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Programmatic Audio Is Here, But Measurement Remains Challenge

Digital audio is one of the five most common in-app activities, according to eMarketer, rivaling social networking, gaming, video viewing and messaging. Additionally, audio reaches consumers at points video and display don’t, with 79% of audio consumption taking place while users are participating in activities where visual media is not likely to reach them, according to Nielsen.

Despite this usefulness for brands, digital audio is seen as channel that’s still emerging, largely under-served. However, new standards for audio advertising and greater advancements in technology and infrastructure provide marketers a mechanism for delivering these ads.

Still, the question is how quickly digital audio can overcome the built-in challenges of targeting and reporting.

First, let’s look at why it’s primed to take off. In 2014, the Interactive Advertising Bureau unveiled the digital audio ad serving template (DAAST) specification for digital audio. This standard was created using the video ad serving template (VAST) specification as a starting point, and it’s conceivable that the two specs may eventually merge.

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In fact, several digital audio solutions providers tried to implement digital audio delivery using the VAST template. Big providers like Pandora, Spotify and iHeartMedia never moved over to DAAST, continuing to serve digital audio through the VAST standard.

While merging DAAST and VAST might remedy this small issue, other challenges persist. Marketers find that measurement and determining which campaigns are most effective across various listening devices are paramount.

Digital audio, more so than video, relies on a multiplying array of "thin client" devices that cannot handle the complexities of dynamic ad insertion, which is a commonplace tactic advertisers deploy for video and display ads across desktops, tablets and mobile devices.

With this in mind, digital audio publishers increasingly rely on a server-side technology known as server-side ad stitching, which essentially "stitches" the primary audio content along with the ad audio into a seamless stream delivered to the "dumb device,” or thin player.

This creates additional complexities. It’s difficult to send tracking information to some digital audio devices, meaning there may be times those devices won’t know how to return or fire a tracking pixel. Geo-targeting and reporting can also be tricky and may not work because the ad server might receive the IP address of the stitching service, not necessarily the end-device info.

When it comes to retargeting, certain types of rotation and frequency capping are much more difficult than with video or display, because it’s not possible to drop cookies on the end-user device. The lack of cookies also leaves the advertiser in the dark about what happens after a consumer hears an ad.

Finally, one of the biggest segments of digital audio devices — virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa Echo and Dot, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana — do not yet support third-party ad serving.

Digital audio represents a tremendous opportunity for marketers and advertisers to reach audiences in a new and meaningful way. While standards and growing suppliers make it easier to reach valuable audiences through digital audio, advertisers still need tools to help with optimizing campaigns and measurement. As more audio devices continue to crop up, marketers must begin investing in digital audio to stay ahead of the curve. At the same time, suppliers of digital audio need to grant more access to third parties, opening up their inventory to advertisers who are eager to engage with consumers.

Issues with digital audio will be overcome in time, especially as more advertisers explore digital audio and push both the suppliers and vendors to develop solutions.

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