Over the last few months, a growing procession of premium publishers has become increasingly vocal about their discontent with ad-tech – principally, excessive fees taken by intermediaries and fraud committed by bad actors.

What if they launched and operated their own ad-tech?

That’s where TrustX comes in. Owned by publishers’ non-profit trade association Digital Content Next, which has strongly criticised ad-tech vendors and big digital platforms’ tactics alike, TrustX is a not-for-profit cooperative programmatic private marketplace.

Launched in May on tech ultimately built by Iponweb and Moat, TrustX is a consortium of 35 publishers – like CBS, Meredith, NBC, Vox, Hearst, ESPN –  making their inventory available to buyers together with a human-viewable guarantee.

In this video interview with Beet.TV, TrustX CEO David Kohl explains why it was founded.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who would disagree that programmatic, particularly open programmatic, has been an unfulfilled promise,” he says. “It hasn’t delivered.

Premium publishers, (whose) inventory is being commoditized in what is otherwise a cesspool of open programmatic inventory, are throwing up their hands and saying, ‘It’s time to act.'”

The action in question is aimed at correcting an ecosystem in which up to 60 cents in every ad dollar spent are taken by intermediaries like agencies and technology platforms, according to the World Federation of Advertisers.

TrustX may set out to fundamentally change some of the practices being seen in the industry – but Kohl is doing so by using some of the very same technology he is fighting against.

“(It is) a curated private marketplace but that acts, smells, looks and feels like the open exchanges,” he says. “It’s 100% curated supply, 100% curated demand, fully transparent, 100% human viewable and designed to be the benchmark for what open programmatic should be.”

One thing that is very different from most companies in that category, however – TrustX is a non-profit, B-corp company and runs as a membership organization; there will be no land-grab here, no rush to IPO.

Already it connects to buy-side partners like The Trade Desk, DBM and Media Math, with more to come, Kohl says. He even imagines adding “another couple of dozen major brands”.

There are already several cooperative marketplaces operating around the world. Until TrustX, however, the idea was slow to have been embraced in the United States.

Right now, there is a large-scale bearishness gathering around big online platforms, with publishers raling against perceived dominance. Whether they can really tip the scales back in their favour, only time will tell. But, if they can, initiatives like TrustX will play a big part in it.

“I’d like to see a couple hundred brands in our marketplace trading actively through the end of this year,” Kohl adds.

This video was produced at the 4A’s Data Summit in New York. Please find other videos produced at the conference here.

4A's Data Summit, 2018Tagged ,