Triton Digital Acquires Audio Brand Safety Startup To Scale Programmatic

Hana Yoo
March 27, 2024

On Tuesday, iHeartMedia-owned Triton Digital acquired AI brand safety and suitability startup Sounder in a bid to improve its programmatic chops.

Triton declined to disclose the deal price.

It’s worth the noting, however, that the two companies have history. Triton first integrated with the company it now owns around six months ago and shared data from its podcasts with Sounder’s AI tools for training purposes.

And, in 2022, iHeartMedia led Sounder’s Series A investment round, a year after acquiring Triton for $230 million. Last February, iHeartMedia and Sounder co-developed a podcast brand safety scoring tool.

Staying safe

Sounder uses machine learning and natural language processing to automatically transcribe and index podcast episodes. It contextually analyzes the content of each and identifies possible brand safety concerns based on Global Alliance for Responsible Media standards and IAB content taxonomy categories.

Using AI for brand safety and contextual targeting “is not a business that Triton has been in historically,” said John Rosso, president and CEO of Triton Digital.

But for podcasts to attract more ad dollars, buyers need to feel comfortable that their ads are running in safe environments.

Triton plans to integrate Sounder into its content management platform, which includes its streaming network, as well as into its programmatic audio marketplace and its podcast and streaming measurement products.

Podcast publishers using Triton’s podcast content management platform can analyze their content through Sounder before it goes live, Rosso said. On its audio ad serving platform, advertisers can use Sounder to avoid appearing adjacent to unsafe content and to target certain content types.

In the “massively fragmented” podcast space, many campaigns run across hundreds – or, if purchased programmatically, thousands – of podcasts, Rosso said. Sounder’s tools can find relevant content to target against in real time.

Sounder’s capabilities “will help us scale the whole programmatic marketplace around podcasting,” Rosso said.

Getting with the programmatic

Overall, Triton sells less than 50% of its inventory programmatically today, but there’s tremendous variance, with some shows at 100%, while others hover around zero.

The hope is that the availability of more robust brand safety tools will help boost the number of buyers willing to spend programmatically on podcast advertising.

Separate from the Sounder integration, Triton has also been leaning into programmatic in other ways. For example, it’s working on a real-time ad insertion capability for broadcast radio inventory with programmatic radio platform Jelli, which iHeartMedia acquired in 2018 and folded into Triton in 2022.

Not that the goal is to make all of its inventory programmatic. Rather, Triton aims to support whatever mix works best for publishers, Rosso said, whether that’s direct sales, sales house relationships, programmatic marketplaces or programmatic guaranteed.

Sounder’s product and engineering teams – 17 employees in the US and Serbia – will join Triton, bringing its total headcount to roughly 300. Sounder’s CEO and co-founder, Spotify and Google alum Kal Amin, will stick around for the transition but then “go off to do some other investing in the audio space,” Rosso said.

Although Triton will now prioritize integrating Sounder, it’s not ruling out more acquisitions in the future. “We keep adding new and interesting bits into the studio here at Triton,” Rosso said.

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