GroupM's Gotlieb to Government: 'Let AT&T-Time Warner Happen'

Sees more upside than downside in megadeal, especially if it disrupts Google-Facebook ad 'duopoly'

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Irwin Gotlieb, global chairman of GroupM, said if the president asked him about whether to approve AT&T's megadeal with Time Warner, he would say, "Force a bit of divestiture in both portfolios and let it happen.' When you consider all the factors, I think the impact of that kind of a marriage will have more benefits than downsides."

The ad business veteran gave his take on the $85 billion merger in a conversation with author and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta during the Video Everywhere Summit, presented by the Digital Place-based Advertising Association.

Auletta waggishly asked Gotlieb how he'd reply if "President Trump" approached him for his take on the deal. Pausing dryly, Gotlieb said, "Well, first of all, he wouldn't come to me. If she came to me…" he continued, as the audience applauded.

Related: Clark Named Global CEO At Media Buyer GroupM

Beyond the regulatory path the deal faces, Gotlieb said he views it as "predictable" and "inexorable" for distribution and content to come together. "Content is king. But the content model appears to be more about maximizing the return on working capital than it is about laying pipes and waiting 20 years," he said. "In this case, the guys with the greater amount of patience are going to wind up acquiring content." From the agency standpoint, he added, further media consolidation is problematic. But given that he is "very, very concerned about" the "duopoly" of Google and Facebook, which account for more than 85% of all new digital ad dollars, he sees upside in the potential of bulked-up competitors disrupting the Silicon Valley giants.

Addressing the ad business more generally, Gotlieb said the industry will be "a new game five years from now." For one thing, the 30-second spot will not likely remain the dominant form of advertising. He noted that Japanese advertisers use primarily 7-second and 15-second spots.

The "massive disruption" of technology and how it affects viewing and ad impressions will unlock huge opportunity, he added. "The metric will evolve from 'what's the cost per thousand?' to 'what's the cost of customer acquisition?' or 'what's the cost of the outcome?'"

And despite his angst about Google, Facebook and other newer players, Gotlieb said finding ways to collaborate and maximize their platforms will become increasingly crucial. "We have clients who are frenemies, and we have frenemies who are clients," he said.