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The Drum Digital Transformation Festival launch

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Xandr is selling pause ads as AT&T looks to broaden TV ad model

Xandr exec Matt Van Houten said pause ads could make their way onto ad-supported HBO Max

Since at least December 2018, AT&T’s advertising company Xandr has been developing pause ads.

Now Xandr is ready to sell the new ad product, a step toward reshaping its approach to TV advertising.

“Building out these capabilities really gives us more flexibility in terms of how we monetize content,” said Matt Van Houten, senior vice-president of product development at Xandr.

“At the end of the day this puts us on a road where, as opposed to having all this disruptive in-stream video advertising that [we’ve] grown to know as consumers, this gives us more flexible models to try to improve that. I don't think it's just another ad.”

Epix, Starz and AT&T Mobility are among the beta advertising partners for Xandr’s pause ads. The ads will appear on AT&T TV Now and DirecTV.

The pause ad appears 30 seconds after someone pauses their content. Van Houten described it like a screensaver – a moving, opaque creative that covers the entire screen.

In an interview with The Drum, Van Houten also teased 2-3 more new ad offerings Xandr plans to introduce in 2020, which could possibly include a branded overlay that appears when TV viewers fast forward through content.

Pause ads may also find their way onto HBO Max, AT&T’s forthcoming streaming service that is slated to offer an ad-supported tier in 2021.

Van Houten’s team works on ad innovation and often partners with sister company WarnerMedia and parent AT&T. While AT&T’s official stance is that it's too early to say what the HBO Max ad experience will look like, Van Houten said pause ads are “in the wheelhouse of how we're thinking about” the streaming service.

Xandr is thinking beyond the traditional 15- and 30-second spots of TV to drive relevancy, Van Houten said. The approach partly stems from a study the media company ran, which found 73% of consumers surveyed dislike ads that interrupt what they’re doing.

Media partners within Xandr’s Community, which include Vice and Bloomberg, are also able to run pause ads across their content that exists outside of AT&T’s owned-and-operated platforms.

“It would absolutely be our goal that these ad experiences, that are commanding premium CPMs and premium consumer engagement… are adopted more widely, especially those within Xandr family,” said Van Houten.

Hulu started offering pause ads in early 2019, and has since rolled out binge ads as it continues to push non-traditional ad units.

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