Is AT&T looking to establish a new national ad platform for the TV industry?
The company renamed its advanced advertising business on Tuesday with a promise to offer Madison Avenue something new — targeted advertising at scale. The new unit is called Xandr, after Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone and established The Bell Telephone Company and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
AT&T acquired Time Warner’s content business for $85.4 with a stated intention of getting TV and online viewing data and marrying it with ad targeting capabilities — a combo the company says will allow it to charge more for its ad inventory.
Here’s how AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson explained it to Recode’s Peter Kafka.
In a statement about the new branding, the telecom giant noted that it has signed deals with regional cable companies Altice USA and Frontier Communications to aggregate and sell their national addressable TV advertising inventory.
Addressable advertising means ads that are targeted to identifiable consumers. TV and telecom firms have struggled to compete with internet companies simply because online players are much less regulated in what data they can share. “Xandr’s unique differentiator is its commitment to personalization," the company said in its statement.
Still, the departure of Oath CEO Tim Armstrong doesn’t bode well for that kind of data mash-up in the current political climate. Oath is part of Verizon.
In the press release, AT&T said: “This initial step starts to create the foundation of a national TV marketplace for advertisers and premium content publishers.”
With TV measurement firm Nielsen exploring a sale, it appears AT&T is making a bold effort to reshape video ad buying with its extensive data and distribution capabilities.
“I have not been exposed to many industries as reluctant to change as the media industry in terms of business models and changing how you deliver the product," Stephenson said. "It is an industry that has about as much inertia as any industry I’ve been part of.”
While the phone company wants to have a closer relationship with their customers and viewers, it’s not clear consumers — or politicians — feel the same way. Privacy remains a huge topic of public concern and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has a hearing Wednesday about that very topic. The Los Angeles Times lays out who’s attending the high profile event: AT&T, Amazon, Google, Apple, Twitter and Charter Communications, but no consumer advocates.
Stevenson is arguing for the government to step in to regulate privacy, largely to avoid the states doing it themselves.