Turner Cites AT&T's Trove of Customer Data in Defense of Merger

(Bloomberg) -- Time Warner Inc.’s proposed takeover by AT&T Inc. would finally address one of the biggest problems facing its Turner Broadcasting division -- a lack of customer data for use in targeted marketing, Turner’s chief executive officer testified in defense of the deal being challenged in an antitrust lawsuit.

Turner CEO John Martin said Wednesday that AT&T’s massive trove of detailed customer information will help it craft ads that appeal to a wider array of specific groups and compete for scarce ad dollars that have been siphoned off by Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. He referred to the battle for data as an “arms race” that Turner is losing.

“We’re at a huge disadvantage” compared to the Silicon Valley giants, which have captured at least 85 percent of the ad spending that’s shifted to digital in recent years, Martin said in federal court in Washington. Facebook and Google “can dynamically serve ads to the users because they know who they are.”

The U.S. sued to stop the $85 billion deal on the grounds that the merged company will have too much power. But Martin and other executives are testifying that AT&T and Time Warner need each other to compete effectively in a changing media landscape, especially as viewers become accustomed to ad-free content from companies like Netflix Inc. AT&T’s data would be key, Martin said, allowing Turner to show fewer -- but more valuable -- ads.

“All of the customer relationships that AT&T has, and the scale of its technology, is bigger than anything we can do on our own,” Martin said.

Under questioning by a Justice Department attorney, Martin conceded that Turner is already taking steps to improve and monetize its limited stockpile of data. Martin also acknowledged that he’d said at a conference recently that Time Warner’s future “is really bright” even without the merger.

“I said we’d be fine,” Martin confirmed to the lawyer. “I aspire to be better than fine.”

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