Bell working with U.S. ad tech giant Xandr to offer self-serve advertising options

Bell announced a deal with U.S. ad tech giant Xandr this week to introduce a new self-serve offering for Canadian advertisers.

Bell is already the third largest ad vendor in Canada (behind only Google and Facebook), and the deal comes as the media landscape shifts quickly, driven largely by growing concerns about privacy and demands for transparency about data usage.

The imminent removal of cookies from the digital ad-buying system means first-party data will become more important for advertisers, and therefore a more valuable asset for vendors like Bell—which possesses a great deal of ad inventory from its massive library of premium content and first-party data.

Advertisers want more automated buying powered by data, and are increasingly prioritizing private marketplaces over open ad exchanges as more premium inventory moves from direct to programmatic channels.

Bell’s deal with Xandr is intended to make it easier for Canadian advertisers to run scaled, targeted campaigns within premium inventory. “We want to make it as easy as possible for advertisers to do business with us, provide the best content, the best data and insights,” said VP of advertising sales Perry MacDonald.

The new product, called SAM (Strategic Audience Management) DSP, will be powered by Xandr’s ad buying platform Xandr Invest. Xandr was created by AT&T in mid-2018 after the telecom giant completed its acquisition of Time Warner and ad technology firm AppNexus. (There were reports last September that AT&T was looking to sell Xandr.)

This is the first time Bell has had a demand side platform as part of its ad technology suite.

“The programmatic media space is shifting quickly with the loss of cookies,” said Victor Correia, VP of investment at Mindshare. “Media partners are quickly moving to address this in different ways—more data to target audiences, premium inventory and more. This is a trend we expect to continue to see in the year. We will see more media partners becoming their own gardens.”

However, MacDonald said the deal was less about cookies and more about competing with Facebook and Google. According to the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, Bell generated $1.6 billion in total advertising revenue in 2019, or about 10.4% of the total Canadian ad market.

That makes it the third largest advertising vendor behind Facebook’s 16.8% share ($2.6 billion) and Google’s 28.3% share ($4.4 billion). The gap has widened in recent years however: in 2017 Google accounted for 23.9% of Canadian ad revenue, followed by Facebook at 12.1% and Bell at 11.3%.

“SAM DSP allows us to compete with the global digital players in Canada,” said MacDonald.

“Obviously we have been focusing heavily on data and enhancing our targeting capabilities, but at the same time, finding ways to compete more aggressively against other digital giants. The development of a DSP fuels our ability to contend in the digital space,” he added. “This is a Canadian option for advertisers. And Bell’s premium, first-party and privacy-compliant data is going to power the technology.”

MacDonald also said that aside from selling Bell’s inventory, advertisers will have access to third-party premium inventory using SAM DSP. “We don’t plan on becoming another walled garden,” he said. SAM DSP will be a combination of Bell and third-party inventory “through standard exchange relationships,” he said.

Specifics of what inventory will be available are still being worked out by Bell. “There are crucial decisions [to be made] on what inventory is going to be there,” said MacDonald, adding that it will likely be summer before the service is available for advertisers.

David Brown