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Sounder And iHeart Partner To Debut Episode-Level Brand Safety Tool.

It has been one year since iHeartMedia and Sounder partnered to bring new brand safety rating tools to its network of podcasts. Today the two companies announced that iHeart will become the first company to use new brand safety technology developed by Sounder. Powered by a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the companies say the tool will give brands safety assurances at the episode level, something that has been previously unavailable at scale.

With the tool, powered by Sounder’s technology, iHeartMedia can perform brand suitability analysis, topic analysis, content summarization, and dynamic segmentation, ahead of an ad flight. Integrated directly into iHeartMedia’s podcast hosting platform Omny and ad-serving platform Triton, the technology interprets context and assesses risk for brands in seconds across the iHeartPodcast Network, from the biggest and most diverse shows in the network, to the rapidly growing number of up- and-coming creators. By becoming the first publisher to offer third-party brand safety verification at an episodic level for podcast advertisers, iHeart says it is effectively unlocking thousands of hours of new, premium audio content for brands.

“Audio had been without a truly operative brand safety tool that gave advertisers the ability to run without risk at a national scale. The process was labor intensive, fragmented, and often failed to deliver the level of protection brands truly needed,” said Brian Kaminsky, Chief Data Officer at iHeart. In the announcement, he said their partnership with Sounder has “set a new benchmark for transparency” in audio advertising that has been long overdue. “This new tool changes the future and opens up endless possibilities. Brands are now able to opt out of content they deem unsafe and inappropriate,” Kaminsky said.

The two companies first teamed up a year ago when iHeart said it would leverage Sounder’s Audio Data Cloud that relies on audio-to-text transcription, machine learning and AI technology to identify topic tone and keywords to power an automated brand safety tool. In deploying the brand safety solution, iHeart said it would allow marketers to buy across a deeper, wider array of podcasts with the assurance that the content adheres to industry safety standards. The alliance also saw iHeart make a strategic investment in Sounder.

“Sounder's brand safety and suitability solutions are here to usher in the next stage of growth for podcasting and audio advertising. Our technology provides the transparency needed for confident decision-making and transacting across publishers, agencies, and ad tech partners,” said Sounder CEO Kal Amin in the announcement. “As a key partner and strategic investor in Sounder, iHeartMedia has recognized the need for new brand safety tools and standards across audio.”

The focus on brand safety addresses one of the biggest hurdles for publishers as the podcast industry looks to reach $3 billion in ad revenue this year. Some marketers remain concerned that their ads will turn up adjacent to questionable content, and that has kept them at the sidelines. Tools like the one that iHeart and Sounder are bringing to the market hope to ease those fears and make it easier for brands to move ad dollars into podcasting.

“Marketer demand for podcast marketing is at an all-time high, but they’re not willing to accept unnecessary risk to do so,” said iHeartMedia Chief Marketing Officer Gayle Troberman. “With iHeartMedia’s new brand safety capabilities, marketers can leverage the full power of human connection and contextual relevance that podcasts provide, without the fear and risk of unsafe inventory.”

Other podcast companies have also been racing to beef up their brand safety tools in recent months. In November, Acast introduced a keyword-based tool to its programmatic marketplace that it said will be further incorporated into its existing brand safety capabilities. And iHeart-owned Spreaker began using a tech solution to transcribe programmatic ads to help ensure spots are meeting brand safety parameters. That is similar to PodScribe, the two-year old effort by SXM Media’s AdsWizz. The audio ad agency Oxford Road teamed up the tech company Barometer in December to launch their own brand safety tools powered by natural language processing. And last summer Spotify partnered with the digital ad tech company Integral Ad Science to create a third-party brand safety solution for podcast advertisers.

Troberman thinks marketers are taking notice. “At a time when brand-trust is eroding overall, marketers are excited about the power of podcast advertising to deliver authenticity, impact, and rebuild trust,” she said.

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