AT&T said Friday it would launch an advertising and analytics unit led by a senior Madison Avenue media-buying executive – the latest hint of the plans the telecommunications giant has for its pending $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner Inc.
AT&T said it hired Brian Lesser, the chief executive of the North American operations of WPP’s large GroupM consortium of media-buying agencies, to serve as chief executive of the new unit. Lesser will report directly to AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson, and is charged with building and leading “an advertising and analytics business using the company’s unique customer data and growing content assets.”
It remained unclear whether various ad-sales executives at Time Warner’s operations, which include the large suite of ad-supported Turner cable networks, would eventually report to Lesser. An AT&T spokesman declined to offer more specific details about the hire or the new advertising unit. AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner Inc. is currently under review by the United States Department of Justice as well as authorities in certain foreign countries.
“Once we complete our acquisition of Time Warner Inc., we believe there is an opportunity to build an automated advertising platform that can do for premium video and TV advertising what the search and social media companies have done for digital advertising,” AT&T’s Stephenson said in a prepared statement.
AT&T would be emulating actions taken by other large media companies. Both Time Warner’s Turner and Comcast’s NBCUniversal have over the last several years offered various products aimed at letting advertisers use data to place their commercial pitches with more precision. Many TV outlets are rolling out so-called “programmatic” advertising products that allow for the purchase of advertising inventory by using software and algorithms to determine what type of ad time reach the most likely consumers for a particular marketing effort.
“Advertising is evolving from broad messages delivered through traditional media channels, to customized, individual content coordinated across all connected devices,” Lesser said in a statement. “AT&T has amazing assets for creating engaging advertising experiences for consumers. I am excited to work with Randall and the entire AT&T team to build a world-class advertising and insights business.”
GroupM said its executives would immediately start a search for a replacement for Lesser. Kelly Clark, global CEO of GroupM, will take over his duties in the interim.