

Well, and it it contributes to this, you know, issue of like audio being a second class citizen, right? I think anybody that's done much in this space knows what I'm talking about. And so how do we get audio to be a first class citizen? We step up our game in Some of these areas. I think the other thing to mention here is this reminds me a lot of Some of the fears back when the printing press was first created, right? And people are like, oh no, where jobs gonna go? Or it seems like when we talk about Programmatic, at least from the publisher side, there seems to be fears often, again, whether it's about rates, whether it's about salespeople, whether it's about whatever those concerns are.

What happens in reality is just like with the printing press or with any of the industrial revolution, it created new jobs that were just more high value, right? So while it's great to have a sales rep or, or an AE that's maybe just more an order taker right now in terms of, hey, we got, you know, this buy and let's make sure that this gets trafficked, which is important stuff. But again, this is stuff that computers are really good at and they don't make mistakes with. Your team can then focus on, hey, how do we really highlight the value of this inventory? How do we think about how we could have interesting partnerships or things we could do with the creative?

And so it, it opens up this whole new area where now instead of % of my time just, you know, dotting eyes and crossing ts and making sure things are running and things got put in and, and collecting invoices, I can really think, how can I get this to add a lot of value to the clients that we're working with, the partnerships that we want to do. So really in my mind, and I'm a little biased here, but there's a lot of upside here for, for publishers and creators that embrace this. It is not a negative thing that's only gonna like lead to that demise.

Yeah, I think that those are incredible points to your point about creative, we've already actually started talking about kind of what that looks like for us for , Jeff, our producer and editor, we've been talking about, you know, what are the cool things that we can do with audio storytelling and, you know, using Programmatic as a way to really build out some really cool audio experiences. So yeah, I totally agree. I think that these are excellent points. I think that there's a lot of cool stuff that can happen here.

Well, and and just to give you kind of one simple example, think about Some of the sequential storytelling that you can do as you frequency cap and reach somebody across a few different podcasts, right? So rather than in every podcast hearing like, hi, I'm Jordan and let me tell you about ABC company. It's like, yeah, I've heard this out a few times, right? With Programmatic you could get really innovative or creative with the, with those creatives. And so the first one might say, Hey, I'm Jordan from abc, but then on the second one you could have a testimonial on the third one, you could talk about a feature that a lot of people like to use or you know, the value or benefits of your product or service.

So it really does open up a lot of creative freedom that NetNet will actually drive significant improvements in ROAS through the use of technology and all of that helps the publisher get better rates, helps the advertiser get a higher roas. So

Yeah, personally I think this is all really exciting. Like I, I just see tons of pros for kind of everyone involved here. What are Some of the advancements that have been made over the past year? I feel like things are moving really quickly. So let's kind of talk about what has changed.

I think the major players in Programmatic have taken notice. I'm such a big fan of the DSPs and SSPs who have been in here from the start. I mean, I've had the awesome opportunity to work with both AD results and Audiohook as the two of you have built your partnership here and really bullish on how you're handling it, podcasting in general, and Programmatic has caught the attention of the major players outside there. Like the Trade desk is a massive name that helps a lot. I mean, what's neat about it is that there's still the tons of room for competition and podcasting. There's so many people transacting podcasting first looking to get wider, which a podcast focus s s p and D S P provide a better access to there. But having kind of a Programmatic in the room when the hosting partners being the ad servers kind of got to do whatever they wanted is really changing the game.

It's putting a little more pressure on it. Look at the IAB specification for example. It barely touches on the ad serving, like it's, it basically only covers what ad delivery is, which is did the portion of the episode, which contains an ad get sent to the listener's device. That's not bad. It's good for counting methodology here and, and we're great there, but we don't talk about the timeout response. We don't talk about how quickly you have to fire the tr the tracking pixel to let somebody know that happened. And so these partners like Audiohook, like the trade desk, like AdsWizz and Triton stepping into these meetings and saying, cool, there's standards in other spaces, and really pushing those forward. Like we're not building anything from scratch.

We are learning from C T V, we're learning from display and we're able to move quickly. I mean, Jordan probably wants to talk about this, so not gonna steal his thunder here, but like the pre-bid committee for audio is just about to kick off. And that is something that Jordan is leading up that's amazing. Like that went from interest to like an actual thing. And the timeline that he's proposing is like, we're not talking , we're talking like a very real turnaround, very committed interest. So I dunno if the tech really caught up with anything yet, but I think o other than hosting platforms becoming more aware that they have to support Vast, but I think that this is going to be the fastest ad tech improvement in podcasting.

Yeah, and to, to piggyback on what Bryan said there, a lot of this playbook has already been written, right? Display has been doing Programmatic for well over a decade. And so one of the benefits that we have in the audio space is, again, we're not recreating the will, we're not coming up with this stuff for the first time. We can look at these other spaces or mediums and see what worked well, what didn't work well, you know, what things should we keep, what things should we change? So pre-bid I think is is a great example. So when we talk about Prebid, we're really talking about something called header bitty. And this is a way to again, just add more efficiency into how Programmatic works.

And ultimately the benefit for the publishers are, it helps them get more yield or make more money, get higher CPMs. But when it was first introduced, when header bidding was first introduced into the display space, every vendor out there kind of came out with their own solution, their own implementation. And over , , , years, the space consolidated. They developed some standards and they unified around one solution. And that solution is So you can go to, you can Google pre-bid and you can learn more about it, but they've built a standard and some regulation and an organization around this. And so now it's like, you know, really grease the wills.

So when we started looking at, okay, how do we help publishers make more money? How do we help get higher yield and higher fill rates? A natural thought was like, Hey, why aren't we doing header bidding in this space? And rather than, again, having people starting from scratch recreating a bunch of different solutions, it's like, Hey, everybody uses Prebid in in the display world, it's highly dominant in the video world. Let's just go talk with them rather than start from scratch. And so, yeah, with the pleasure of meeting with them and their board approved, opening up Prebid to audio, and so we're starting an audio committee or task force that we'll be putting together to, you know, identify, okay, what are the standards, how do we want this to work from a mechanical standpoint?

So it, it's really exciting and, and something that I think will help benefit the space as a whole.

That's awesome. So there have been two topics of discussion that have come up a lot this past year and I kind of wanna talk about how they play into Programmatic buying and that's contextual targeting and brand safety. So how can we use Programmatic to kind of dial in on those two topics of conversation?

Well, I think the best part about that is this is the, the office meme. They're the same picture. contextual targeting and brand safety are the same thing. It's just, it's, it's how you wanna word it. And that's what's really neat about it. I mean, look, I I I think that it is in a publisher's best interest to identify their inventory as best they can and, and make sure your transcript is accurate, make sure your audio is accessible, make sure all of those things are there because when it gets past the publisher and, you know, a, a demand side platform or supply side platform is out there transcribing your content or making decisions on your content and you passed on the opportunity to represent yourself, you lose a little bit of control that you're never gonna know about. You could be misclassified because you chose not to be the person who shared that info.

But the best part about this is like, the advancements are so great. I mean, low-hanging fruit is keyword targeting, which not really a fan of because I think most people use it for negative, but like we've been doing it for years and podcasting through the episode titles, the descriptions, the show notes, all of those things, that's been an the easy way to do it. The i the IAB categories, the podcast categories, then you get into transcribing the audio, which is again, low hanging fruit. We, people are doing this on websites already. There's tons of clouds on bad websites when an ad was supposed to show up and they find that it is, you know, that vegan recipe is incredibly offensive. So iass blocks the ad that was gonna go on there. You know, that's, that's an interesting approach and we have a lot of legacy technology that applies to there and that's where we saw like comScore and other partners enter the space in podcasting.

But sentiment analysis is really amazing, right? Tone, bringing it further than identifying the hosts and the guests monitoring their social media, seeing all these other aspects in connected nature there and there, there's a partner that I think all of us work with Barometer, who I'm constantly impressed with that was telling me about like less than a minute response time to be able to identify that they don't have an episode transcribed, transcribe and score it. Wow. And yeah, I mean these are crazy things that they're, I could be wrong on that, but it's, it's definitely under minutes. I believe it's in the seconds range. These things are really incredibly powerful and I think as much as it's going to protect an advertiser from determining where they want to be, it's going to prevent publishers from being looked over.

Incredibly liberal individual over here. But one of the interesting stories that I continue to come across is that there are so many conservative podcasts out there that our honestly not offensive in any capacity. And then they get lumped in for the name or the description or how they're so associated or you might also like, or all those other things. They're today using brand safety tools to say, we are great. Like we have no problems. We don't flag a single thing on here. We are safe. And that's awesome. And I mean, heck, there's even the ability to use it for ads for a publisher to say that ad's not safe. I've received a handful of ads that would, would crow your toes and things that get through there and, and they're incredibly well produced and they dance around certain language, but these tools catch them.

And so I love it. I, I think that the truth of it is, is that publishers are going have to prioritize it and pay for it today because advertisers don't necessarily see the benefit of the added cost. And that's hard to say to somebody for the same price. You need to incur costs to maintain it. I think that's where the delay is been on it. But I think that when we start to hear bigger advertisers come into the space and say it's mandatory, which some are, I think it'll become table stakes. It kind of is a bummer that the publishers have to foot that bill, but that means that the publishers that adopt it fast will be accessible for so much more inventory. I mean that's, that's awesome.

Well, and I, again, I think it helps make audio of first class citizen, right? When you look at video and you look at display, which you know, have billions of dollars in, in Programmatic spend, iass Moat, there's several vendors and there's a real rigor around brand safety. And up until this point in audio, while there's been some approaches, it's been a little weak and I think brands for you know, reasonable reasons have maybe used that as an excuse to kind of hold off on scaling Some of the, their efforts in podcasting. Because certainly in today's culture, right, I think that the fear of A C M O is like, hey, I just, I don't want to have my ad, you know, end up on something spicy that, you know, gets me all sorts of heat, right?

It, it's completely fear-based, which is again, very reasonable. And so, you know, as Bryan talked about like keyword targeting and Some of these things for brand safety doesn't make a lot of sense. There's lots of examples of, you know, saying a word that in one context, you know, might be a concern or offensive, but in, you know, another context is, is totally fine. And so one of the, the cool things about brand safety today is I think a lot of the GAR standards that have been brought forth that take a lot of the context and put that into it so it's not just like, oh, did it say the word drugs or did it say gun?

But it wraps that context into it. And so then brands can say, okay, you know, I'm okay if they're talking about like they had a little toy gun at at the store, right? And that's the only mention of it and it's, you know, really kind of, you know, minimal and saying, okay, yeah, I'm okay with these little things. Now if they're using it a lot and talking about it in a more aggressive way, well then we don't wanna be on that stuff. And these GAM standards and a lot of this innovation in transcription and brand safety allow this to be possible. And I think that's what's going to help bring these, you know, the Fortune brands to the table to help, you know, benefit from podcasting.

Cuz podcasting does provide brands and marketers a lot of value. I don't think anybody's questioning that. It's just Some of these operational challenges that are maybe kind of impeding Some of those Some of those dollars.

One, I would, I would be remiss not to mention that sounds Profitable has a Q research study coming out all about brand safety and suitability and Audiohook is a partner of that. And yeah, so I definitely wanna get you that, that data Lindsay for you to look at because it's really exciting. Tom's having a fun time digging through it right now. I think there's gonna be a lot of fun quips, a lot of really interesting insights and I think there might even be two reports or a ton of article follow up from it, so we're really pumped about it.

Oh, that's so exciting. Yeah, I can't wait to dig in. You know, as you know, brand safety's been a huge point of part of what I've been doing for the past couple of years, so super excited.

I think that was actually the first thing me and you worked on together.

I think so, yeah. You know, since you brought up that study and that Audiohook is a part of it, Jordan, tell us a little bit about Audiohook and what y'all are doing.

Yeah, so as I mentioned at the beginning, Audiohook is an audio focused d s P, so the only thing we do is audio that includes podcasting as well as digital radio and streaming audio inventory. And the nexus for this really came from my space and experience in Programmatic in the larger Programmatic world. And when I first got introduced to the audio space and started doing some audio buys in , , I saw an immediate kind of challenge with buying audio in these existing DSPs.

You know, the trade desk, media, math, they've built great tools, they built great platforms, something that, that they should all take a lot of pride in. However, there is a certain challenge of, you know, trying to do everything well and audio is very unique and different relative to display in video a as just a few examples, right? Smart speakers, they only serve one kind of ad. You can't get display ads on smart speakers, you can't get video ads on smart speakers. The Apple watch, the only type of ad you can get on it is an audio ad. You can't get at least not presently display ads on it or video ads on it.

So in terms of like the devices that this stuff is playing on is really pretty different than display and video. The other really big change is just how users engage with the audio format and what attribution or, or understanding if it's working looks like. So traditionally, right in display and or video you can typically click on an ad, click through rates are a very kind of common metric. You talk about viewability to judge the quality of content. Again, none of these things exist at all in audio. And so the experience that I experienced when buying audio ads through an existing D s p, it, it was just a little clunky, right?

A lot of the targeting gets a little trickier because in audio you often don't have, like, you typically don't have a cookie, you typically don't have some hashed email that's logged in. Again, there are some publishers in some cases where you can have those things. And so applying third party data sets to buying audio ads became really challenging. Also, getting scale became really challenging in the display, in video world, you're talking about millions of, of impressions per second and you go to audio and you're not even talking about hundreds of thousands, you're talking about tens of thousands. It's, it's a whole magnitude lower than video and display. And so it, it just changed a lot of the mechanics and you know, the classic kind of aha entrepreneur moment was after I had, you know, tried this in a few different DSPs and not finding success, you know, it was like, well, you know, I, I guess I need to build a tool so I can go execute these campaigns really well.

And that's actually how Audiohook started. It wasn't even like, Hey, let's go, you know, find a business that we can build. We were just having a hard time getting scale and reach. I think the, the other thing before I, you know, get on my soapbox here too long was one of the challenges that's been in Programmatic historically with audio is not only are is there low inventory, but a lot of the existing audio inventory out there isn't necessarily available programmatically. And this is what Bryan talked to, especially with podcasting, right? Where the host podcast hosting provider now has to be the ad server.

They now have to add in all of this tech. And so when you look at the percent of impressions from say, podcasting that are available on an ad exchange, it's not even %, right? So the majority of impressions in podcasting are not at least historically programmatically available, which again makes it really hard to get scale and, and use it efficiently anyway. So that, so that was the nexus of like, all right, let's build, let's make audio a first class citizen and let's build a great platform where marketers can have success leveraging audio. And so yeah, as I mentioned, we support those different formats. We are working with a number of third party providers.

We've integrated live ramp data segments. So you have all of your third party data targeting, working with Sounder and Barometer, as Bryan mentioned, on brand safety, working with a number of the attribution providers, pod sites, veritonic, the list goes on, they're Magellan. So that marketers, so that ultimately all of this just becomes easier for marketers to execute. They can go into a single platform, they can place their buy across whatever audio medium they want, they can make sure they're measuring it, they can make sure they're targeting who they want and that they're having success. And you know, that's what we're focused on is just building that, that great experience for marketers.

That's awesome. You love to hear it. Well y'all, this has been an excellent conversation. I am so glad that this finally happened and that we didn't have, we didn't have internet issues this time, but yes, thank you so much for joining. Do you have any final takeaways that you want our listeners to leave with?

Bryan has some great podcasts, they're very inspiring. Yes, he does. I'll, I'll, I'll give the shout out. I love listening to them each week. So if you're new or getting into the space sounds, Profitable is a great resource and a great place to keep updated. Lindsay of course has this great podcast that you found and yeah, that, that's my cents Jordan.

How long ago did Audiohook start?

We started tinkering in , but officially launched it in .

Okay. And so that's the, my advice and what I wanna say here is reach out to any of us. The fact that Audiohook is a name that we're talking about in the Programmatic growth of podcasting, leading things like pre-bid and helping collaborate with all these companies. There's room for everybody in every aspect of this industry. This is still a competitive space in, in a good way, right? It's a collaborative space because we're not yet eating each other's lunch. There are tools that are not built, there are services that are not being provided. There is absolutely room for your idea if you can get by in, if you're presenting it the right way. And so reach out, talk to the people in this space, talk to the people that are interesting and exciting to you because they might have started a year ago, two years ago, and there's still room.

Amazing. Well, thank you guys so much. I enjoyed this conversation and I hope to have y'all back on soon.

Perfect. Thanks

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