What can Blockchains do for Media?

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4Q 2017 | IN-4781

We have started to see a flurry of activity with blockchain oriented companies attempting to improve the media environment. Blockchains are distributed computing systems which rely on advanced cryptography. While Bitcoin is the best known, Etherium is generally behind more applications beyond the relatively limited purpose financial network.

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A Few Words About Blockchains


We have started to see a flurry of activity with blockchain oriented companies attempting to improve the media environment.  Blockchains are distributed computing systems which rely on advanced cryptography.  While Bitcoin is the best known, Etherium is generally behind more applications beyond the relatively limited purpose financial network.

There are a number of concepts within blockchain systems and implementations which are important, depending on the application:

  • Decentralization – rather than having a central clearing house authority, decision making and storage is managed by multiple peers.  Generally, a certain number of nodes must accept a transaction but the system is fault tolerant due to the decentralization
  • Distributed computing and storage – In addition to the structural benefits of decentralization, the distribution of computing and storage changes the business model.  Generally, participants in a blockchain-based market contribute computing resources or storage, and earn revenues within a currency for their contributions.  Therefore, multiple participants can fairly contribute and an economic incentive is created.
  • Smart contracts – Because blockchains consist of executable code, specifics of contracts can be embedded in the blockchain itself.  Therefore, blockchains provide self-enforcing contract mechanisms, ensuring that contract rights remain attached to media assets, or that use of media assets are properly compensated, for example.
  • Trust – Different types of blockchains are used based on differing levels of trust between parties.  Bitcoin relies on significant amounts of computation and distribution to ensure trust among unknown parties.  Different blockchain systems implementation choices would be selected, for example, by multiple trusted or known parties (such as a dozen well-known media companies looking to create a fair market of media clips without a third-party intermediary).

One current issue being sorted out is regulation that some blockchains be regulated as securities rather than currencies.  Simply put, currencies are easier to use and require a lot less regulation – similar to frequent flier rewards or virtual coins, currencies are the most common.

For more background on blockchains, ABI has a variety of reports looking at their role in the telco and IoT environments, among others.  

Areas Where Blockchains Could Help in Media


Several significant challenges in media systems which can be addressed by blockchains include:

  • Attribution and Metadata – media organizations have “glass to glass’ initiatives to better understand content sources, for reliability, accountability, rights reasons, as well as to help propagate important metadata (location, weather, actors, items in the set, etc.) along with the media itself. 
  • Accounting – areas such as advertising, in which multiple parties (advertisers, publishers, agencies, etc.) transact with complex business relationships can be structured as blockchains.  The blockchain will enforce the agreed upon rights or distributions, while the parties can experiment and alter the relationships within a parameterized set of constraints.
  • Payment – blockchains could be used to enable micropayments or a variety of business payment models.  These virtual or exchangeable currencies can help to decentralize distribution of content further, while enabling trust between unknown parties.  For example, ad-supported content could arbitrarily pay for referrals that met the criteria, while the blockchain provides the trust.
  • Verification – Especially in the ad realm, viewer verification is important.  Leveraging the blockchain to report back viewing parameters, vouch for viewer uniqueness, and support business rules designed to prevent fraud can occur in the blockchain.
  • Content protection – enforcing rights provisions within the blockchain via smart contracts, or allowing consumers a specified set of rights in offline devices while validating identity can be performed in blockchains.

While the name, initial coin offering (ICO) sounds a bit like a public offering, it could be argued that an ICO is more of a “Series A” investment for start-up blockchain companies. Blockchain companies with a currency metric can sell off the coins to initial partners, who can then start various forms of commerce using the coins. They can:

  • Earn them by selling content to other participants
  • Use them to buy content on a wholesale basis (i.e. as part of derivative product)
  • Use them to consume content on a resale basis

Typically, ICOs include some mix of media investors in the platform and crowdfunding for those wanting to see creative and new types of content. They could also include advertiser buy-ins.

Blockchain Companies


We are aware of about half a dozen blockchain companies looking to disrupt the media sector. They include:

  • Synereo, an Israeli start-up looking to create currency for an attention economy, raised US$110K in early 2015, as well as a secondary token sale.  The company holds about US$4.7M in bitcoin today.  The currency unit is the AMP; it is expected to be migrated to Etherium protocol in the future.  The company’s first product, Wildspark, can be used to “tip” any YouTube contributor.  Consumers get some initial number of AMPs for signing up; there will be a “changling” service that allows consumers to top up their AMP value.  The product is currently in beta (since August 2017) with 10’s of thousands of monthly transactions.  The product allows creators and distributors (i.e. bloggers, tweeters, etc.) to both be compensated based on a revenue sharing agreement.
  • Cappasity is seeking to raise US$30M in an ICO in October 2017 (it appears a limited beta is live now) via crowdfunding.  The ARToken (ART) is the unit of currency which is designed to facilitate commerce of 3D digital models, especially useful in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) as well as potentially in other areas such as architecture, etc. The company is targeting multiple applications including gaming, entertainment, retail, art, education and health.  Consumers could use ART to pay for AR or VR experiences or applications, with some of the money directly funding developers. Some of the revenues are funneled into a “reward fund” used for consumer acquisition, an AR/VR innovation fund used to help attract developers and reward marketing-quality content, as well as operational platforms, mostly developed by the company itself.
  • Veradictum, an Australian start-up, has created an anti-piracy based blockchain system.  It allows embedding of a blockchain-based entity within content files.  Market participants seek out copies of the content, and register it in the system.  In exchange, they earn Ventana, a bitcoin-based currency.  Fundamentally, the system is a bounty-hunter system to decentralize the types of piracy prevention services which are offered by established companies.  It is asking pirates or hackers to turn into enforcers.
  • Comcast Advanced Advertising group launched a “Blockchain Insights Platform” which includes a number of high profile participants such as Disney, NBC Universal, Altice, Cox, Channel 4 UK, Mediaset Italy and France’s TF1 group.  The system enables ad buying participants to pool data temporarily for the purpose of a decision.  For example, a car buyer could submit data on its target audience, the system would cross-reference that data with data from multiple programmers to show the expected ad ROI, and the buyer could transact with the party with the best fit.  Compared to older ways of doing this, the car buyer’s data set remains private, as does the programmer’s data. 
  • Steemit is another attention economy blockchain-based content curation system that is similar to YouTube, allowing creators to create content and users to curate and promote content.  There is also an app-oriented ecosystem which extends the audiences.  The currency unit of STEEMIT is the smart media token (SMT), with 25% given out to consumers for their role in content promotion and curation, and 75% to creators.  Creators can earn some of the money from platform contribution into STEEM dollars, which can be sent to checking accounts (i.e. earning real money). 
  • LBRY is an audience attention marketplace, which also supports its own app.  It is heavily based on the smart contract concept – allowing creators to set costs and rules by which the content can be consumed.  It allows multiple applications to run on top of the transactional currency, effectively incentivize app developers as well as content creators.  Ultimately, this could support a variety of subscription services, transactional content services, as well as perhaps content creation.
  • Gladius offers a decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) CDN whose goal is primarily one of security – to work around distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.  Fundamentally, it offers software that contributors can run on any machine, and be compensated.  Websites looking for protection buy into to the system, the same as they would for other CDNs.


Companies Mentioned