AT&T's Turner cable TV and Xandr ad unit integrate carrier's customer data

(Reuters) - AT&T Inc’s Turner networks and advertising business Xandr said Tuesday they have begun using the wireless carrier’s customer data to help advertisers better reach audiences across Turner brands like CNN and TBS on TV and over digital platforms.

The high-profile collaboration between the advertising division of AT&T and its newly acquired WarnerMedia will be closely watched in the industry to see if the telecom company’s $85 billion bet on media content will pay off.

Turner said it has integrated Xandr’s viewership data collected from 40 million television set-top boxes from AT&T’s DirecTV and U-verse pay TV businesses into its strategy called AudienceNOW, which helps brands place ads on related TV shows that their audience might be interested in.

For example, if a marketer wants to reach car enthusiasts, Xandr can narrow down audiences that watched the most auto content, identify other TV shows they like to watch, and serve those viewers an ad across the different TV series, Mike Welch, senior vice president for corporate strategy and business development at Xandr, said in an interview.

AT&T’s data also allows Turner and Xandr to show advertisers whether their ads convinced viewers to go to their stores or visit their website. AT&T’s wireless network provides the phone location data to illustrate store visits, while its broadband business gives information on website visits, Welch said.

A major reason behind AT&T’s purchase of media company Time Warner was the desire to exploit customer usage data from AT&T’s 25 million TV households and an estimated 150 million U.S. wireless customers by WarnerMedia’s networks. Advertisers have long sought to use customer data to boost chances of a sale by tailoring advertisements to households based on their interests.

Turner and Xandr executives said customer data will remain anonymous and will be tracked in aggregate, never narrowed down to one particular household. Instead, the companies can produce a report that compares households that saw an ad and subsequently visited a business versus households that were not served the ad, without identifying the customers.

“The holy grail is getting clients off of guaranteeing on traditional audience measurement...and taking it a step further and guaranteeing against a business outcome,” said Donna Speciale, president of Turner ad sales, in an interview last week.

The companies also said branded content created by advertisers in partnership with Turner can now be targeted for delivery to specific households among the more than 15 million that have upgraded set-top boxes able to receive so-called addressable advertising.

Advertisers can now also use Xandr data to help them place ads on Turner’s digital properties like CNN Digital and sports website Bleacher Report.

Reporting by Sheila Dang and Kenneth Li; Editing by David Gregorio