Jeff Vidler: Increased Data Privacy Controls – New Opportunities for Audio

This guest column by Jeff Vidler, President and Founder of Signal Hill Insights Inc. in Ontario, was first published on the Signal Hill blog. Jeff Vidler is a regular speaker at RAIN Summits, and is the co-producer of the Canadian Podcast Listener Report.

The sands are shifting under the feet of digital marketing as we march towards an online future that promises less personal tracking.

The good news for audio is that the increased data privacy controls provide a window for audio to catch up in the data arms race and pick up a bigger share of ad dollars.

Led by the Google and Facebook duopoly and their ability to track online consumers and package up that data for advertisers, digital marketing has upended the advertising marketplace over the past 10 years. And the growth of digital ad revenues has been escalating. Zenith expects digital to capture a 58% share of global ad spend in 2021, up from 48% in 2019. At least, that’s been the trajectory of the past few years.

The future growth of digital ad dollars is starting to look a little uncertain. Consumers are concerned about their privacy. In a 2019 Pew Research survey, 81% of Americans felt the risks of having brands collect their personal data outweighed the benefits.

As a result, privacy regulations and initiatives are picking up speed with a very real impact on the ability to target and measure audience.  It started five years ago with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), followed by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Now, the big industry gatekeepers are getting ahead of the story by rolling out their own changes:

  • Google plans to eliminate 3rd party cookie tracking in 2023.
  • Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency with the release of iOS 14.5 in April. It requires apps to asks for opt-in consent from its users for tracking. So far at least, the answer is mostly “no, thanks.” According to Flurry who are tracking iOS opt-ins on a weekly basis, only 20% of worldwide users and 13% of Americans opted in on their most recent count (week of July 25.)

This doesn’t seem to have had any immediate impact on the money flowing to digital. Facebook’s Q2 earnings report shows steady growth despite the new iOS privacy policy but warns they may be facing headwinds in future quarters.

These changes in privacy controls are causing advertisers to re-think their digital marketing strategy.

I had the chance recently to chat with someone on the front lines at one of the largest US advertisers and got some insight into why digital has managed to secure such a big share of their ad budget. They love the optimization capabilities and the accountability they get from their digital ad dollars. (We assume their analytics are separating human traffic from the bots.)

While this advertiser recognizes the potential impact of increased privacy controls on their business, they’re not ready to give it up. So they have put multiple teams of media planners and data scientists to work with their vendors to build a future that delivers the current benefits of digital marketing while staying within the new privacy framework.

In other words, they are exploring their options.

How Can Audio Capitalize on the New Privacy Concerns?

As advertisers re-jig their digital marketing plans to meet the new reality, we can expect a pause in the action—an opportunity for audio to catch up and fight data with data:

  • First up, it’s time for AM/FM to move past small-sample meter and diary audience measurement to census-level measurement. Streaming of broadcast radio via smartphone and smart speakers is growing, bringing the possibility for large-sample, real-time measurement and targeting within reach.
  • Develop large 1st party data platforms and share the insights with advertisers. As 3rd party cookies fade away, your listener data delivers greater value. The big music streamers like Spotify and Pandora are already there using data from listener sign-ups, but there’s no reason podcast and broadcast can’t be there too, given the even deeper listener engagement.
  • Help clients build out their own 1st party data. Branded podcasts provide marketers with a cookie-free opportunity to deepen their relationship with, and collect 1st party data from, customers and potential customers. Roger Nairn of Jar Audio makes a persuasive case for this in one of Jar’s recent blogs.
  • Finally, scale up. It’s the hidden benefit of audio industry consolidation—more 1st party data and more insights to share with advertisers. In fact, everyone can play at that game by seeking out data sharing partnerships.


Jeff Vidler