Habib Khoury is the CEO of MASS Exchange, a revolutionary platform that could be described as a futures market for buyers and sellers of media. We sat down with him to discuss MASS Exchange’s partnership with Mundial Sports Network, a leading Latino sports network with magazines like Futbol and Beisbol as well as digital properties like VidaLatina.com, FutbolMundial.com, BeisbolMundial.com and BoxeoMundial.com, and how his company applies a financial model to a complex industry plagued by a lack of transparency (Partner Message).
Providing A Transparent Solution to Publisher’s Challenges
Digital publishers face significant challenges when trying to sell
their inventory in programmatic marketplaces. They defend against fraudulent traffic which creates significant oversupply; they defend against other publishers that are willing to sell anything at pennies; they defend against buyers who know much more than they do about their audiences and dictate terms; they defend against technology intermediaries that extract too much value for handling a transaction; and they defend against having to bear the costs of the ever increasing complexity of the technology associated with participating in programmatic markets. “All of these pressures keep driving down publisher revenues while increasing their costs,” Khoury adds. “Unlike in other markets like Europe, digital publishers have not been effective at organizing themselves into large selling groups to aggregate audiences and increase their pricing power vis a vis buyers and share the costs of technology.”
MASS Exchange provides publishers like Mundial with tools to help them act as a virtual selling group and seamlessly manage inventory they sell from their owned and operated sites and inventory they sell (or could sell) on behalf of their syndicated partners. In addition, MASS Exchange’s marketplace seeks to transform how buyers and sellers interact by enabling them to transact in a transparent, price-discovered, and balanced programmatic futures marketplace.
MASS Exchange is the first to implement in programmatic media a market model inspired by finance, which is based on what is called a “price discovered market.
Khoury explains: “MASS Exchange is the first to implement in programmatic media a market model inspired by finance, which is based on what is called a ‘price discovered market.'” In this market model, buyers and sellers retain full control over every aspect of the trade, including transparency. Product packages, prices and transaction rules are set by the buyer in the form of buy-orders, and the seller in the form of sell-orders. “MASS Exchange’s matching engine matches buy-orders to sell-orders based on the rules set by each party, which means that supply and demand can be optimized for both sides. If either the buyer or seller is unhappy with the value of a trade, a match does not take place. The platform is flexible and supports one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many deals.” Again, a win-win for buyers and sellers.
The Current “Open Market” in Programmatic is Broken
MASS Exchange is essentially providing a transparent alternative to what Khoury believes is a broken programmatic market. Due to a lack of transparency and price discovered market today, sellers do not know how much the buyer, which is ultimately the brand, values or pays for their inventory in current open programmatic markets.
Khoury gives us an example: “Imagine that in order to reach a specific set of audiences through their agency, Nike spends $10 and the agency buys $10 on behalf of Nike programmatically, only $3.50 goes to buy the actual media. The rest ($6.50, which includes the agency fee of $1) is consumed by the multitude of intermediaries that handle the transaction and sit between the buyer and the seller,” he explains. “In addition, Nike has no idea who they are buying from or which intermediary is shaving what amount from their media spend. This is a broken business model. By comparison, in financial services each transaction costs a fraction of a penny to transact over an exchange, and buyers and sellers have full transparency.”
Khoury elaborates: “On the other hand, if one takes that same Nike example and applies it to MASS Exchange’s market, that $10 in media spend would buy $8 in media (versus $3.50), and the $2 balance would be split in a transparent manner between the agency and MASS. We created MASS Exchange as a transparent marketplace (a real exchange) that can expose inventory packages and prices to buyers and sellers so that all parties can have a better understand of the values traded.”
In MASS Exchange, buyers and the sellers control the level of opacity they each require to maximize their trading strategies. Transparency, or the lack thereof (i.e. opacity), is not imposed upon them arbitrarily by market intermediaries. We help both sides win.
Khoury adds: “In MASS Exchange, buyers and the sellers control the level of opacity they each require to maximize their trading strategies. Transparency, or the lack thereof (i.e. opacity), is not imposed upon them arbitrarily by market intermediaries. We help both sides win.”
“What We Trade Is Complex”
“Buying and selling media is more complicated than buying and selling coffee,” Khoury says. “With coffee, you trade based on the quality of the grain, the price and the time of delivery. With media, you have to trade for the right message, to the right person, at the right place, at the right time, using the right metric. And in order to increase the probability that an advertising message will be effectively consumed, it must be done within the right context,” he continues.
“If you’re in the market for a car and receive a brand message sitting in the grocery line, chances are good that you will ignore it. But if you are browsing a car site you like, you are much more likely to be receptive to such an ad message.” Context is integral to the publishers’ brand identities and current “open market” programmatic environments do not support the notion of context. MASS Exchange is the only programmatic marketplace that values a publisher’s brand, like Mundial’s, by assigning a tradable value to that brand/context.
“MASS Exchange is the only marketplace that breaks out the inventory bought and sold into two prices: one price for the audience, and one price for the placement/context,” says Khoury. Like in real estate, in which there is a price for the building as well as the land, when added together, you have the total price or value of the inventory. In this analogy, each audience is “akin to the value of the building absent the land it sits on,” and “should have the same value to a brand regardless of where you consume their add.” The placement or context of that ad is where the premium exists, as someone who is on the market for a car will be much more likely to convert on a Toyota site.
Since publishers need to make sure that their brand and content attracts its target audiences, those that do a better job of this should be able to “charge a premium for that value in programmatic markets, especially when they can sell their inventory to buyers directly over the phones” through MASS. So the placement/context value is similar to the value of the land. “The ability to charge separately for context in any programmatic market only exists in MASS Exchange,” Khoury says.
Bringing Buyers and Sellers Together Transparently
“The absence of more transparent marketplaces and clear performance metrics on both sides of the trade insures that many of these problems will not go away any time soon. And while brands have started to demand more transparency in how their ad dollars are spent, the agencies and programmatic intermediaries’ responses have been halfhearted at best,” Khoury laments. “This means that open programmatic marketplaces are likely to remain structurally opaque, buyers will continue to be suspect of the values they receive from publishers and sellers will continue to see downward pressure on their inventory/audience values.”
“Humans have a hard time managing complexity at scale,” Khoury says. “Our belief was that the financial services had already solved for the financial engineering challenges that come with trading complex assets like media and advertising.” MASS Exchange is, indeed an exchange, but it is “retrofitted to support the unique challenges we have in our industry.”
MASS Exchange Perfect for Publisher like Mundial Sports Network
Khoury sees MASS as a perfect fit for a publisher like Mundial for several reasons: MASS Exchange’s sell-side tool (Liquid™) curates and optimizes inventory for sale at scale before anything is exposed to the market, helping customers like Mundial manage the ever increasing complexities of programmatic trading. Liquid™ enables Mundial to organize, package, price and optimize everything they have to sell, so that “no value is left on the table,” says Kyle Harris, EVP at The Mundial Group.
“Liquid™ makes it possible for Mundial to buy inventory from syndicated partners and resell that inventory to brands and agencies, virtually extending their audience reach (i.e. more to sell) and simplifying tracking and management on one platform. And when Mundial is ready to trade, MASS Exchange’s marketplace makes it easy for Mundial to sell programmatically its most valuable assets, which today it has to trade manually over the phone in order to get the best prices/values,” Harris continues.
Bottom line: “MASS Exchange provides Mundial with a unified platform to maximize its revenues from any channel, programmatic or otherwise, while maintaining full control and transparency over how, when, to whom and at what values their inventory is traded,” says Khoury.
What is clear is that if the programmatic model must change, Khoury is one of the first to apply this type of financial approach to the media industry in an attempt to increase transparency and control in highly complex trading. Luckily, Mundial Network was happy to put his theory to the test.