There were multiple goals for AT&T's recent Relevance conference: communicating the commitment of newly named ad division, Xandr; demonstrating a commitment to making advertising matter to consumers and easier to transact for brands and agencies, and presenting a vision of a transparent, game-changing media-buying marketplace with first-party data, quality content, massive distribution and powerful ad-tech. All this while throwing an event with speakers ranging from AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson, baseball's Derek Jeter and television's Matthew Weiner to a host of visionary advertising executives. Amidst all of that, a quiet announcement gave proof to the company's commitment to upending the marketplace.
Toward the end of an addressable advertising-focused panel led by Jason Brown, Xandr's Head of Advertising partnerships, Mike Welch, Xandr's Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Business Development mentioned more news the company had made the day before: the announcement of an exclusive national representative agreement for addressable television with Altice and Frontier.
Currently, of the approximately 30 million households that can be reached with live linear addressable capability, Xandr's DirecTV represents about 16 million. Adding Altice's long-established addressable inventory and the inventory to come from Frontier means that Xandr will control approximately two thirds of that linear addressable inventory. The rest of that 30 million is currently primarily Dish and Verizon, though according to Dave Downey, Chief Executive Officer of Addressable Technology firm Invidi, and to Welch himself on a subsequent panel at Advertising Week, there is momentum in the industry that will rapidly bring that number to the 50 or 60 million households that, along with the current additional 30 million or so households with addressable video on demand content, will create the capacity that will allow for an even larger shift in national buying.
For national media buyers, the Altice deal in particular represents delivery on the buying simplicity promised by Brian Lesser, Xandr's Chief Executive Officer, in his opening statements at the Relevance conference. "We are creating a modern media company," Lesser, who earlier in his career had been the founding CEO of WPP's Xaxis, told the audience. The new name, which reflects AT&T's founder Alexander Graham Bell, and points to a digital future, is a bold leap of confidence from a company with a brand name that has been building equity with the American public since 1885.
Altice, whose own advertising unit recently re-branded to A4, will no longer be selling its addressable inventory -- on roughly three million households in the New York DMA -- to national brands and agencies, though they will still be selling that inventory to local advertisers, and the NY Interconnect will still be working on regional addressable campaigns. A4's national sales team will now be focused on IP-based digital targeting and multiscreen advertising, to be enhanced by access to AT&T's first-party data. Concurrently, Hamid Qayyum, who had been running the national sales team, was named head of sales for Altice's national news network i24. Paul Haddad, President of A4, at a panel days later, said he is optimistic that the new partnership will begin demonstrating returns in the next two quarters.
Xandr, representing Altice and Frontier, is expected to make purchasing addressable television easier for ad buyers. Tracey Scheppach, of Matter More Media, who, while at Publicis, made the first commitments to the DirecTV addressable platform, and is bullish about every type of addressable advertising, expressed optimism. "It's time that addressable became less a secret weapon wielded by insiders like me who know how to activate this powerful tool, and becomes something that, like OTT today, is available even to the greenest of media buyers," she said.
Scheppach, who represents brands like West Elm and Williams Sonoma, neither of which invested in traditional television before becoming addressable TV advertisers, said that she is confident that Lesser and his team will succeed in this important "move to collaboration."
At the Relevance event, and days later at Advertising Week New York, there was much discussion about why Xandr was positioned for success when earlier bold moves by media companies have either not panned out as promised or are challenged. Initiatives discussed included Canoe (now known as a leader in VOD insertion, but once heralded as the great hope for customization of national television), Comcast's acquisition of NBC Universal, and of course, Verizon's Oath, which had a management shakeup just days before the Relevance event, even as its own national addressable sales are booming.
When asked about that during an Ad Week panel, Welch noted that differences included the assets brought together within Xandr (including the "400 engineers" at Xandr asset ad tech company AppNexus) as well as the timing of such a move today, at a time when it has become clear to media companies that bold moves are required to compete with the largest digital advertising sellers like Google, Facebook and Amazon. At another Ad Week panel, David Kline, President of Charter's Spectrum Reach had a similar mindset about collaboration within the industry. "If people from Mars were to attack earth tomorrow, even earth nations at war today would band together to fight them off," he said. "We need to embrace new ways of working together." Industry experts expect Charter to have a more robust addressable program in the near future.
Worth noting is that the national rep firm NCC, which is owned by Charter, Cox and Comcast, will continue to represent Xandr locally, along with Altice, Frontier and other television distributors. That organization is now led by CEO Nicolle Pangis, another Xaxis alum.
At the opening reception for the Relevance event, keynoted by Arianna Huffington of Thrive Global, Jamie Power, Chief Operating Officer of Cadent's One2One Media, spoke about how impressive it was that AT&T had been able to bring together executives from so many different companies in the ecosystem. Power, a leader in addressable television, and for brands using data-driven linear, addressed a shared desire to make precision audience targeting on television a genuine option for marketers. "AT&T bringing so many together here to talk about advertising that is more relevant for consumers and brands [is] a big deal for the media community," she declared. "These are the people and companies needed to drive real change."
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