Jan 16, 2024

Digital Audio Is Evolving — and So Are Its Measurement Capabilities

The digital audio advertising marketplace is experiencing massive growth, and technological advances are attracting increasing advertiser interest. Still, there’s one crucial area for improvement in this tech evolution – audio ad measurement.

It’s essential at this moment for audio to align with other digital channels’ capacity to deliver actionable insights about audience and campaign performance. And that requires standardization of audio measurement, to create a holistic, cross-channel view of that performance.

The industry is heading in this direction – but buyers, sellers, and tech partners will need to take the initiative to keep moving. 

Today, we’re seeing great interest among advertisers in digital audio, paired with the very real need to justify increased investment in the other. This dynamic has been playing out for a few years now.

Digital audio ad spend increased 58% year over year in 2021, and another 20% in 2022. And yet, at the Future of Audio Europe 2023 conference, 83% of attendees said improving measurement is the number one factor that will make audio a more prominent piece of the media mix.

There are some core challenges giving advertisers pause. We listen to digital audio in a variety of environments, both alone and in groups, often without interacting directly with the screen. 

Making Digital Audio Measurement More Digital

Fortunately, the industry has already taken strong strides toward evolving digital audio measurement.

One plus is that a healthy share of users on audio platforms are already logged in. Contextual strategies can be useful when users aren’t logged in – for example, podcasts and streaming radio. Brands can track conversions via offer codes, voice activation of connected devices, and pixel tracking to connect landing page visits to the app that served the ad.

That’s particularly useful for campaigns where driving consumers to a brand’s landing page is a top goal, which is part of why so many direct-to-consumer brands became early adapters of digital audio.

But, the next step in advancing digital audio measurement is to take advantage of the data-driven insights offered by digital channels and to use those insights to help standardize audio measurement.

By necessity, the industry has been moving away from using podcast downloads as a proxy for ad impressions, driven by changes to iOS and in listener behavior. Downloads, of course, have always been a dubious metric. Earlier versions of iOS would automatically download all of a series’ episodes to a subscriber, without giving advertisers insights into whether the subscriber ever listened to those episodes. And the download metric favors podcasts that release large numbers of shorter episodes, versus those that release a smaller number of long episodes.

Digital audio deserves a metric that uses data insights to properly measure engagement and exposure. The IAB has been active in helping the broader industry understand measurement in streaming, although it’s worth noting that it hasn’t promoted any particular measurement solution.

Collaboration Is the Way Forward

Several of the most prominent streaming audio platforms have influenced the evolution of audio measurement by working with a variety of measurement partners.

This speaks to what advertisers want: they prefer to bring in the measurement partners they know and trust, rather than relying on each platform’s proprietary measurement solution.  In turn, this “hybrid” approach benefits smaller audio platforms, which may not have robust proprietary measurement tech.

Rather than trying to compete, the industry needs collaboration between audio platforms, brands, and tech providers. Buyers and sellers need to communicate how they prefer to transact in audio, and all stakeholders need to be technologically prepared to support a multi-partner approach to measurement.

Collaboration, though, is easier said than done. Some of the industry’s largest audio platforms may still want to own the process, rather than share it. Measurement vendors feel differently, though – they would gladly work with all platforms and publishers that would have them.

This creates opportunities for smaller, independent measurement businesses that have no particular allegiance to any single platform. That independence enables them to deliver innovative, flexible solutions to brands and audio platforms. Improving audio measurement demands fresh thinking, including a willingness to see the virtues of collaboration for the sake of interoperability.

Right now, standardization of measurement in digital audio calls for a willingness to collaborate, clear communication, innovation from emerging tech providers, and ad formats that deliver data insights to truly understand campaign performance. These are important steps in the process of evolving and sophisticating measurement in audio, and we can start imagining what lies farther down this road. 

Thinking idealistically, we can envision a future where data from earbuds and wearable devices such as AR glasses can help understand sentiment around ads. Tech advancements down the road would empower advertisers to optimize campaigns for emotional impact. As we approach the goal of standardized, comprehensive measurement in digital audio, we should remain committed to vision and innovation in this space.

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