Initial pilots have produced promising results, but big players remain on the fringes of implementation.
It’s virtually impossible to escape blockchain these days. Once the sole preserve of cryptocurrency enthusiasts and tech geeks, blockchain technology is now being talked about within every industry - and the media and broadcasting spaces are no exception.
Over the last year or so, interest in blockchain has exploded throughout the sector. New blockchain-based startups have emerged onto the scene and existing players have spun up projects to investigate the technology. But with a year of seemingly non-stop blockchain hype behind us, how mature is the level of adoption within the industry?
The easiest way to answer that is to look at the companies who are actually using it, and there’s a broad range of businesses currently doing so. The early adopters, as in most other industries that are looking at blockchain, are generally passionate startups who deeply believe in the technology’s revolutionary potential.
“We’re in a fast-growing period right now and we’re in the process of onboarding some new films.” FilmChain
One such startup is FilmChain, a company which launched last year and has already racked up a considerable number of partners. Effectively a smart contracts platform, FilmChain uses the Ethereum blockchain to automatically create and execute schedules for the payments of license fees and royalties, as well as offering creators easier insight into which territories and distribution channels are most receptive to their content.
“We’re in a fast-growing period right now and we’re in the process of onboarding some new films,” a representative for the company tells IBC365. “Our clients include Eurimages Council of Europe, Film Fund Hamburg, Bulgarian Film Centre, Arte and Golden Globe-winning producers. We have films that have already started recouping revenues on our platform and whose producers have become our ambassadors, films that are onboarded on FilmChain and about to be released for distribution and films we’re finalising the legal documents for at the moment and are about to be on our platform.”
This business model is a combination of three of the most popular use-cases for blockchain within the media industry: data analytics, smart contracts and rights management. ImageRights International, for example, uses blockchain to instantly and indelibly link photographers’ images the registration number given to them by the US Copyright Office, allowing them to quickly detect and claim compensation for unauthorised use.
Music rights management platform Blokur has a similar raison d’etre, using blockchain to ensure that artists are paid promptly and fairly when their work is used by third-parties. The platform boasts major music labels including Universal, Warner and BMG, as well as 50,000 songwriters and 7,000 music publishers.
Groupe Média TFO, a Canadian government-funded public media organisation, ran a pilot programme last year to explore blockchain’s potential for things like smart contracts.
“When we initially thought up the project, it was for the purpose of our own internal operations,” Groupe Média TFO director of digital products Ulrich Dessouassi told CMF Trends. We asked ourselves how we could apply the blockchain to optimize our own internal flows, but we quickly realized that the problems we were facing were the same problems that our industry partners were facing.”
“TFO is at once a producer, a co-producer and a content broadcaster, so we cover quite a wide swath of the industry… The ultimate goal was to create a solution that was viable not only for TFO, but also for the entire industry.”
While the project was well-received - with Groupe Média TFO vice-president and COO Eric Minoli saying that there’s “a great deal of excitement” for the initiative - the group is still some way off rolling it out on a grand scale. The next step, Minoli says, is likely an expanded series of iterative pilot programmes, using actual productions. “All of the productions and all of the programs could then be on the blockchain,” Minoli says.
“TFO is a producer, a co-producer and a content broadcaster… The ultimate goal was to create a solution that was viable not only for TFO, but also for the entire industry.” Ulrich Dessouassi, Groupe Média TFO
Blockchain-powered content delivery platforms have also proved fertile ground for inspiring new startups. LiveTree, Treeti and Flixxo have all launched video platforms with the promise of giving creators access to rich, real-time analytics about their viewers’ behaviour based on blockchain transaction data. Growth and development have proved to be a struggle for many startups, however. Flixxo had to delay the launch of its mobile app from March this year to July, but then missed that window as well, launching on August 5th instead.
Break the chain
Some blockchain startups in the media space seem to have vanished altogether. Alpha Networks, another proposed OTT platform based on blockchain technology, appears to have gone dormant, with its website and social media feeds not updated in over a year, and the listed press contacts on its website reporting that they haven’t had any involvement with the company for several months.
It’s not just small startups that have leapt aboard the blockchain bandwagon, though - major media behemoths are sniffing around the technology as well. Viacom, Charter and Comcast Cable Advertising have teamed up on a major blockchain project called Blockgraph, the goal of which is to offer its advertising partners the ability to connect with its broadcast inventory suppliers in a way that offers rich, valuable (and, crucially, addressable) insights into user behaviour without the underlying data it’s based on having to change hands or be put at risk.
While it’s not exactly an actual implementation of blockchain technology, various media agencies, publishers and other companies have also formed the AdLedger Consortium; “a nonprofit research and development consortium charged with implementing global technical standards and solutions for the digital media and blockchain industries”.
The group counts such luminaries as Publicis Media, Salon Media, Meredith, groupM and Omnicom Group among its members, indicating that the media sector is taking the potential growth of blockchain within the industry as a serious matter.
In spite of this, however, blockchain adoption within the larger businesses in the media and broadcast space is currently still very much in an exploratory phase. While early pilot programmes like Blockgraph are currently being devised and run, none of the industry’s largest figures are yet going all-in on the technology or making it a substantial element of their technology stacks.
Looking at the broadcast and media landscape, the broad consensus is that although blockchain offers some exciting - potentially even transformative - potential capabilities, the industry still hasn’t worked out exactly what those capabilities are, or how to put them into practise.
For now, the focus is on working out the most cost-effective and beneficial way to integrate blockchain into their businesses. However, the issue of cross-compatibility is also not being forgotten, and for smart contracts in particular, leaders are conscious that sooner or later an industry-wide solution will have to be developed, if blockchain adoption is going to be sustainable long-term.