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A VAST Feature Request

A VAST Feature Request

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Written By

Bryan Barletta

Know the Author

May 23, 2023

New on the Product Deepdive, founder Sean Howard walks through how Flightpath’s precog algorithm can detect problems before they happen and optimize podcast ad operations. Tune in now to see how Flightpath aims to improve yield and accelerate the quote-to-cash pipeline!

I am incredibly excited for the state of podcast adtech today. The reason being is, what we’ve got on our plate right now, we’ve just about got down pat. Now, I don’t mean things are perfect, as seen by the justified pressure we’ve had on us to update the IAB Podcast Guidelines to an honest-to-goodness technical specification. But, I do feel that we’re aligned as an industry on what needs to become table stakes. We’re rallying around features and ideas, leading to standards and innovations, and further away from selling a different side of the same coin as if it was unique.

Now, putting my product manager hat on, I’d like to suggest we prioritize coalescing around one key area of adtech that will have considerable financial and creative benefits for podcasting: VAST

Rehashing the Past

I’ve written about VAST a lot, but it never hurts to rehash how it all works. Especially when my goal here is to convince all of you why these features should be a requirement of any hosting platform with Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI).

When a listener presses play or downloads a podcast, they’re making a request to the podcasts hosting platform to send them that specific episode. That hosting platform then has the opportunity to fill every single ad placement in the episode with the best ad available. Campaign by campaign, the hosting platform is confirming which ads are available through targeting, pacing, priority, frequency capping, and a handful of other decisioning methods. Once the campaign is selected, the mp3 for that ad is stitched right into the episode before sending the listener a complete experience.

Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) which – confusingly – encompasses audio, lets us take it one step further. Instead of uploading an mp3 for specific ad creative, we would enter a VAST URL that allows us to call another ad server and let it provide a completely unique response.

For example: I could set up a campaign targeted to my inventory with no decisioning or impression limits and a mid-level priority, configured with a VAST URL calling a programmatic partner to give them the opportunity to provide me an ad for that request. Or not, allowing the campaign to set itself as ineligible and move on to the next campaign in the priority list.

But that’s a terrible example, and that is a big reason why VAST support in podcasting is so fragmented today.

We’re thinking about it too narrowly.

VAST Utopia

Let’s paint a picture of a podcasting industry that truly supports VAST.

Buyers are happier. They’re spending more money.

While we strive for the IAB 3.0 specifications to clean up the vagaries between hosting platform’s valid differences in counting downloads, VAST unifies things. By providing each publisher with a campaign-specific VAST URL, every request and delivery of that ad creative winds up in the same reporting interface for buyers.

And not just next to all their other podcast ad buys (which is pretty impressive), but likely all their ad buys in their other channels. That’s a big deal that is guaranteed to increase spend when the tools that buyers are both comfortable with and can trust can appropriately measure and display a podcast campaign.

Please, don’t mistake this for only a programmatic solution or solely for announcer-read ads. Publishers absolutely can provide host-read creatives to the buyer to assign to their specific VAST URL, giving you all the same benefits of running an embedded host-read campaign.

The power of a buyer having their own ad server goes even further than just consolidating data. By one central ad server getting the call for an ad, with permission from publishers, buyers could set frequency caps across their entire campaign, not just siloed to each individual publisher. And frequency capping is just one way of filtering an ad request.

Think about the implications for first party data or brand safety and suitability models. Instead of the buyer being locked only to the publishers that work with their specific vendor or can ingest their first party data, that VAST tag solves the problem by allowing the buyer to handle all of that themselves.

Thinking Creatively

Most of my career was spent as a product manager. I get that we need to highlight the most beneficial and impactful parts of a request to justify the prioritization I’m asking for.

And that’s what this week’s newsletter is: one giant feature request for all the hosting platforms to enable VAST as a creative type, with all the privileges of a campaign equipped with an mp3, because it absolutely will generate more revenue for our industry.

But, like any good product manager, I’ve got an ulterior motive: VAST unlocks a substantial amount of creative flexibility that we desperately need in podcasting. And I haven’t been too subtle about how valuable I think those capabilities are.

My first article diving into VAST highlighted AMA’s dynamic creative builder. Very recently I’ve had the chance to do product deep dives on two incredibly different takes on creative building through VAST. Adthos’ AI-based solution, which has integrated AI even further since that recording, and Frequency’s incredibly powerful operation-focused approach, allowing for live voice talent to rapidly create unique variations through their integration with Hindenburg.

And when we stop thinking about how this technology can work just for ads, we can create something truly unique. I’ve played around with it in the past, but my scale isn’t particularly grand. But the team at ARN have just launched one of the most technologically-advanced news podcasts, Your News Now, sharing a 5 second live weather update and 15 second forecast with the listener of their daily 3 minute long episode at the exact time of their download. And that’s just the start of the things we can unlock with VAST.

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to see VAST as just a gateway to programmatic. As a way for a publisher to bypass the lucrative revenue generating ad opportunities the hosting platform can provide for them. But we’re stifling innovation and buyer confidence especially when we all know that just “turning on programmatic” doesn’t result in 100% fill rate.

If your hosting platform does not support VAST as a creative type, in a campaign that has all the rights and priorities of one configured with an mp3, now is the time to submit that high priority feature request.


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About the author

Bryan Barletta (He/Him) is the founder of Sounds Profitable, and a widely-cited expert in adtech, sales, and monetization of podcasting. He founded Sounds Profitable in 2020 after a successful career working with some of the leading companies in advertising technology, including AdTheorent, Claritas, and Megaphone. Barletta helped to design some of the tools in use by podcast platforms today for attribution, measurement, and serving audio ads, and uses that expertise to help clients and sponsors get the most from their sales and advertising efforts. He founded Sounds Profitable initially as a platform to help educate persons working in the podcast industry about advertising and sales technology, but has since expanded the brand to become the industry’s premiere source for education, advocacy, and insights designed to grow the entire space. He is an avid gamer and father of two boys, neither of whom have their own podcast, yet.

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