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Exclusive: AT&T's Xandr readying 2020 WarnerMedia integration

AT&T's advertising division Xandr is preparing to further integrate its advertising and data operations with WarnerMedia's advertising and data operations this year, Xandr CEO Brian Lesser said in an exclusive interview with Axios at CES in Las Vegas.

Why it matters: Lesser says that the integration is a necessary step in realizing the full value of AT&T's recent acquisitions of Time Warner and AppNexus, and that combining the brands is a top priority for 2020.

  • Reports have surfaced over the past few months about the two units working more closely together.
  • Lesser also told Axios that the company is open to further acquisitions. 

Be smart: AT&T is facing a lot of investor pressure to consolidate its operations to cut costs.

  • AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has pointed to Xandr as an example of ways the company is looking to create synergies from its acquisition.

Between the lines: AT&T created Xandr in 2018 as a way to consolidate all of AT&T's advertising infrastructure, including assets from its Time Warner and AppNexus acquisitions.

  • But some of the advertising and data sales and operations infrastructure from WarnerMedia (the renamed Time Warner assets) have remained separate from Xandr, which has caused confusion amongst ad buyers.

Why now? Lesser implied that AT&T needed to move slowly and carefully when integrating the businesses.

  • "When you acquire an asset as big as Time Warner or as significant as AppNexus, I think you want to preserve the value in that asset, even knowing that you're going to have to generate value and create efficiencies," he said.

Yes, but: Already, the two divisions have been working more closely together. In December, the companies announced that they would host a joint advertising "upfront" presentation to Madison Avenue in the spring. Representatives from the two divisions have been meeting with clients together for months.

What's next: Lesser says that this year, Xandr will integrate all of WarnerMedia's content data onto its own data platform to build an "identity graph," or a database that links all of the particular preferences and attributes of a single consumer.

  • "We did a great job of pulling together [last year] the telecom data [from AT&T], and in 2020 there's lots of data assets within WarnerMedia that we're going to gain access to," he said, referencing consumer data spanning properties from Bleacher Report to HBO Max.

The big picture: The move is part of a set of six strategic priorities for Xandr that Lesser has identified for 2020, which also includes growing internationally, scaling its addressable advertising marketplace called Community, enhancing its data capabilities and operations, and focusing on its corporate culture.

  • Asked whether dealmaking was part of Xandr's 2020 vision, Lesser said, "Absolutely. Yes. ... You know, we're very interested in speaking to companies that have unique assets that can help us build a premium advertising network."