Media companies want U.S. to force AT&T-Time Warner to share customer data

Thu Oct 27, 2016 11:52am EDT
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(The October 26, 2016 story was refiled to correct the spelling to Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP from Cahill, Gordon & Reindell LLP in paragraph 19)

By Jessica Toonkel and David Shepardson

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Media companies plan to ask U.S. regulators to force AT&T Inc (T.N: Quote) and Time Warner Inc (TWX.N: Quote) to share their trove of customer data if the telecom and content companies merge, fearing the combined behemoth would have an unfair advantage selling targeted mobile advertising, a handful of media executives told Reuters this week.

Customer data has become a key to the media industry's future as TV networks strive to provide the same kind of advertising as digital companies like Alphabet's (GOOGL.O: Quote) Google and Facebook Inc (FB.O: Quote), which tailor pitches according to what they know about their customers.

AT&T's proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner would give the media company's networks, such as HBO, Cinemax and Turner, potentially unprecedented data about viewers who have AT&T cell phones and DirecTV accounts.

The deal will be reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department, and it is unclear how the enforcement agency would approach customer data access as an antitrust issue since it has not yet arisen as a source of contention in a major U.S. deal.

With the rise of online and mobile video streaming services, the promise of sending different ads to different viewers appears attainable, starting a race among established media brands.

"With this deal, Time Warner will have access to more data on the content consumption habits than any other media company in the world," said Patrick Keane, president of Sharethrough, a platform for buying "native" ads.

If Time Warner can use AT&T data to target ads to a group such as young, affluent men who watch a specific sports team, it will have a huge new advantage with advertisers, said an executive at a rival media company.   Continued...

An AT&T logo is seen at a AT&T building in New York City, October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith