London-based holding company Ascential plc, which is best known as owner and operator of the Cannes Lions Festival, has increased its minority stake in media-buying technology startup Hudson MX, and has named a long-time Ascential executive as its CEO.
As part of a new funding round, Ascential has increased its ownership to 36.5% of Hudson MX, and says it is on a path to take majority control.
In a press release announcing the round, Ascential cited Stuart Johnston as Hudson MX’s CEO -- a role that was previously held by its founder JT Batson, who left in September 2022 to become CEO and general secretary of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
At that time, Batson said he was transitioning his CEO role to co-founder and board member and that the company would be run by MediaLink Chairman and CEO Michael Kassan and his son Alex Kassan during the transition.
Kassan, who is believed to have personally invested in Hudson MX, did not reply to an email from MediaPost at presstime, but until today’s announcement, Johnston was listed at Hudson MX’s COO, a position that he has held since he was promoted from Chief Client Officer in January. Prior to that, Johnston was a long-time executive of parent Ascential.
Ascential originally made its investment in Hudson MX in 2018 when it owned MediaLink, the ad-industry management consulting firm founded and run by Kassan.
Ascential sold MediaLink to Los Angeles-based talent agency UTA in December 2021.
Since its founding, Hudson MX has been developing a cloud-based media-buying and accounting system to compete with Mediaocean’s legacy system, which is the dominant one used by most big agency holding companies to process their media buys.
In a financial disclosure released early this morning, Ascential described the new Hudson MX funding round as being led by MT II Holdings LP, which makes it the majority shareholder, while increasing Ascential’s minority stake and “establishing a potential route to majority ownership in the future.”
As part of the transaction, Ascential said it received $30 million in cash from the MT II for part of its investment at its existing valuation, and that Hudson’s equity and debt have been restructured giving MT II 51% of its equity, 36.5% to Ascential and 12.5% to the Hudson management team and other existing shareholders.
Ascential described its path to majority ownership as including a "put option to the MT II," exercisable from April 1, 2024 to Dec. 31, 2025 with a maxim payment of $52 million that would give it a 79% ownership of the common equity in Hudson MX.