Comcast’s FreeWheel: AT&T’s Xandr Isn’t ‘Breathing Down Our Neck’

Video ad-serving subsidiary identifies Google as its real direct competition; warns TV industry to watch out for Google
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Sure, the media business is always competitive. But few sub sectors are as currently fraught as advanced advertising, where a host of giant technology and media-telecom companies are battling for pole position in fast-developing market that’s still molten … and one day, likely to be vastly profitable.

As the players maneuver through a complex chessboard of M&A, big client defections and major client wins, spin is in.

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Last week, for example, executives within Comcast’s advanced ad unit FreeWheel quietly bristled at an AdExchanger report suggesting their corporate parent would possible buy ad-tech start-ups Cadent and Dataxu. The reason, the report suggested, was that Comcast was losing ground to AT&T advanced ad unit Xandr, amid the recent struggles of video ad-serving subsidiary FreeWheel, which lost Disney as a client to Google last fall.

An individual close to FreeWheel, who asked not to be identified, said the company doesn’t even consider Xandr direct competition. In fact, he noted, Xandr is a FreeWheel client.

He also disputed the notion that FreeWheel needs help.

FreeWheel has almost 800 engineers, he noted, “who have a lot of experience solving for advanced adverting in TV. FreeWheel kind of has everything it needs.”

Related: Comcast Targeting Ad Tech Companies Cadent and Dataxu for Possible Acquisition: Report

So what about the acquisition rumors?

“The ad tech space is tough right now if you’re a point solution,” he explained. “A lot of ad tech companies approach FreeWheel, as they do Xandr, and say, ‘please buy us.’”

According to the Wall Street Journal, DataXu began working with investment bank GCA Advisors LLC last fall to prep for a sale that would value the company at around $300 million.

As for Disney’s move from FreeWheel to Google Ad Manager, the executive tied it to the broader battle last year between Comcast and Disney for the privilege of buying 21st Century Fox entertainment assets.

“That was all part of the larger M&A action,” he noted, not any indicator that FreeWheel is “struggling,” as AdExchanger suggested.

Asked for comment by MCN, FreeWheel executive VP and general manager Dave Clark would only concede that the advanced ad business is “very competitive” out there right now.

But he did have some pointed words for Google, which FreeWheel now identifies as its direct competition in the video ad-serving market.

“TV should be concerned about Google’s track record with publishers in the digital space, and how that has played out for publishers,” Clark said. “And they should know that there are alternatives.” 

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