AT&T Restarts Ad Business With New Company: Xandr

Santa Barbara, Calif. -- With one year under former Group M executive Brian Lesser, AT&T has relaunched its AT&T advertising and analytics company with a new name: Xandr.

At the same time, the business unit has made its first sales rep deals with two cable operators -- Altice USA and Frontier Communications -- to aggregate and sell their national addressable TV advertising inventory. 

AT&T already sells addressable advertising for DirecTV, its own multichannel video program distributor, satellite TV distributor.

The announcements were made at AT&T’s Relevance Conference here.

AT&T’s revamped advertising business under Xandr, which currently does $2 billion in business, will include AT&T’s advanced TV business, AT&T AdWorks; AT&T’s data and analytics business and



Ad tech company AppNexus, which AT&T acquired last month for $1.6 billion, will continue to be a brand under the Xandr operation. The Xandr name is drawn from AT&T’s long history, a spin on first name of its founder, Alexander Graham Bell.

During the briefing with reporters, Lesser, CEO, Xandr, says the keys to growth will come in four areas: data, premium content, advanced advertising technology and distribution. AT&T has more than 170 million direct-to-consumer relationships across wireless, video and broadband.

AT&T intends to offer more sharing of data with advertisers than what they get from digital media platforms. Though advertisers can get specific ROI and key performance indicator goals for their campaigns with big media digital platforms, “they don’t leave any smarter than when they arrive,” said Lesser.

AT&T can do this while focused on privacy concerns.

“There is middle ground where we can respect the privacy of our customers,” Lesser says. “But we can deliver de-identified or anonymized data back to advertisers. They can learn something more about their consumers... We call this a community garden, not a walled garden.”

When it comes to linear TV efforts, among other areas, Lesser said: “We don’t necessarily see a day when a traditional linear television feed will be fully programmatic, but we want to apply the technology to make buying and selling TV as efficient as possible.”

This includes advancing its addressable advertising business, delivering advertising that is engaging but not “interruptive of the content,” Lesser says.

AT&T is working on new concepts for TV advertiser messaging, including overlays on video screens and advertiser icons where consumers get more information --“a mixed reality experience,” he says. This could also include TV ads working interactively with voice control/home speaker assistants.

He notes: “You have to be able to control the content, the distribution, the technology and the data, to do those sorts of things.” In addition to buying satellite TV distributor DirecTV in 2015, this year, AT&T completed its $85.4 billion deal for Time Warner.

During his time at AT&T, Lesser recognized the company’s need for a large-scale, well-established advertising technology company to take digital media -- especially TV -- to the next level. This is where AppNexus came in.

“It was already down this path of how to improve television advertising... starting with linear television, addressable television, and what we call data-driven linear television. That is how you use data to index linear television, as well as OTT and digital video.”

When it comes to measurement, Lesser believes there will always be third-party research companies looking to verify ad results from AT&T.

“That is fine. Unfortunately in the measurement space, that is not all that third parties do. In many cases, they validate the performance of the advertising.”

But Lesser sees a time when advertisers will validate their own performance through attribution of their own data, leaving the third parties to confirm when and where the advertising ran.

Going forward, Lesser says: “Our ambition is not to base performance on the Nielsen rating, but rather to deliver enough data back to advertisers in a privacy compliant way that respects our consumers. [Advertisers] can validate performance based on their standards.”

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