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Pioneering programmatic in podcasting: what Acast has learned in the last 4 years

By Michael Bayston, Global Head of Automation, Acast

Since 2017, Acast has pioneered programmatic ad buying for the podcast industry. 2020 saw all our hard work begin to pay off, as we achieved 215% year-on-year growth in our programmatic ad sales revenue — and 2021 is shaping up to be better than ever.

But, in four years of testing and learning, we’ve learned a thing or two.

Education

The whole thing started with education. That meant training everyone involved in the ad sales pipeline — including both our own people and all the partners we work with — on the benefits of programmatic advertising, and how it could be applied to podcasting. 

For example in 2020, we delivered over 135 presentations to agency trading desks and DSPs, created custom buyer guides on how to set up PMP and PG deal IDs for podcast supply, and collaborated with our SSP ad tech partner to help them improve their podcast product.

We also identified ‘star’ buyers at our agency partners who were more likely to give automated execution of podcast supply a go, learned how to deliver seamlessly against their campaign KPIs and their buy-side deal setups, and used this information with other prospective customers. 

Crucially for us, we also had to educate our podcasters. They’re the lifeblood of everything we do, so we had to convince them that programmatic would help bring them more revenue without sacrificing quality — and by addressing the myth that programmatic always equals low CPMs and poor quality ads.

Our approach has been the automation of the 1-2-1, direct IO process (PMP/PG), at premium CPM levels, rather than an unlimited, commoditised OMP. And we made sure we could give creators clear programmatic revenue data, to show them exactly how it was supporting their podcast.

Where OMP enables anyone to buy via a DSP with limited contact, our ultimate approach will always be to maintain a human element — because it’s our belief that podcasting needs hands-on curation. 

And that’s why we run a curated marketplace, where we can still vet brands and individual ads to ensure they work for our creators, as well as making sure individual podcasts are suitable for our advertisers.

Execution

By necessity, we were on a fast-growth, test-and-learn footing — but that didn’t mean we could afford to under-deliver or leave buyers unsatisfied. It was important that we made good on all the education we’d been doing, by proving that programmatic in podcasting works in practice.

We used Australia as a testing ground — it’s a highly developed region with broad adoption of programmatic, but not so large as to be unwieldy or difficult to manage — before expanding programmatic operations to the UK, Ireland, France, and the US. 

Now, in our fourth year, Acast is listed in the inventory discovery tools of six major DSPs and we’re working with buyers based in 20 markets, using multiple execution types. 

And we’ve reached the point that, while PMP is still used, PG has become the most popular execution type within the Acast Marketplace, across all DSPs — with more than two-thirds of all our programmatic executions running via PG.

If you look at programmatic advertising more broadly, it’s around 15 years old — and it took at least a decade for display to get to the point where it could confidently execute via PG. 

Acast’s commitment to bringing the best programmatic solutions to podcasters and advertisers everywhere meant we reached that same point in three years flat.

We’re taking responsibility for moving the whole industry forwards, and our position as a creator-first, tech-savvy podcast platform means Acast can be the single trusted middleman between podcast content, buyers, and multiple vendors. 

We also know how important attribution is for our clients, and have established strong partnerships with both the IAB and experienced measurement partners like Podsights, Claritas and Kantar — allowing us to deliver for both our creators and our advertisers.

Acast is also still the only podcast company in the world aligned with all four of the IAB’s Podcast Measurement Guidelines metrics. We were recently recertified under its 2.1 guidelines, and were a leading partner in helping define what those guidelines should be. In fact, the IAB even hosts its own podcasts with us.

Eventually, we’re aiming to get to the point where programmatic execution in podcasting runs smoothly and the whole thing just ‘works’. But we’re also realistic. We know that’s still some way off because — while a lot of audio specialist buy-side ad tech platforms have nailed it — there’s still a lack of standardization for audio execution among big ad tech companies and omni-channel DSPs.

Reorienting major vendors and their customers to the intricacies of the podcast ecosystem will require a lot of hard work, and a healthy dose of patience. But we’ve got that in spades.

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