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iHeart Makes Investment In Audio Tech Platform Sounder.

Fresh off of news that iHeartMedia will begin using Sounder’s audio intelligence platform to bring new brand safety capabilities to its iHeartPodcast Network portfolio, the broadcaster is leading a funding round for the tech company. Sounder says it has raised $7.7 million in a Series A funding round, with not only iHeartMedia as a new investor, but also TechNexus, Diverse Angels, and Adventure Fund.

Sounder says the new funding will allow it to expand the research and development team working to build Artificial Intelligence and machine learning-powered tools that drive growth for audio creators. The company has already posted numerous job openings. Sounder also plans to build a complete ad system that supports publishers and advertisers of all sizes. It says that will reimagine the ad tech stack for the audio industry.

“While some of the larger audio tech companies are building all these solutions for themselves, we think we can build all of these solutions for the entire industry,” CEO Kal Amin said in a recent interview.

The latest investors in Sounder join existing backers Syndicate and Abrahamson Group. With today’s announcement, Sounder’s total funding to date has reached $11.55M million.

This round of funding comes at a time when Sounder is seeing significant and ongoing growth. Sounder reports it closed the fourth quarter of 2021 with streams up more than 200% and revenue up more than 100% year-over-year.

“There’s been a technology void that, until now, had not been accessible by most in the audio industry,” said Amin. “AI, machine learning, and natural language processing will continue to accelerate the revenue potential for audio, and we are at the forefront of these innovations. This is not just a defining moment for Sounder, but for the entire audio industry.”

Sounder’s AI and ML technology changes the way audio content is found, experienced and made profitable. The company’s Audio Data Cloud brings new datasets and tools to content creators and media publishers, including brand safety and brand suitability analysis, topic analysis, content summarization, and dynamic segmentation. These solutions increase the quantity of inventory available for targeted audio advertising.

That is what attracted iHeartMedia, which announced Wednesday that it will integrate Sounder’s brand safety rating tools for use by ad buyers across the iHeartPodcast Network.

The tools leverage the Audio Data Cloud which Sounder debuted in November. Using text-to-audio transcription, machine learning and AI technology to identify topic tone and keywords, the technology powers an automated brand safety tool. In deploying the brand safety solution, iHeartMedia says it will allow marketers to buy across a deeper, wider array of podcasts with the assurance that the content adheres to industry safety standards. The companies say the technology will quickly expand to also allow advertisers to customize their brand safety guidelines as well, which they say will allow for new and more diverse publishers to provide even more effective ad placements.

iHeart has already been testing Sounder’s brand safety tools, which were developed with the AI and machine learning coming from 50 million podcast episodes. Sounder says it had a 90% accuracy rate in identifying content that features drugs, alcohol, arms and ammunition.

Founded three years ago by former Google and Spotify executives, Sounder provides a suite of tools that allow creators to manage and monetize their content.

“The infrastructure is never the sexy part of any of this. But it's also where we feel there's a lot of opportunity,” said Amin. “If you go back like 2019, it was all about exclusive content. And since 2020 you're seeing a larger focus on monetization and ad technology. We believe the next stage of this is around what we consider audio intelligence, powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence to really drive the next the next stage of growth for podcasting.”

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