In what has traditionally been upfront season, AT&T WarnerMedia said it is ready to do business whenever clients are ready to negotiate.
“We’ve realized we can operate under these unprecedented conditions,” said Joe Hogan, executive VP, sales and marketing at WarnerMedia. “And we can have a more holistic conversation with clients not only about surviving these unprecedented times, but thriving.”
WarnerMedia this year has more to offer clients. It has absorbed AT&T’s Xandr unit, giving it enhanced advanced advertising capabilities and is working more closely with AT&T’s enterprise business to help businesses connect with customers and take advantage of the mobile device shift from 4G to 5G using custom content.
Hogan said that WarnerMedia and Turner Broadcasting before that always sold to clients three ways, either in the broadcast upfront, where ad time is bought in advance for the broadcast year running October through September, the calendar upfront--January through December--or scatter, when ad time is bought weeks or days before it airs.
This year, it’s unclear whether most advertisers will be ready to make commitments during the usual upfront timeframe of negotiating in June for the next broadcast year. That’s not a problem.
“In a more normal year, we have advertisers shift from upfront to scatter, some from scatter to upfront, some from broadcast to calendar, some from calendar to broadcast. So those are natural shifts that we’re us to dealing with anyway,” Hogan said. “We’re here for whatever pathway works best for the customer.”
But this is not a normal year, partly because of the pandemic and partly because of management changes at AT&T since last year’s upfront.
Last year WarnerMedia head of ad sales Donna Speciale left and in March, Xandr CEO Brian Lesser resigned. When Xandr was made part of WarnerMedia in April, chief revenue officer Gerhard Zeiler was put in charge of all of AT&T advertising activity. And new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, formerly with Hulu, started this week.
Hogan is leading the company’s go to market strategy.
Even before Xandr became part of WarnerMedia, the two units were planning to have a unified upfront presentation next week. That plan was dashed by the pandemic.
Instead WarnerMedia has been sending out weekly videos about spotlighting media brands like CNN and TNT that would have played during an upfront, It is also sending out “solution sync” newsletters twice a week. The material is also available for clients on an online site.
“It is information that rolls out as we get it and it keeps our partners up to date while respecting their calendars,” Hogan said. “We’re getting tremendous feedback.”
Even before combining with Xandr, WarnerMedia had a lot of assets to keep track of, from networks such as TNT, CNN and Cartoon Network, to digital properties like Bleacher Report and branded content units like Courageous.
Hogan notes that WarnerMedia and Xandr have been working together since last August. In early March, the WarnerMedia and Xandr sales and marketing team spent two days together collaborating and strategizing on how to best serve customers.
“We are aligned on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “When you put that entity under Gerhard, it is seamless for us to be in market together with a focus on putting clients in the center and solving their problems.”
Xandr adds to the WarnerMedia portfolio with analytics, data and insights, Hogan said. “Addressability certainly is going to be very important. It’s going to be even more important as brands look to not have the same message everywhere given the unprecedented times we’re in.”
WarnerMedia already shared Xandr’s philosophy around improving the viewing experience by having fewer, more relevant commercials interrupting its programming.
Like other programmers, WarnerMedia is missing sports, particularly the NBA playoffs this time of year. Hogan said the company is helping clients find other ways of reaching sports fans.
“We're super lucky that we have such a rich and deep library of content that attracts all types of viewers and with our insights and data from Xandr we can see that the sports viewers are still there,” he said. “We just have to reach them through a different genre, which we're doing actively.”
There is some business going on as usual. “We were already well underway with our CNN partners in and around the 2020 election and that work continues. That has not paused even for a moment. We’re continuing to work with our partners on the opportunities that will be available with CNN from debates to town halls to convention coverage to election coverage. We are actively working on that,” he said.