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WarnerMedia Pulls Out of Audience-Targeting Alliance Open A.P.

Brian Steinberg

WarnerMedia is going its own way when it comes to helping advertisers find specific groups of TV-watchers.

The company, a founding member of the audience-targeting media alliance known as Open A.P., said Friday it would withdraw from the group, citing its desire to pursue its own strategy under owner AT&T. AT&T purchased Time Warner in June for more than $80 billion, and the company has its own unit devoted to providing data to marketers that helps them narrowly target audience segments.

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“As our company has transformed, our advanced advertising strategy has evolved. As a result, we are withdrawing from Open A.P.,” the company said in a statement. “We appreciate what OpenAP has supported to this point in widening the adoption of audience-based buying on television.”

Viacom, Fox Corp., Univision and NBCUniversal are also members of the group, which was created to give advertisers a single source of defining segments of audience at a time when Madison Avenue is increasingly fixated on honing in on the most likely consumers for a particular product or service.

“Fox, NBCUniversal and Viacom remain committed to working together in pursuit of a premium, open, independently verified marketplace that will continue to transform the industry,” Open AP said in a statement. “Over the next few months, we will be growing and expanding the OpenAP platform to simplify audience buying at scale, and you’ll hear more from us on these exciting developments in the coming days.” Univision, which is not a member of the unit’s board, is also expected to remain with the venture, according to three people familiar with the matter.

WarnerMedia’s withdrawal highlights the difficulty the media industry has in coalescing around new forms of audience measurement, even though chronicling views of content is the main way providers of video entertainment win dollars from Madison Avenue. As more one-time couch potatoes migrate to new forms of digital-video consumption, traditional TV ratings have sagged. Many TV networks would like to measure all the views their programs notch across broadcast and streaming video, but the industry has yet to define a single standard for doing so.

In the absence of a central method, many media companies have begun to offer their own – and so too have big ad-buying shops and even individual advertisers. Digital technology allows for narrower definition of audiences. So while advertisers can still easily understand how many men, women or children between certain ages are watching an episode of “Paw Patrol,” “Grey’s Anatomy” or “The Walking Dead,” advertisers are growing increasingly interested in aiming their pitches at first-time car buyers, movie fans or expectant mothers.

Open AP was billed as a way to help them do so.

In April of 2017, Viacom and Turner along with the former Fox Networks Group that was part of the company once known as 21st Century Fox, unveiled Open AP as a means of helping advertisers create defined audience segments that could be utilized across different media companies. As Univision and NBCU came on board, hope grew that the unit’s methodologies might gain wider adoption. Besides, striking deals based on more narrowly defined audience characteristics allows the companies to get paid for viewership, no matter the screen in question, and might even let them charge a premium for finding an advertiser’s most likely consumer base.

But some companies no doubt are questioning why they should share their audience information with others. AT&T has made a big bet on its ability to monetize its Time Warner purchase and needs to retire a massive amount of debt it has built up to get it. In September of last year, the company unveiled a unit it called Xandr, which is devoted to using digital technology to deliver commercials tailored to specific consumers and households.

There has been no big announcement about advertising alliances from Xandr to date, but its executives are scheduled to speak in detail to advertisers in May, during a week traditionally devoted to presentations to Madison Avenue from big companies like Walt Disney, CBS, NBCU and Fox. Xandr will be making its pitch during a time once reserved for Disney sports-media giant ESPN.

 

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