As podcast engagement continues to soar (the industry expects half a billion global listeners by 2024), it’s well known that podcast advertising technology needs to keep up.

What we hear from brands and agencies is that it’s difficult to buy podcast ad inventory. The tools available for other forms of digital media, such as display and video, don’t yet exist for audio. Seasoned marketers expect their ads to run in safe environments alongside content that aligns to their guidelines and avoids risky topics.

Even without these tools, the industry has seen and expects extraordinary growth in the coming years. US podcast advertising revenue hit $1.4B in 2021—crossing the billion dollar mark for the first time. By 2024, experts believe the market will exceed $4B.

Figures from IAB’s 2021 US Podcast Advertising Report

We believe that with the right technology this figure could be much larger. That’s because automated solutions such as brand safety are going to put audio advertising on a level playing field with the likes of display and video advertising. The shift from traditional media to new formats is underway for audio.

Building confidence and creating transparency at scale with automated brand safety

To date, there have never been automated brand safety solutions built specifically for podcasts. Advertisers, in turn, have needed to operate manually—having humans listen and review samples of audio content to feel assured that a given podcast is safe and a good match for their brand.

Human review can only get us so far. After all, there’s only so much content you can digest in one day. It’s painstaking to categorize content in a catalog of say 500+ shows against both IAB and GARM safety standards. Human review can’t scale. It’s slowing down the growth of the podcasting industry. That’s where Sounder’s automated brand safety is paving the way.

What is Sounder’s automated brand safety solution?

Built off our proprietary speech recognition technology, Sounder is releasing the first machine-based brand safety solution to the space. This removes the need for human review. It’s trained specifically on podcasts, lightning fast, affordable, and capable of processing millions of episodes. It tackles the scalability problems that are slowing down the growth of the industry today.

Sounder’s Brand Safety Product

We’ve built our solution with advertising in mind. We leverage both IAB and GARM categories and classifications to act as a default floor for our episode ratings. Plus, our technology is contextual and semantic. That means it can understand how words and phrases are used in conversation to assess the true risk for marketers.

For example, in a podcast episode about stocks, one host may say he got “murdered” on a recent investment. Our models would recognize the context of how the host used the word “murder.” Here, as we all know, the speaker means he lost a lot of money. Thus, this content would be unrelated to the “Death and Injury” IAB category.

All that said, these episode ratings can fit the needs of whoever is using it—from conservative brands to edgier ones.

Given how new this technology is for the podcasting industry, I wanted to walk you through how it’s tailor-made for the key partners in the audio ad ecosystem—media publishers, advertisers, and ad marketplaces—to grow their businesses.

Helping audio publishers better monetize their entire content catalog

The largest media publishers in the world have tens of thousands of hours of high-quality audio content ripe for monetization. What’s missing is a solution to give advertisers confidence that this content adheres to their necessary specifications.

For example, say a large media publisher has 50 different podcasts with (300 episodes each) and wants to accelerate the content’s potential for monetization. A human couldn’t review all 15,000 episodes in a timely manner. Sounder’s brand safety solution can process these audio files in less than a few hours and surface the relevant insights to the publisher’s sales team. Now, sales reps—armed with relevant episode ratings data—are able to sell more effectively to advertisers who now can have confidence in the inventory they are buying.

Enabling marketers to buy audio inventory with confidence

Brand safety allows marketers to identify the right content that aligns to their unique brand guidelines. Automated brand safety helps marketers find suitable podcasts they otherwise wouldn’t have found. Sounder helps advertisers cross the human-reviewable threshold, opening up new ad inventory.

For instance, marketers for a multinational bank can now advertise on podcasts with the assurance that the brand isn’t appearing next to mentions of sensitive topics such as profanity or adult content. On the other hand, an edgy CPG brand could have more relaxed filtering criteria—including these content categories—when searching for the right audio content to place their ads. Our solution is customizable to meet the needs of any brand, regardless of their content risk tolerance.

Maximizing the value of ad marketplace inventory

Ad marketplaces are at the center of programmatic media buying. That’s why our brand safety solution can integrate where publishers and advertisers intersect to buy and sell media. Operating in familiar environments is essential to bring automated brand safety to the masses—we want to make our products open and accessible to any advertiser looking to share their messages on podcasts.

By partnering with ad marketplaces, advertisers will be able to leverage brand safety data when purchasing programmatic audio ads. This ensures their messages are appearing alongside content that suits their brand.

Behind our brand safety technology

Sounder’s Audio Data Cloud powers our automated brand safety solution. We leverage our proprietary automated speech recognition technology and machine-learning models to surface relevant data and actionable insights that power podcast monetization and discoverability. Publishers and brands can gain access to episode ratings, full transcripts, episode summaries, keywords, topics, and soon sentiment. We build our solutions with scale in mind. We’ve already processed millions of hours of content and can work with content catalogs of any size.

We’re eager to provide your organization with the data it needs to accelerate growth. All of our data solutions are accessible through our product, APIs or several raw file formats. Our integration team can work with you to customize a solution that works with how your team operates.

Looking ahead: Unlocking new ad dollars with contextual targeting

While we’re excited to launch brand safety with our partners (more to come soon), we’re just as excited at what contextual targeting will mean for audio advertising. Similar to how brand safety defends brands from unsavory content, contextual targeting opens up brands to newer frontiers. This expands the opportunity for brands in audio. They can now put their message into suitable environments where they can reach a receptive audience.

Our team is hard at work developing our contextual targeting solution—one that enables advertisers to target based on dynamic keywords, trending topics, and static content categories. Like our brand safety solution, we are basing our contextual targeting solution on the IAB’s Content Taxonomy. Given our algorithms are able to semantically understand words and phrases, we’ll be leveraging these same capabilities to identify when new topics emerge from the conversation. These targeting tools are privacy-friendly—allowing marketers to reach audiences based on their passions rather than tracking cookies.

For example, a sports retailer could target all episodes that mention Wimbledon. This could engage audiences possibly interested in purchasing a new tennis racket. These types of opportunities are common in display and video, but are new to audio.

We’re excited to see how advertisers take advantage of automated brand safety and contextual targeting tools to invest in the content medium we all love so much.

If you’d like to learn more about any of our data solutions—including brand safety and contextual targeting—please feel free to contact us at enterprise@sounder.fm or learn more at sounder.fm/brand-safety.