VAST technology: the north star in solving digital audio measurement?
Opinion: Partner Content
Audiotrack’s Chontal Angus explains how digital audio can learn from video to address its measurement problem.
Measuring audiences and ad campaigns across a multitude of digital media at the same time is a persistent challenge and perennial talking point for marketers. Indeed, at the Future of Audio conference in March, four out of five delegates polled picked “improving measurement” as the most pressing issue for the industry.
Similarly, in an Adwanted podcast survey conducted with buyers at the start of the year, the very same topic was raised. It further highlighted the need for standardisation, not only when it came to measurement, but also in the supply and format of digital delivery reporting.
As digital audio becomes ever more popular, what lessons can it learn from video when it comes to metrics and understanding the success of marketing campaigns?
The measurement puzzle
There are two main issues when it comes to digital audio measurement.
Firstly, the digitisation of audio has opened up a world of new opportunities, but there are also potential risks with transparency.
The creeping problem is ad fraud. At the start of the year, it was reported that CTV fraudsters had turned their attention to digital audio scams, with more than $20m of advertisers’ revenue stolen.
This happened because these fraudsters were able to spoof IP addresses and audio apps, creating fake servers to falsify audio ad requests — effectively creating fake apps with users and ad inventory. These false requests then went out to supply-side platforms and ad exchanges and became available for bids from online advertisers.
Trust in data that informs marketing activity is paramount if digital audio is to fight for its place on media plans.
The second issue is the ability to have consistent measurement across different audio media owners and channels.
The suppliers of audience measurement tools must keep pace with developing technology and practices, while at the same time maintaining transparency and trust when it comes to third-party data, ensuring it is consistent and relevant.
All these requirements must be considered to ensure advertisers’ and media owners’ needs are met.
In an industry built on technology, it would make sense for digital audio to look over the garden fence and see how other channels tackle measurement.
Video has benefitted from video ad serving template (VAST) technology for a number of years, and by standardising the way ads are served, investment in video platforms has grown significantly. With greater scale comes more volume for publishers to sell and therefore increase revenue.
With a slight tweak, VAST technology offers similar benefits to digital audio. It allows one ad server to call another, and can be used in place of individual ad audio files for a campaign, or alternatively as a way to connect with external ad buyers, including programmatic platforms.
As a multichannel standard, VAST can include different audio platforms. Specifically, it uses an XML schema, and transfers pertinent metadata about an ad from the ad server to a video player.
The technology is robust and flexible enough to cater to the ever-changing audio industry. Real-time switching out of pre-approved audio or the regular rotating of ads also means real-time measurement and fast reporting — solving another issue for marketers.
Many digital audio platforms already accept VAST, but in the UK it is not yet used on the majority of campaigns. In short, VAST technology could be the global industry’s north star in solving the problem.
Adwanted UK already uses VAST technology to extend the capabilities of its audio distribution platform, Audiotrack. Having previously been able to deliver physical audio files to linear and digital platforms alike, using VAST now makes it easier to manage dynamic creative, contextual creative, and provide a workflow that encourages more A/B testing.
Audiotrack trends show that over 50% of linear radio campaigns also now include an element of digital audio on the plan, a figure that has been steadily growing over the last few years.
Media agencies are used to standardised reporting for radio through J-ET and are now requesting the same for the digital element of their campaigns.
The Audiotrack data also shows how fragmented the digital audio landscape is, delivering audio ads to 38 different digital platforms already this year compared to 27 platforms three years ago — an increase of 34%.
Adwanted UK has created AudioLab to address the issues outlined above. The impression-based, audio analysis and tracking solution makes use of VAST technology to provide real-time digital campaign analysis. AudioLab has been developed following guidance from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the wider audio industry in general.
The standard data and charts provided by reporting in AudioLab offers several benefits to its users. One of the advantages is that campaigns become reportable only after impressions have been received. This feature ensures that users receive accurate data on the campaigns they are tracking.
Additionally, the platform provides filter options such as date, time and local datetimes, location, platform, daypart, device/OS, and ad filters, making it easy for users to sort data according to their preferences.
The local datetime feature is particularly helpful since it takes into account the time zone of the listener, allowing users to understand the timing of the ad and its impact. The platform also offers data breakdowns, which enable users to get a more in-depth analysis of their data.
Lastly, the platform is user-friendly since it defaults to the dates of the first and last impressions received, making it easy for users to navigate, providing some much-needed breathing space to the ever-busy AdOps teams.
As a third-party, collaborative solution, AudioLab is also independent, transparent, and impartial.
The industry view
Bryan Barletta, founder of podcast specialist Sounds Profitable, said of the benefits of VAST for audio: “VAST is a really great piece of technology that opens up a ton of opportunities in podcasting. It’s how podcast hosting platforms and their ad servers, often directly connected, make their inventory available to an SSP or even directly to a DSP. And it’s continuing to gain interest as the replacement for hosting a creative asset directly on the hosting platforms ad server.
“Today, podcasting has fantastic measurement, but our issues are in the standards. Our measurement is based on guidelines, not specifications, so they’re not rigid and the numbers aren’t always consistent partner to partner. A buyer utilising programmatic, or even VAST directly, is at a massive advantage because they have effectively their own ad server, and how that ad server chooses to measure and attribute is consistent regardless of the platform or partner that the technology runs on. Today, buyers find themselves purchasing from the largest players primarily so that the metric they get back is consistent through the whole campaign.
“In the future, we will have a tighter spec to solve for buying across multiple partners with confidence,” Barletta continued. “But today, utilising VAST solves that immediately, putting the control in the buyers hands, and nearly every enterprise platform in podcasting supports VAST as a creative execution.”
So, audio can use the learnings from video through VAST and its collaborative nature. Having taken the first step in solving the measurement problem by admitting the industry has one, using the technology at our disposal is the next logical step.
Chontal Angus is head of Audiotrack & AudioLab, sister companies to The Media Leader, at Adwanted UK.