Acquisition of Triton Digital by IHeartMedia to consolidate its dominance in audio advertising

iHeartMedia

IHRT
yesterday announced the acquisition of Triton Digital, a digital audio publishing, advertising and audience measurement company of EW Scripps

SSP
for $ 230 million. This is far from the first acquisition iHeart has made in the digital audio infrastructure space, but it is unique in that it will help iHeart connect its different lines of business and consolidate its position as leader in many of them.

Most people know iHeartMedia for its iHeartRadio app, which plays internet streams from AM / FM radio stations, most of which are iHeartMedia owners. But iHeartMedia is really in several interrelated industries. It is the largest owner of broadcasting radio stations by far, with over 850 of them nationwide. It is the podcast publisher with the largest global audience (No. 1 or No. 2) (it alternates with NPR). Its app is the most popular place for broadcast station internet feeds and the # 2 internet radio app overall (Pandora is # 1). The app also has a music on demand feature similar to Spotify and a custom internet radio feature similar to Pandora. And iHeart has tools for other podcasters, broadcasters, and internet radio broadcasters that allow it to make money from its competition.

Triton Digital operates a variety of services for digital audio distributors, including podcast publishing, audio content delivery networks, ad targeting and audience measurement. It is an actor of the infrastructure whose name is not exactly a common word; he is probably best known for being the co-developer (with Edison Research) of the infinite dial, a highly influential digital media consumer research study that began over two decades ago and focused on digital radio.

Triton will help iHeart in most of its audio business lines, but more importantly, it will allow it to tie its radio, streaming and podcast businesses together on the advertising side. Besides its content, iHeartMedia’s most powerful resource is its ad sales capability, including a nationwide sales force of several thousand, larger than anyone in the digital audio space, and an order of magnitude larger. great than anyone in the podcasting business. It sells radio, streaming radio and podcast advertising inventory to major advertisers. But it hasn’t been able to aggregate these media into single ad buys with built-in audience measurement and analytics.

Each of these three media has its own advertising ecosystems. Broadcast radio dates back decades, but iHeartMedia has the technology (via startup Jelli, which he acquired in 2018) which allows advertisers to make programmatic purchases of targeted ads on its AM / FM stations in real time. When users listen to internet feeds from iHeart broadcast stations on iHeartRadio, iHeart sends them individually targeted advertisements which are played instead of advertisements broadcast on AM / FM signals. And on podcasts, iHeart places targeted ads in each podcast episode as it downloads. (Although most people listen to podcasts on demand via “streaming” these days, it’s not really streaming like in Pandora or Spotify; it’s actually a progressive download, which means downloading starts when the user clicks play and ends while the podcast is playing.)

Each of these ad placement scenarios requires different technology for targeting, serving, and measuring audience impact. But Triton Digital’s tech stack ties them all together. This allows iHeart to sell an advertising package to, for example, Walmart

WMT
or Toyota, which optimizes the distribution of targeted advertisements and aggregates audience measurements on the three media.

Triton Digital customers include many direct competitors of iHeart, such as NPR, Cumulus Media

CMLS
, Entercom, ESPN and Univision. iHeart intends to let Triton Digital continue to provide services to them (and, of course, generate revenue in the process). But none of those companies have iHeart’s impact in the three areas of “companion audio” – a term the company uses to differentiate what it does from music services like Spotify, that is – ie audio with conversation and other non-musical content.

Over the past two years, iHeart has invested heavily in its podcasting strategy that encompasses ubiquity and ad revenue, as opposed to the strategy led by Spotify (and more recently Amazon

AMZN
) focused on exclusive content and subscription revenue. The acquisition of Triton Digital will help consolidate iHeart’s leadership in podcasting by pairing it with streaming and radio, as only iHeart can. But other visions of podcasting related to music and paid subscriptions are being developed by companies that are stronger in these areas than iHeartMedia.

As for EW Scripps, Triton Digital was its last remaining property in digital audio after sold podcasting company Stitcher to Sirius XM satellite radio last summer. The sale of Triton to iHeart leaves Scripps exclusively in its core broadcast and cable television business. In a sense, the deal puts all of those podcasting and digital radio assets under one roof, like iHeart and Sirius XM.

SIRI
belong to John Malone’s plurality of media

FWONK
. Since Sirius XM also owns Pandora, this gives Liberty Media more firepower to take on Spotify and Amazon in the booming digital audio market.


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