Is digital audio the next big thing for UK advertisers?
A view from Grant Millar

Is digital audio the next big thing for UK advertisers?

What do you think about the digital audio boom? Didn’t know this area was booming? Well, no wonder. It isn’t. At least not in terms of UK adspend. And yet, over the pond, digital audio has both brands and media owners in a tizzy. Digital audio spend surpassed $1 billion in the US last year, making it the fourth-largest mobile revenue generator behind only Google, Facebook and Twitter. Among those leading the charge, the music-streaming service Pandora is tearing into traditional and established digital media takings.

So why is old Blighty lagging so far behind? Well, it’s not a consumer uptake issue. Digital audio reached 17 million people (more than 30 per cent of the population) in the UK last year, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau – streaming is now mainstream. And it’s not technology – the UK is no slouch in broadband and smartphone penetration and platform access.

It seems to be a compound of different factors. "Digital audio" covers streamed online radio services (all radio brands served on the web but not DAB), on-demand music services (such as Spotify) and hybrids of the two (think SoundCloud). This also includes podcasts (of which the daddy of them all, with 72 million downloads globally, is the phenomenal US 12-part series Serial, produced by This American Life).

Digital audio reached 17 million people - more than 30 per cent of the population - in the UK last year

In the UK, the BBC regularly boasts half of all top weekly podcasts by download. It has deep programming budgets to generate very high-quality audio content, but is obviously not open for advertising.

Advertising creatives need to recognise the consumer uptake and take advantage of exciting technologies. The consumer experience is more intimate than traditional radio (more than half of consumers access digital audio via mobile using headphones) and 3D audio technology offers the possibility to deliver extraordinary content.

For media agencies, the issue is one of responsibility between departments: who should handle it – audiovisual, display or radio – and how do we gain confidence about audience reach and measurement?

But the opportunity is there for UK advertisers to benefit from early-mover advantage. Global Radio has decided to get involved, with its Dax service that will provide a single access and measurement point.

And MailChimp must have secured the sponsorship deal of 2014 with Serial in terms of exposure for adspend. The execution, which was sensitive to the content of the show, created its own cultural phenomenon (you can now buy T-shirts emblazoned: "Mail…Kimp?").

Get ready. This looks like it might just be the next big thing.

Grant Millar is the chief executive of ZenithOptimedia UK and the chair of Media360

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