AT&T already back in M&A mode, eyeing AppNexus for $1.6B and all of Otter Media

Crunchyroll
AT&T could be looking to buy all of Otter Media, which includes brands like Anime streaming service Crunchyroll. (Crunchyroll)

The ink is barely dry on AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, but AT&T is already back in M&A mode, reportedly eyeing ad tech firm AppNexus and the rest of Otter Media it doesn’t already own.

According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T could bid as much as $1.6 billion for AppNexus, which is backed by News Corp. and investment firm TCV. The news was originally reported by Cheddar.

AT&T could provide a jumpstart to its targeted advertising business after the Time Warner merger by acquiring AppNexus, a cloud-based software platform built for programmatic online advertising.

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Brian Lesser, CEO of AT&T's ad and analytics business, has been tasked with working on advanced advertising based on data from AT&T’s TV, mobile and broadband services and managing ad inventory from Turner and AT&T’s pay TV services.

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Lesser, who previously served on the board at AppNexus, declined to confirm the acquisition rumors while speaking with CNBC but said AT&T is eager to grow its advanced advertising business, even if that means pursuing acquisitions.

“We need more tech,” Lesser said.

Lesser’s comments line up with what AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNBC’s Squawk Box last week. Stephenson said that ad-supported products like AT&T’s upcoming skinny bundle Watch will be run on the “significant advertising platform” that AT&T is building now that the Time Warner merger is complete.

“You should expect some smaller, not like Time Warner, but smaller M&A in the coming weeks to demonstrate our commitment to [our advertising business],” Stephenson said.

RELATED: AT&T reportedly wants to acquire all of Otter Media

AT&T has apparently dusted off its plans to buy all of Otter Media, its streaming media JV with the Chernin Group. The plan to buy Otter Media and its properties, including Fullscreen and anime streaming service Crunchyroll, has been in the works for years but was on hold while the company fought off a government lawsuit over the Time Warner merger.

Now, according to Recode, the deal is back on track and could cost AT&T more than $1 billion. When AT&T and Chernin originally announced the partnership, AT&T pledged a $500 million investment in Otter Media.

Earlier this year, AT&T appointed Tony Goncalves, who had been serving as CEO of Digital Brands for AT&T, as the CEO of Otter Media.

"Tony has been our partner on Otter Media for almost four years, and during that time, it was evident that he is a thoughtful, strategic executive who is hugely passionate about furthering the growth of one of the premier digital media companies," said Peter Chernin, chairman of Otter Media and CEO of The Chernin Group, in a statement. "Over the last six months, we started discussing having Tony join Otter full-time, and we are delighted that he has agreed to assume the role of CEO. We know he will apply his formidable talents to help us take this company to the next level."

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