IHeartMedia buys Triton Digital for $230M to support podcast ad sales

Dive Brief:

  • IHeartMedia agreed to buy Triton Digital for $230 million from E.W. Scripps, giving the biggest U.S. radio broadcaster a more complete audio advertising technology and measurement platform to support its growing podcast business, per an announcement.
  • Triton has two lines of business that include a content delivery system that dynamically inserts ads into digital audio streams and podcasts, and a measurement service to track audiences and create ratings reports. Its operations include a programmatic marketplace for audio advertising, and a supply-side platform (SSP) called Yield-Op that specializes in audio.
  • IHeart’s acquisition of Triton comes as media and technology companies including Spotify, Sirius XM Holdings, Amazon and the New York Times ramp up their investments in podcasting to grab a share of the growing market for digital audio advertising. Scripps in 2018 acquired Triton, which was started in 2006, from private-equity firm Vector Capital for $150 million, according to Triton’s website.

Dive Insight:

IHeartMedia’s acquisition of Triton Digital is another sign of how media and technology companies aim to help marketers reach the growing audience for podcasts, whose key advantages for consumers are portability and flexibility. IHeart’s acquisition of Triton, its latest deal to expand its digital audio production and programmatic advertising operations, could help the broadcaster revenue, which was down in Q3 last year although podcast ad sales were a bright spot. The company launched a custom advertising network aimed at marketers seeking to reach the podcast audience in 2020.

The percentage of U.S. consumers who have listened to a podcast last year grew to 37% — or 104 million people — from 32% last year, per a study by Edison Research and Triton. Podcast listeners also are amenable to advertising, with 49% of them last year saying audio ads are the best way to reach them, up from 37% of listeners who said the same in 2019, according to a “Super Listeners” survey. The research supports a September report from market research firm Claritas, which found that podcasts can lift brand awareness between 24% to 79%, a significantly higher lift rate than other media channels such as digital display, print and linear TV. To reach those audiences, marketers will boost spending on podcast advertising by 45% to $1.13 billion in the U.S., researcher eMarketer forecast last year.

As podcast audience grows, the ecosystem is evolving to better support advertisers, with iHeartMedia one of the more aggressive in this space. The company expanded its podcast production with the 2018 acquisition of Stuff Media, which produces the show “HowStuffWorks.” In October, iHeart bought audio tech company Voxnest, which provides programmatic advertising and analytical tools for podcasters. Programmatic ad spending on podcasts in the U.S. this year will double to $68 million from $31.3 million in 2020, and reach $106.5 million by next year, researcher eMarketer forecast in July.

The push into podcasting comes as iHeartMedia’s revenue fell 22% from a year earlier to $744 million in Q3 as advertisers either pulled back on spending or shifted their media dollars to digital platforms like search and social media. However, iHeart’s podcasting business grew 74% during the period, helping to drive a 17% gain in digital revenue, according to a quarterly report. IHeart will report Q4 results on Feb. 25.

A number of other media and technology companies that have also rushed to snap up podcasting startups in the past couple of years, pointing to increasing competition for ad dollars. Amazon in December indicated its growing interest in the audio format with its reported $300 million purchase of podcast producer Wondery. Satellite radio company Sirius XM, which owns audio platform Pandora, last year bought Scripps’ Stitcher podcasting unit for $325 million. The New York Times bought the producer of the popular “Serial” program for $25 million last summer.

Audio streaming giant Spotify has made numerous podcasting deals, including its purchase of podcast advertising and podcast company Megaphone for $235 million in November and its acquisition of The Ringer, a network focused on sports and culture programming, for as much as $196 million a year ago. It also bought podcast producer Gimlet Media for a reported $230 million, podcast production platform Anchor and narrative-focused podcast studio Parcast.

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