Friday, February 19, 2021

Here's How Triton Digital Helps iHeartMedia

iHeartMedia announced this week that it is acquiring Triton Digital, a digital audio publishing, advertising, and audience measurement business, from E.W. Scripps for $230 million. This is far from the first acquisition that iHeart has made in the digital audio infrastructure space, but it’s unique in that it will help iHeart tie together its various lines of business and consolidate its leadership position in many of them, according to Forbes.

Triton will help iHM in most of its lines of audio business, but most importantly, it will enable it to tie together its broadcast radio, streaming radio, and podcast businesses on the advertising side. Apart from its content, iHeartMedia’s most potent resource is its ad sales capability, including a nationwide sales force numbering in the thousands—larger than anyone else in the digital audio space and an order of magnitude larger than anyone else in podcasting. It sells ad inventory on broadcast radio, streaming radio, and podcasts to major advertisers. But it hasn’t been able to package these media together into single ad buys with integrated audience measurement and analytics.

Each of these three media has its own advertising ecosystems. Broadcast radio’s dates back decades, but iHeartMedia has technology (through the startup Jelli, which it acquired in 2018) that enables advertisers to make programmatic buys of targeted ads on its AM/FM stations in real time. When users listen to Internet streams of iHeart’s broadcast stations on iHeartRadio, iHeart sends them individually targeted ads that play instead of the ads that air on the AM/FM signals. And on podcasts, iHeart places targeted ads in each podcast episode at download time. (Although most users listen to podcasts on demand via “streaming” nowadays, it’s not really streaming as in Pandora or Spotify; it’s actually progressive download, meaning that the download starts when the user clicks Play and finishes while the podcast runs.)

Each of these ad-placement scenarios requires different technology for targeting, delivery, and measurement of audience impact. But Triton Digital’s technology stack ties them all together. It enables iHeart to sell an ad package to, say, Walmart WMT or Toyota that optimizes targeted ad delivery and aggregates audience measurement across all three media.

Triton Digital’s customers include many of iHeart’s direct competitors, such as NPR, Cumulus Media, Entercom, ESPN, and Univision. iHM intends to let Triton Digital continue offering services to them (and, of, course, make revenue for itself in the process). But none of these companies have iHM’s impact in all three areas of “companionship audio”—a term that the company uses to differentiate what it does from music services like Spotify, meaning audio with talk and other non-music content.

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