Digital audio advertising has been getting some major traction lately, with spending on digital audio ads reaching $2.3 billion in the US last year. That’s a jump 23% from 2017.

Despite digital audio’s rising popularity, programmatic ad buying has been slow to catch on. In fact, programmatic audio buying is so nascent that research firms and trade bodies aren’t even publishing the numbers. Meanwhile, 85% of digital display ads are being purchased programmatically thanks to programmatic’s edge in efficiency and targeting over direct.

With 60% of marketers looking to increase their programmatic audio spend over the next 18 months, according to new research from IAB Europe and Xaxis, it seems the time is nigh for programmatic buying to catch on in the audio world as well. But, after buying directly for so long, what’s driving the change?


On-demand streaming now accounts for the majority of listening, and 2018 saw exponential growth. In the US, streams reached 611 billion last year, up 49% from 2017. 

In the UK, meanwhile, platforms like Apple Music and Spotify helped fuel the fastest growth in music sales since the 1990s. Streaming 68 million albums last year, listens over such digital platforms have grown by 51.8% since 2016.

Music is only one slice of the pie, though. The podcast industry is growing up, with some big mergers between networks and content expansion from Pandora and Spotify. The result? Sixty-two million listeners weekly!

And don’t leave out smart speakers. With 133 million owners around the world, the influence of devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home can’t be ignored. Smart speaker advertising is still in its infancy, but these speakers are accelerating digital listening across the board, and many brands are taking notice.

Thanks to an audience that seems to be growing exponentially, advertisers are quickly gaining confidence in digital audio, paving the way for greater programmatic demand.


Not only is listenership growing; so too are programmatic advertising opportunities in digital audio. Whereas once only direct inventory was available to advertisers, digital audio platforms are kicking their programmatic game up a notch with a whole host of new inventory.

Spotify made an early entrance to programmatic, introducing capabilities in 2016. It was just last year, though, that the company launched its self-serve platform and began to really focus in on programmatic sales. Now, programmatic makes up 25% of Spotify’s revenue, and it’s growing at a rate twice as fast as direct.

Pandora was a little slower on the uptake, but it made big moves in March 2018 by acquiring AdsWizz, the largest programmatic audio exchange. The popular platform then launched its private audio marketplace last summer to serve programmatic buyers.

Meanwhile, SoundCloud has partnered with AppNexus to offer programmatic audio inventory, and the BBC has partnered with Acast to do the same. 

With no shortage of inventory now available to advertisers, the market for programmatic audio is looking up.


Scale and inventory matter, for sure, but up until now, there’s been a gap in technology that has kept digital audio from reaching its full programmatic potential. Finally, standardization seem to be changing that.

Scale and inventory matter, for sure, but up until now, there’s been a gap in technology that has kept digital audio from reaching its full programmatic potential. Finally, standardization seem to be changing that. 

The IAB threw its support behind the VAST 4.1 protocol at the end of last year, effectively merging the two primary delivery methods for programmatic audio creative (VAST and DAAST). With the new protocol in place, audio can now be transacted across a single standard to allow more inventory to flow through the marketplace.

The industry has made some much-needed strides toward standardizing measurement, as well. The Media Rating Council issued its Digital Audio Measurement Standards in 2018 to define an audio ad impressions as an ad that has been played for at least two seconds at volume.

In the podcasting world, the IAB released a podcast measurement compliance program in December to create some standard metrics. And, in the same month, NPR released its Remote Audio Data protocol, which embeds code into podcasts to send listener information back to publishers. 

With standardization in place, publishers and advertisers alike are empowered to make use of sophisticated audience data. Now, programmatic audio advertisers can begin to hone their targeting much in the way that display advertisers can.

With digital streaming more prevalent than ever before, advertising are beginning to understand the value of reaching consumers in their many screenless moments, whether at work or on the road. With programmatic now an option thanks to improved technology and greater inventory, the potential for sophisticated audio advertising is endless.

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