Broadcast, Cable Ad Ventures Eye Opportunities With Blockchain

Distributed Ledger technology — or blockchain — is slowly working its way into the media business.

Blockchain has popped up as a tool in Comcast’s plans for an efficient premium advertising and audience data platform, in Tegna’s implementation for its over-the-top ventures, in Dish’s use of Bitcoin for subscribers’ cryptopayments and as journalistic tools to combat fake news. Blockchain’s advocates foresee endless opportunities in media, starting with ad contracts and payments.

Steve Goeringer, principal securityarchitect at CableLabs, expects “a lot of blockchain-related project debuts in 2018” in cable and broadcast but they are “likely to be subtle.” He also sees blockchain being used in ways “that generate new revenue, lower costs in service delivery and billing, and improve user experiences.”

Comcast’s Advanced Advertising Group plans to launch a Blockchain Insights Platform in 2018, which it unveiled in June, in collaboration with NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Co., Altice USA, Cox Communications and other firms. The platform is intended to increase the efficiency of premium video advertising and enable secure exchanges of non-personal audience data for addressable ads. The company did not respond to request for an update on the project.

On the Way to Ubiquitous

Blockchain’s near-term activity will be subtle, Goeringer said. But the buzz will pick up as more companies — from IBM, Microsoft and Oracle (all of which have sizeable media practices) to Walmart, nVidia and Merrill Lynch — test ways to bring it into operations.

“Blockchain technology has the potential to transform media as the internet did two decades ago,” said Barbara Bellafiore, principal consultant at Bell Communications, a Connecticut firm that advises media, ecommerce and technology clients about use of the technology. “Blockchain promises the media ecosystem increased accuracy and immediacy in counting viewers and users, added efficiency to payments, better tracking of the conversion of advertising into product sales, and most importantly, fuller value of a viewer’s attention.”

The term “value” appears many times in explanations of how blockchain works. Fundamentally, it is a secure process that disintermediates middlemen letting customers deal directly with suppliers. The blockchain uses “digital tokens” to create entries on the ledger which are at the core of the value transfer process.

In the media sector, blockchain’s decentralized technology can help resolve the contractual challenges of data sharing, including digital rights management, conditional access and privacy. Its features include identification, proof (including timestamps) of activities, traceability and security. The tech, media and telecommunications sectors are the most aggressive about blockchain deployment, according to a recent Deloitte study. Nearly 50% of the media companies surveyed said they were now using or plan to implement blockchain technology.

Goeringer said CableLabs has been “particularly interested in how blockchains may enable more interactive and social experiences as subscribers use cable services” and will enable “more secure distribution of content.”

“We are bullish on blockchain as a solution to address the opaque supply chain, mounting ad tech fees and many hours spent reconciling post-campaign reporting for payments,” said Jim Wilson, president of Premion, the Tegna subsidiary developing over-the-top services.

“By being at the forefront of applying blockchain technology to advertising, we are helping to build greater trust with our advertisers and content partners,” Wilson said.

Advertising Advantages

Many advertising executives are also enthusiastic about the technology.

“Blockchain has opportunity written all over it for the advertising industry,” veteran ad executive Tim Hanlon, founder/CEO of The Vertere Group in Chicago, said.

“Blockchain can resolve a lot of issues that bedevil the media and ad industries, including fraud,” Hanlon said, but he added, “Blockchain in advertising is still an aspirational concept, by no means near a mainstream activity.”

Blockchain can make programmatic ad buying and other automated functions “infinitely more efficient and trustworthy,” he added, emphasizing its ability to “squeeze out fraud.”

“Blockchain will play a pivotal role in solving many of the issues the supply chain grapples with,” said Stacy Huggins, cofounder and chief marketing officer of MadHive. “For the sell side, they could maintain ownership and control of data assets by employing cryptographic keys and using the blockchain as a chain of custody. On the demand side, stakeholders ... could achieve the transparency and fraud prevention they have always asked for.”

Tegna and MadHive are founding member of the new AdLedger Blockchain Consortium, which includes advertising and publishing/programming executives seeking to bring transparency and data security to the ad tech supply chain.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.