Is blockchain the next revolution in broadcasting?

Since the beginning of broadcasting, from radio to TV, cable, and streaming, content creators have relied on a centralized entity to transmit their content and connect them to those advertisers willing to pay for associated time slots.

The invention of the internet and the World Wide Web opened up opportunities for content creators to self-broadcast. But they must still rely on the major players to host their content and to connect that content to advertisers and consumers. Now, with the development of secure decentralized blockchain technologies, that may be about to change.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a type of accounting ledger designed to be both trustworthy and decentralized. What makes it different from older, more traditional accounting ledgers is that each transaction is stored as a block that is “chained” to both the previous and next block of data through an encrypted structure.  

Once part of the blockchain, the data is extremely difficult to alter, making blockchain ledgers highly secure. Consequently, blockchain technologies have become increasingly common for recording financial transactions and collecting user data. Blockchains are also decentralized so that no single person or group controls the data. Instead, a large group of computers collectively share responsibility for ensuring that every transaction is authentic, correct, and secure.

Because of the potential impact of blockchain technology on the media industry, SMPTE was pleased to host Michelle Munson, CEO of Eluvio, as a keynote speaker at SMPTE 2020, “Game On,”  Munson’s presentation discussed a novel blockchain-based, just-in-time supply chain approach for streaming and servicing film and TV catalogs directly from their source assets for sales, licensing, and ticketed direct exhibition. This keynote and all content from SMPTE 2020 are still available at a low, special rate, eventually becoming available to all SMPTE members.

Data security and monetization options


Every content creator’s goal is to somehow monetize their work, either through direct payments, subscriptions, or advertising. The barriers to connecting with consumers are numerous and mostly related to economies of scale. This is why it has always been easier to rely on broadcasters to distribute content and attract advertisers.

Without a way to securely collect information about viewers so that they feel safe to share their personal details, content creators have relied on large broadcasters to build an audience that advertisers felt confident enough to address. Broadcasters thus became gatekeepers, controlling and limiting the kinds of content that would be broadcast — those they felt would attract the most advertising dollars.

Blockchains allow data to be collected securely and authenticated and validated in a decentralized way. In our industry, this has the potential to give consumers many options as to the type and quantity of information they’re prepared to share and with whom they share it. This technology can help content creators and advertisers connect directly with consumers and bypass aggregators and large media companies altogether. Independent and fringe content creators may now have additional opportunities to monetize their creative work and to directly connect with targeted advertisers on one end and consumers on the other.

Implications for TV advertising

Because blockchain technology can directly connect content creators and advertisers with consumers, viewing habits and other data can be collected and shared without a central authority to mediate it. This allows advertisers to display more relevant content to consumers. Equally important, it may allow content creators who otherwise would have no effective way to securely monetize their creative work and to securely compensate their colleagues, an entirely new way to generate traceable revenue and to avoid pirated copying through peer-to-peer business transactions.

The UK-based firm LiveTree has developed a blockchain-based crowdfunding and distribution platform aimed at content creators of film and TV. Content creators can upload their content to a Netflix-like subscription service and track their individual viewership.blockchain

Because the consumer data being collected is stored in a secure blockchain, consumers can decide which information they want to make available. For example, consumers could share information about what travel destinations they’re interested in and allow advertisers to target them with ads about those destinations.

Licensing, fees and royalties 

It’s not just advertising dollars where blockchain can help content creators monetize their product, though. Rights management is another area where content creators can benefit from the use of blockchain.

ImageRights International uses blockchain to link a photographer’s images to the US Copyright Office registration number, allowing them to quickly detect and claim compensation for unauthorized use. While the music rights management platform Blokur uses blockchain to ensure that recording artists are paid promptly and fairly when their work is used by third-parties. 

Two-way payments (audience and broadcaster)

Another exciting application for blockchain is to allow both the audience and the broadcaster to benefit from the data collected for monetization. 

For example, during a broadcast, consumers could be given the chance to interact with the program or advertisement they’re watching. Consumers can respond directly on the device they’re using, or if they’re watching TV, by using an app on their smart TV, phone or tablet. Once viewers have signed up, they can interact with targeted elements of the show or commercial and accumulate points with a real-world value that can then be used to buy the goods or services being advertised.

The ultimate disruptor for cable and streaming services

The ultimate benefit of blockchain technologies for filmmakers would be to achieve a fully decentralized broadcasting ecosystem where no single website or business would act as gatekeepers to broadcasting their TV or cinema content. 

Using decentralized apps for entertainment, either for live-streaming or on-demand video, would allow thousands of computers worldwide to act as broadcasters in a non-hierarchical mesh network. This kind of fully decentralized blockchain-based entertainment network could disrupt existing cable and streaming services in various ways.

Content could be instantly made available over a decentralized platform without the need for a central gatekeeper to approve it. In a decentralized delivery model, new “channels” of related content could emerge organically. Consumers would essentially self-discover the programs and films they want to watch by sharing data. 

Free content could even disrupt traditional TV and internet advertising. Advertisers would essentially pay you to watch content in exchange for collecting tokens that would eventually encourage you to buy the products and services being advertised at discounted rates.

The next HBO or Netflix might be a completely decentralized cinema and TV consumer network, where data is freely collected between content creators, consumers, broadcasters, and advertisers, allowing everyone to reap the benefits of blockchain technologies. This is certainly one area of innovation that the engineers at SMPTE will keep a close eye on over the next few years.

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