How to block programmatic podcast ads

Here is how you can block programmatically inserted advertisements, or “dynamic ads”, in most podcasts. This method works for podcast delivered through the leading programmatic podcast ad brokers.

Before you read on I’d like to urge you not to block programmatic ads unless you’ve a good reason to. Podcasters, like other online creators, rely on advertising revenues and you’ll deprive them of their livelihood when you block ads.

I prefer programmatically inserted podcast ads over their “native” counterparts where the host reads the ads. Having the host read ads erodes trust, and limits podcasts’ abilities to profit from their backlog of episodes.

Podcast ads don’t suffer from many of the privacy issues plaguing online ads (though it has its own unique problem.) Targeting is mostly limited to approximate device location, as determined by the IP address, and the podcast’s category. Programmatic ads are also generally shorter than native ads (a standard 30-seconds clip instead of several minutes.)

However, sometimes advertising servers make stupid mistakes. I live in Norway but regularly get ads read to me in Dutch. Some geolocation database somewhere has mislabeled my IP address as being located in the Netherlands instead of Norway. It’s probably just a typo! Country code “NL” instead of “NO”. While novel at first, I soon wanted to block these ads.

The solution to getting rid of them was hiding in plain sight in the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Podcast Measurement Guidelines. These guidelines require that suspect IP addresses with many downloads are to be excluded from subscriber counts. This is intended to prevent someone from inflating a podcast’s audience numbers.

As a listener, you can exploit this by using a commercial Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy service. With a VPN service, you connect to a server offered by your VPN provider where your internet traffic — along with all other subscribers — exit onto the internet from the same shared IP address. That way you won’t even be counted as a listener to the podcast.

The IP addresses of these network egress servers are often flagged in geolocation databases as country code “XX” or “other”. Advertisers are far less willing to pay for ads in this non-region than in the region-specific advertising campaigns you’d otherwise fall into.

You may, however, end up hearing a lot of ads for VPN services. VPN service providers are one of the few categories of advertisers that want to reach people in this non-region.

This method only works in real podcast clients. You may not have much success if you’re using programs that don’t behave like traditional podcast clients, e.g. Acast, Spotify, and Stitcher.

So, what can podcasters do to protect themselves against this type of ad-blocking? The first thing podcast creators should do is to make sure there’s a backup/house advert that’s used when no other advertiser is bidding on an episode. In these backup ads, podcasters can, for example, ask for donations via Flattr or Patreon, or read a worldwide applicable advert.