Washington Post Builds Tech That Dynamically Inserts Ads Into Podcasts

Inserting fresh ads into podcasts is challenging and time-consuming.

An online article loads fresh ads every time a page loads. But in the podcasting world, readers download content and ads together, which means the two must be stitched together beforehand.

Because of this challenge, many older podcasts run with no ads or stale ones, even as popular shows amass thousands to millions of downloads long after their release.

To make the process of putting ads in podcasts easier for publishers, The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development (RED) team developed Rhapsocord, a dynamic ad insertion tool that identifies places to put in ads, automatically inserts them and then sends the file to different podcast platforms.

Rhapsocord automatically identifies pre-roll, midroll and post-roll spots, inserts ads and updates the files, so producers don’t have to manually re-edit a podcast.

The tech also stores metadata about each podcast episode so advertisers can buy based on topics such as politics, finance or history.

Aram Zucker-Scharff, ad engineering director for RED, said Rhapsocord opens up new podcast inventory.

While advertisers can still buy podcast ads directly through salespeople, Rhapsocord’s API is a step toward enabling a self-serve podcast ads platform or programmatic audio.

“Because we built an automated system, anyone who complies with the ads API standard could serve ads into the system, whether it’s a self-serve platform or an integration with a programmatic platform,” said Zucker-Scharff.

The Post is testing out Rhapsocord on one of its own podcasts, “The Daily 202’s Big Idea.” It will then expand to other Post podcasts.

For example, the Post created a 42-episode series, “Presidential,” in 2016 that profiled each of the US presidents. The podcast generated millions of downloads in 2017.

“The content is historical data about presidents; it’s evergreen,” Zucker-Scharff said. “If you were to approach that in text, you would get the latest ads. But on podcasts, it’s baked into the content.”

Rhapsocord connects to the Post’s CMS and podcast encoding system, but the tech can connect to another CMS.

By contrast, other podcast technologies require using their services end to end to benefit from automation, Zucker-Scharff said. Many proprietary solutions only offer monetization within their platform, while Rhapsocord updates podcasts across every place listeners access their podcasts.

The tech also complies with IAB standards for counting downloads of podcasts – the metric many advertisers use when buying.

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