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Do We Really Need Blockchain in Media?

June 27th, 2018   ||    by Charlene Weisler

The word on everyone’s lips today has to be blockchain. Bloomberg Businessweek writes about its use in farm-to-table tracking for food safety. In brand marketing, we talk about how blockchain in media can be used in attribution to better gauge ROI. However an industry uses it, blockchain’s lofty promise is sure to change the buy-sell dynamic.

The recent MediaPost Blockchain Marketing Forum, held in Manhattan, outlined the promise and the perils of this protocol technology, how it impacts the media supply chain, how it offers verifiability, and how it might streamline logistics. Professionals across the industry offer their insight on the protocol.

The Advantages of Blockchain

Although definitions vary, Rolfe William Swinton, cofounder and director of data assets at GfK, describes the blockchain protocol as an open global infrastructure that offers a decentralized, self-owned, and self-controlled public ledger. It allows complete user access to the entire chain and is transacted in cryptocurrency. Therefore, it provides a tamper-proof method of global distribution that bypasses traditional intermediaries.

To Richard Hartell, global president of strategy and innovation at Publicis Media, blockchain is a “trust machine.” As a result of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica controversy, the media business is grappling with the privacy breach on personal data. “Anything that can help to rebuild trust between marketers and consumers should be taken seriously,” he noted. Michael Kaushansky, president of Helia and chief data officer at Havas North America, added that it offers “a workflow measurement and a tracking tool that gives us transparency.”

Boosters like Swinton believe the technology fosters “collaboration powered by collective self-interests rather than large corporations motivated by profits.” For media, this could help solve attribution, uncover the source of digital ad fraud, spoofing, pixel-stuffing, and ad-stacking, and streamline an often cumbersome stewardship, reconciliation, and billing process.

The Challenges of Blockchain

While there are high hopes associated with blockchain protocol, there are also some cautionary concerns. Steve Smith, vice president and editorial director at MediaPost, noted that while we shouldn’t dismiss the promises this technology offers, the Law of Unintended Consequences should remind us we may end up with something unexpected. “It may drive the opposite,” he posited, as “things change course over time.” Human behavior, often slow to change, can also be unpredictable.

Consumer privacy is another potential issue with an open ledger chain that tracks all interactions back to the individuals involved. While industry executives give a nod to anonymizing the individual data points, they also laud the capability to market and transact one-to-one using the chain data. So which one is it—private or not?

And, since some of the data in this open ledger is entered by hand, mistakes or purposeful inaccuracies can occur—and, once added, can be difficult to correct. Taking an example in food safety, how do we know if a mango is truly organic if the grower (with a vested interest in maximizing the value of their crop) is the one who inputs that information into a blockchain? Inaccurate additions might be corrected with the advancement of HTML5 and the creation of editable blockchains, but as of now we’re still in the early stages.

When it comes to media measurement, don’t count on this protocol to deliver the definitive cross-platform measurement any time soon. As Scott McDonald, president and CEO of The Advertising Research Foundation, noted, “Presently, because of all the technology, TV is viewed on many different platforms—in and out of apps—and with each situation, the attributes of measurement are different.” There’s little agreement across the industry on standards that integrate linear and digital metrics while moving away from legacy TV measurement systems.

How Will Blockchain in Media Impact the Business?

As long as the ledger contains the four V’s of data—volume, velocity, variety, and veracity—the potential of this technology in media is manifold. Swinton suggests this protocol will help consumers monetize their data while protecting their privacy, provide data safety and veracity, and eliminate data and business silos.

Chad Andrews, global solutions leader for advertising and blockchain at IBM, stated that media uses for the protocol include auditing for reconciliation, payments, and tax; measuring cost relative to performance (or that which drives performance); and identity (who people are in terms of targeting).

Mary Keane-Dawson, cofounder and CEO of Truth Agency, believes the data-and-delivery system via the chain for campaigns can energize programmatic with greater effectiveness. In programmatic, she stated, “delivery systems verify by blockchain. It is not replacing the pipes in programmatic, but it can verify and is tamperproof.”

Ultimately, the success of this technology for use in media will depend on how it’s introduced into the market. Kaushansky advised that, “Our goal [is] to demystify blockchain. Don’t oversell it. Advertisers need to know that what they spend is verified.”

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