marni walden

  • AT&T has said it wanted to acquire Time Warner in part to make TV advertising more targeted, as with the Web. If history is a guide, it may take some time.
  • Rival Verizon has also made several huge digital ad acquisitions over the past few years, but it’s moved slowly to fully realized their potential.
  • Former Verizon media chief Marni Walden said that giant companies tend to move slowly and cautiously, and are often siloed.

Until a few months ago, Marni Walden was Verizon’s EVP and president of global media. And during her long run at the telecom giant, Walden helped steer several big acquisitions, including Verizon’s purchases of former Web giants AOL in 2015, and Yahoo last year.

So if anyone might get what AT&T is facing in terms of integration now that its deal to acquire Time Warner has been approved, it’s Walden.

In a recent interview with Business Insider — one that took place before the decision on Time Warner had been rendered — Walden spoke about how careful Verizon was when it came to marrying up all the consumer data it had with the user data housed by Yahoo and AOL. That, even though exploiting that data for ad targeting was a huge driver behind both deals.

And that was before GDPR went into effect.

“Our approach was totally permission-based, and we had to be transparent about what we do and don’t do with data. So we moved slower at times.”

Indeed, big companies are complicated.

“It was very siloed in the way we were approaching it there,” she said. “We had assets to do some things. But we were not solving for all these multichannel use cases [for data]. We hadn’t married that up with TV, for example.”

It will be interesting to see how fast AT&T moves to leverage its data and content assets, given how long it’s had to wait to get its hands on Time Warner’s properties. AT&T’s leadership has cited improving TV ad targeting as big motivator behind its mega merger. 

As Business Insider reported last year, making TV advertising work more like digital ads won’t be something AT&T can pull off overnight.

One company that is trying to bridge those two worlds is 4C Insights, a marketing tech firm that aims to help advertisers use analytics to buy ads on social media, and increasingly on TV through partnerships with companies like NBC Universal.

Walden has recently joined 4C’s board of directors. The startup’s CEO Lance Neuhauser said that he’s already tapping into Walden’s expertise as both a marketer and media executive to help position 4C as a company that can accelerate the growth of better-targeted ads across various media.

“The industry is ready to move in the direction we think its going to move,” he said. “We see a need for the TV business to evolve to compete with Facebook and Google. They want to be in a place that the first phone calls marketers make are to Comcast, ATT, etc.”

Neuhauser said that as more media giants are able to meld data from cable boxes and mobile devices and other sources, the more they’ll be able to match the power of the dupoly. 

Perhaps. But cable companies like Comcast have long held reams of consumer data. And it owns NBCUniversal. Yet much of the TV industry still sells ads the old-fashioned way.

True, but Neuhauser believes that’s going to change quickly, as media mergers likely accelerate. “They’ve never made bets like this,” he said. “We think there’ll be a seismic shift.”

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