AT&T and The Platform Monopolies

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I spent a bit of Friday afternoon watching an interview the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin did with Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T. I was watching because of my deep interest in what is happening with the Trump Justice Department and AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. Stephenson was very careful not to touch Trump’s potential role in this – unsurprisingly. Ross Sorkin wasn’t that aggressive in pressing. The weirdness confirms me in what I wrote here (sub req).

But there’s something else that came up that I wanted to flag.

It does not seem plausible that AT&T offered to sell CNN, as unnamed DOJ officials claim, since CNN is so central to why AT&T is trying to purchase Time Warner in the first place. Stephenson explained this. But I was struck by just how he put it. Essentially, he argued that only by combining a company with a dominant position in distribution (AT&T) with a content company (Time Warner) could anyone hope to compete with the platform monopolies Google and Facebook in the advertising business.

I don’t think this is a big surprise. But I was struck by how frank and specific Stephenson was focusing on the need to compete with the platform monopolies and specifically about the central role of data. And to be clear about what that means, the pervasiveness of AT&T on mobile and other distribution paths gives them data of various sorts that can be leveraged for a competitive position in advertising, which means ad targeting.

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