Open AP, Xandr, Two Ad-Tech Rivals, Strike Strategic Data Alliance

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Open AP and AT&T’s Xandr were once seen as staunch rivals. Indeed, WarnerMedia, one of Open AP’s founders, broke away from the company once AT&T started showing ambitions of dabbling in the new technology that fuels modern advertising.

Now the two companies are shaking hands and getting ready to play, not fight, in the same sandbox.

As part of a strategic alliance, Xandr clients will now be able to use defined audience segments that have been part of Open AP’s services, giving advertisers who use ten of the nation’s biggest TV operators access to consistent parameters when it comes to seeking specific consumer niches. The rise of streaming video and interactive platforms has given rise to the practice known as “audience buying,” under which advertisers seek narrower characteristics than the ones provided by the Nielsen ratings that have undergirded the economics of TV for decades.

“We have to collaborate and make it easier for buyers to invest in more sophisticated ways to transact consistently across all platforms and all programmers,” said David Levy, Open AP’s CEO, in an interview.

In recent years, it was not always so. Open AP was founded by WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and Fox Corp., in 2017, and gradually added NBCUniversal and Univision to its ranks. Warner left in 2019 soon after AT&T bought it and launched a new ad-tech unit, which would soon be known as Xandr. As both companies worked to help advertisers define audience segments, each found itself working with some media companies and separated from others. Disney paired up with Xandr and AMC Networks decided to work with both. Meanwhile Open AP’s founders and owners stuck with their own company.

There has been increased speculation that AT&T might try to sell Xandr, especially now that it is spinning off WarnerMedia into a new merged entity with Discovery. Mike Welch, Xandr’s executive vice president and general manager, didn’t comment on the sales talk, but indicated he thought Xandr has a way forward. “You will see us take on much more of a partnership type of role in the future,” he said in an interview. “Whether you use our retail services or build your own technology on top of ours, we are open for business either way.”

That new focus, the executives said, means the two companies aren’t as competitive as they may have been in the past.

The alliance comes as many big media companies have indicated they believe they will do more ad sales that call for so-called “programmatic” and “addressable” buys, or deals that will be aligned against impressions from more narrowly defined audiences, such as consumers in the market for a new car or families expecting a new child. Both Walt Disney and NBCUniversal have taken bigger steps in recent months to break down boundaries between their linear and digital advertising inventory in hopes of spurring bigger buys.

“Going forward, regardless of the platform, you’re going to be buying” audiences more consistently, thanks to the new agreement, said Levy. “You are now going to be able to build a proposal across all national programmers and by using an Open AP audience.”