Brian Lesser is back to help advertising, media and entertainment companies – among others – try to gain control of the reams of consumer data quickly being generated by Hollywood’s streaming wars.
Lesser stepped away from leading AT&T’s Xandr just short of six months ago, as the telecom giant decided to combine the ad-tech unit with its large WarnerMedia entertainment operation. Now he’s taking on a new role as executive chairman of Infosum, a company that tries to help others collaborate on data projects at a time when figuring out consumer behavior and interests has never been more paramount. The British company has raised $15.1 million in a Series A funding round, and counts venture capital firms Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures as well as strategic partners Ascential, Akamai, Experian, ITV and AT&T’s Xandr as investors. The funding will be used to accelerate InfoSum’s expansion across North America and Europe.
“Over the years, many entertainment companies have obviously realized that data is important and have made investments in how they collect their own data and how they share it with partners,” says Lesser, in an interview. “They have gotten very sophisticated on that front, whether it’s the studios or even traditional networks. I think we want to enable those companies and take this to the next level.” Infosum was founded about five years ago by CEO Nick Halstead, a technology entrepreneur who also launched social-media analytics company DataSift.
Lesser, a former CEO of the North American operations of WPP’s large GroupM media buying unit, surprised many when he left Xandr earlier this year. He may have had good reason. Within weeks of his departure, AT&T combined the unit with WarnerMedia, Both the unit and its parent have come under new leadership as WarnerMedia leader John Stankey was named CEO of AT&T and Jason Kilar was hired as WarnerMedia’s new leader. “There was some discussion around the strategic direction of the company, and AT&T and I decided to mutually part ways,” says Lesser. “We remain in close contact.”
Lesser and his colleagues are joining an intensifying field. Many traditional media companies are scurrying to find ways to keep ad dollars flowing as Madison Avenue places new emphasis on reaching consumers who are watching streaming video selections at times of their own choosing. The broadband connections that facilitate this viewing allow for more precise placement of commercials that can be slated to appear in front of specific niches of audience, and many companies are promoting new ways of working with consumer data to lure advertisers to their content.
They hope to lure advertisers who are increasingly interested in so-called “programmatic” ad buys that use algorithms to put ads in front of narrowly-defined audiences as well as “audience buying” that helps would-be TV sponsors identify programming that reaches, say, a consumer in the market for a new car or box of diapers. ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, and Fox run Open AP, an audience-targeting alliance that helps advertisers define audience segments. And AT&T’s WarnerMedia has deals with AMC Networks, Disney and others through its Xandr offering.
Big ad conglomerates are also working to harness data offerings. Dentsu in April bout the remaining shares of the customer-relationship management specialist Merkle of which it was already the majority owner. France’s Publicis Groupe in April of last year bought Epsilon, a large data-marketing firm, in a bid to boost its standing in an industry that increasingly depends on digital outreach. And Interpublic Group spent $2.3 billion in 2018 to buy the bulk of Acxiom Corp., taking on a data business that will help its many agencies craft more relevant advertising.
All of the separate data projects have given rise to “a highly fragmented market,” says Halstead, in an interview. But Infosum is ready to work with all of the aforemetioned companies and others, says Lesser. “We don’t want to be a data broker,” says Lesser. “We want to enable others. We’re not going to take a percentage of media spend. We aren’t going to take the data and resell it.” He and Halstead say they view their company as a provider of the infrastructure that allows two or more parties to collaborate on data projects.