Programmatic audio advertising platform Jelli unveiled a $21 million Series B funding round Tuesday, led by Relay Ventures, Intel Capital, First Round Capital, iHeartMedia and Universal Music Group. The round brings Jelli’s total funding to $37.6 million.
Jelli will use proceeds from the round to support two major partnerships forged this year, one of which is the launch of ExpressWay from Katz – Katz as in Katz Media Group – an industrywide audio ad exchange powered by Jelli’s platform. The other is a private audio exchange partnership with iHeartMedia.
Both hookups offer advertisers and publishers a SaaS platform to buy and sell radio advertising programmatically.
“We’re trying to bring programmatic to audio and radio,” said Mike Dougherty, CEO of Jelli. “The product developments we’ll be doing with this round include significant investments in data management and data services, and more services for advertisers and agencies to plug into these exchanges.”
“There really isn’t a robust DSP for audio and we think there should be,” he said, adding that digital streaming and radio broadcast buyers alike could benefit from an audio DSP to leverage proprietary or licensed data to inform their audio buys.
For the past six months, Jelli has focused primarily on rolling out these partnerships and Dougherty said the endeavors have generated significant growth. Prior to the partnerships, Jelli’s platform hosted 400 radio stations in 100 cities in the United States.
Today, more than 830 radio stations use Jelli’s platform in more than 250 cities. Over the past year, Jelli has run several hundred ad campaigns for advertisers and agencies.
Though Jelli is seeing growth, Dougherty said programmatic audio advertising for broadcasters is still a nascent market. Roughly 4 trillion audio ads run every year in the United States, but most of the ads in radio and audio are handled in traditional ways, he said.
“This financing round is about preparing for a significant shift, where both traditional radio broadcasting and digital audio advertising all start to become programmatic and sold through these exchanges,” Dougherty said. “Programmatic audio is evolving rapidly on all sides of the equation and, at some point, we won’t see a siloed approach between broadcast and digital.”
That broadcast/digital divide has caused headaches for audio advertisers looking for scale. Dougherty said its partnership with iHeartMedia is helping to clear that hurdle. The broadcast giant hosts 245 million listeners in the United States per month, including 97 million monthly digital uniques, making it the largest radio outlet in the nation.
But spreading the word about programmatic advertising for broadcast is shaping up to be a challenge. It’s an industry niche in need of an evangelist. According to Dougherty, radio scoops up $1 of every $10 of US ad budgets, but it’s the other $9 that get all the attention in the programmatic development space.
“There’s a lot of investment in programmatic around digital and around video,” he said. “Getting the word out that audio is now programmatic is the next challenge we all face.”
Despite the challenges, Dougherty said they’ve seen high demand from advertisers to buy broadcast audio ads programmatically. And he expects the profile of prospective clients to diversify.
“We’re seeing demand primarily from traditional radio advertisers and agencies who buy radio because this is a better way of executing, but we’re also going to see programmatic agencies and trading desks get involved, which is incremental demand because they’re not buying radio today.”
In fact, demand is booming.
“Our partners are sold out of whatever inventory they’re providing to the buy side,” Dougherty said
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, Jelli will continue to scale its tech and bring more advertisers and inventory onto its platform and into its partner exchanges.
“These exchanges are expanding,” said Dougherty. “As the technology platform supporting all those segments, we have to be ready for that.”