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25 April 2019

Audioburst lands $10m as APAC entry looms – with video in mind?

AI voice platform developer Audioburst has secured a $10 million investment from Japanese advertising giant Dentsu and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company. The cash injection comes some seven months after Faultline Online Reporter highlighted Audioburst’s somewhat exclusive position and clearly the Asia Pacific market is taking increasing notice of Audioburst’s niche technology – in anticipation of the US firm’s debut in Japan later this year.

That much was clear when Audioburst inked a partnership with LG Electronics in December to jointly build in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems, with Audioburst at the time in the throngs of developing its new Deep Analysis API which debuted at CES 2019. We noted at the time how 2019 would be a major year for the vendor and it doesn’t get much more stimulating right now than the combination of two terms – voice technology and Asia Pacific.

With international ad agency Dentsu involved in the latest investment, naturally the plan is geared towards developing new advertising experiences via machine learning algorithms, although whether Dentsu is interested exclusively in Audioburst technology for audio, or specifically audio for IVI ecosystems, or is thinking bigger in terms of video advertising, remains unclear. Yet the OTT video field is not something most people associate with Audioburst (the clue’s in the name), which is why the company was keen to highlight deals with several unnamed OTT video providers when Faultline Online Reporter spoke with Audioburst last year – at the time promising plans to expand well beyond the comfort of its core screen-free, audio-only environments.

Audioburst’s largely rival-free rise has drawn a lot of attention, mastering a method for monetizing audio streams by applying natural language processing to listen, understand, segment and index millions of minutes of daily talk content from thousands of audio sources. We therefore suggest investors are eager to replicate this success in the video space. Audioburst has already carved out distribution channels – just as any other search engine does – from where customers can bring in additional advertising revenues on top of their existing core ad revenue streams, and it has existing partnerships with content creators, media brands, as well as device manufacturers, primarily those of smart TVs and smart speakers.

If Audioburst can bring audio content to new audiences, new countries and new devices – content which might otherwise have been played once on a live radio stream and forgotten about forever – why can’t it do the same for video content?

“Personalized advertising in the radio space has been limited to-date. In addition, the emergence of voice-activated services and audio content have provided a rapidly growing advertising opportunity for our clients,” noted Dentsu Innovation Initiative’s MD, Hideki Ishibashi, in a statement.

But while competition in terms of similar sized organizations is thin on the ground, considering the company told us its three main competitors have been acquired in recent years, Audioburst has Spotify’s in-house developments to face up to. The mammoth music streaming service now offers a Sponsored Playlist feature – allowing brands to pay for exposure on the platform’s top playlist real estate. Similarly, Pandora has recently dabbled in personalized radio advertising by opening up listener data to advertisers.

So, while personalization software has somewhat faded from regular mainstream media coverage as the technologies get gradually dissolved into a larger broth, the personalized advertising opportunities in the audio sector are relatively untapped in contrast. With the rise of streaming audio and Amazon and Google both taking Spotify’s lead by adding ad-supported tiers to their music streaming services, we really are just scratching the surface today.

“In addition to premium brand placement within the playlist, your brand surrounds listeners with audio or video messages featured in every ad break. We also help build a collaborative marketing plan of Native Media to drive listenership and exposure of your Sponsored Playlist,” states Spotify’s Sponsored Playlist page – giving us an idea of the company’s advertising business plans.

That said, it’s easy to forget Audioburst’s journey actually started out in the TV space to lower the high cost of transcribing, before shifting to screenless audio where Audioburst is now expert, but not exclusive to. Unfortunately, the vendor doesn’t disclose its TV or OTT company customers, although Samsung is a key investor, while Harman and Bose are two notable partner firms.

Dentsu and Hyundai join existing investors Samsung Ventures, Nippon Broadcasting and Advanced Media, bringing Audioburst’s total funding raised to date to $25 million.