Brand safety tools has been at the core of what Sounder has offered podcasters and ad buyers since its launch three years ago. While speech-to-text transcription offered a way to navigate content, it has still required human intervention with real people listening and reviewing samples of audio content to guarantee a podcast is safe and a good match for a brand. Now Sounder says it is ready to take it to the next level and completely automate the process.

“Human review can only get us so far. After all, there’s only so much content you can digest in one day,” founder and CEO Kal Amin says. “Human review can’t scale. It’s slowing down the growth of the podcasting industry. That’s where Sounder’s automated brand safety is paving the way.”

Amin says it is building off its proprietary speech recognition technology, to release the first machine-based brand safety solution to the space that removes the need for human review. It is not only fast but capable of processing millions of episodes, which Amin says addresses the scalability problems that are slowing down the growth of the podcast ad market.

“Our solution is designed with advertising in mind,” Amin says in a blog post. He says Sounder leveraged both Interactive Advertising Bureau and GARM categories and classifications to act as a default floor for its episode ratings. He says Sounder’s technology is also contextual and semantic, which means it can understand how words and phrases are used in conversation to assess the true risk for marketers.

For example, in a podcast episode about stocks, one host may say he got “murdered” on a recent investment after an earnings report. Amin says Sounder’s models would recognize the context of how the host used the word “murder” – in this case the speaker means he lost a lot of money – and not related to content related to the “Death and Injury” IAB category. Sounder says publishers and brands can gain access to episode ratings, full transcripts, episode summaries, keywords, topics, and eventually sentiment scores as well.

U.S. podcast ad revenue reached $1.4 billion in 2021 and is forecast to top $4 billion by 2024. But Amin thinks those numbers can be larger if marketers are at greater ease with where their ads turn up. That will be even more important as programmatic media buying gains traction.

“The largest media publishers in the world have tens of thousands of hours of high-quality and engaging audio content that is ripe for monetization. What’s missing is a solution to give advertisers confidence that this content adheres to their necessary specifications,” says Amin. “Brand safety allows marketers to identify the right content that aligns to their unique brand guidelines. Automated brand safety helps marketers find suitable podcasts they otherwise wouldn’t have found. Sounder helps advertisers cross the human-reviewable threshold, opening up new ad inventory.”

Here’s how the Sounder’s brand safety dashboard looks –


Moving forward, Amin says Sounder is focused on doing more with its technology for contextual targeting applications in audio advertising. It would allow a brand to place its ads in whatever show is talking about a relevant topic. So if a knitting podcast host is talking about buying a new tennis racket, a sports retailer’s ad could appear on the episode even though it would not be the genre where they are typically focused.

“Our team is hard at work developing our contextual targeting solution—one that enables advertisers to target based on dynamic keywords, trending topics, and static content categories,” Amin says. “Given our algorithms are able to semantically understand words and phrases, we’ll be leveraging these same capabilities to identify when new topics emerge from the conversation. These targeting tools are privacy-friendly—allowing marketers to reach audiences based on their passions rather than tracking cookies.”

The expanded focus on brand safety and contextual targeting comes after iHeartMedia announced in February that it would take a minority stake in the company as part of its agreement to integrate Sounder’s brand safety rating tools for use by ad buyers across the iHeartPodcast Network.

Founded by former Google and Spotify executives. Sounder released few details of the company’s Series A round, but its website says it has raised more than $11 million to date. It is currently hiring several engineers in the U.S. and Europe.