Programmatic For…Traditional Radio? Jelli Launches Buying Platform

jelli doughertyTraditional radio as a hotbed for ad tech?

Well, not really – or at all – but this is precisely the problem Jelli co-founder and CEO Mike Dougherty recognized when his company launched on Wednesday a platform, called RadioSpot, designed to enable programmatic buying for radio advertising.

“Radio is a little more simple [than digital advertising],” Dougherty said. “Because they don’t have the ad tech, they have just basic problems that aren’t considered problems in the online space, but are major problems in radio, like ensuring the ad was delivered properly.”

While ad delivery is an issue in digital channels, it’s exacerbated in radio because brands don’t have tools at their disposal to track their buys. An ad campaign might air on hundreds of stations across the country, but human error at any given radio station can mess up delivery.

“Of 4 trillion ads run in radio, there are 100 billion and a half mistakes every year that require makegoods to redo the ad properly,” Dougherty said.

The other issue centers around reporting: Marketers don’t know how a radio spot impacts purchase activity until a quarter later, when they can match the spot against sales and conversion data.

Jelli seeks to address these two issues programmatically, by focusing on ad delivery and real-time reporting.

Jelli’s ad-serving platform is hardware parked on location at each radio station, latched to the station’s infrastructure. “Once we hook it up, that station lights up on our platform as being available to run ads,” Dougherty explained.

During commercial breaks, Jelli’s system takes over and the ad tech company broadcasts whatever ad is queued up at the moment, based on a cloud-based application. And because multiple stations are hooked to Jelli’s server, the company can also provide to advertisers a network of radio stations.

The company has been growing tremendously over the last year, Dougherty said. More than 350 radio stations are connected to Jelli’s servers, up from 68 a year ago. These stations, Dougherty said, are nationwide and include 20 of the top national markets, including New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Dougherty also noted that Jelli had proliferated from 31 cities last year to 128 cities this year.

“We’re managing about 4 billion radio ad impressions with partners, so get a slice of inventory from local stations,” he added.

On the demand side, Jelli presents inventory to large radio advertising buyers, generally working through agencies.

“The buying part is still based on specs and RFPs on an upfront basis, but the fulfillment, serving and reporting back to agencies is all in real time,” Dougherty said. “That’s critical because it solves the issue of waiting to find out whether the ad ran. We provide a dashboard so brands can see literally when the ad runs in real time.”

So what’s the future of radio ad buying and programmatic? If it catches on could real-time bidding (RTB) models also begin to emerge?

On this front, Dougherty is skeptical. He certainly sees automating the ad-serving process catching on. After all, he said, the entire industry is interested in solving issues around compliance and reporting.

But RTB will be tougher to catch on.

“I don’t think this will happen in broadcast radio in the near future,” Dougherty said. “I don’t think the industry will be comfortable making their inventory available with that methodology. But there will be more programmatic buying with the steps we mentioned earlier, the more traditional RFP step that links to the order will likely become more automated in several ways.

“It won’t be a bidding model, it’ll probably be a fixed-priced or price-ranged model. It’ll enable the broadcaster who owns the inventory to feel more comfortable that they have control over pricing of that inventory.”

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