Comcast unveils Blockgraph to spark TV ads revolution

Comcast made an intriguing move in the addressable advertising space while Faultline Online Reporter was taking its festive break, launching the next phase of Blockgraph – a new blockchain-based buzzword doing the rounds which many may be unfamiliar with. Despite some of our small protestations doubting the relevance of blockchain technologies in the digital entertainment sector today, when the world’s largest cable TV company and now European powerhouse via its Sky acquisition reveals a blockchain TV launch, it’s certainly worth digging into.

The premise of Blockgraph, as with all blockchain platforms, is to create a secure path for data and information sharing, but Blockgraph is built specifically for the TV industry, described by Comcast Cable Advertising as designed to become the “identity layer”. This essentially means TV and media companies have greater control of data at scale and this therefore improves the efficiency and effectiveness of data-driven TV advertising and marketing – in turn leading to better targeting, execution and measurements across screens.

Blockgraph applies a peer-to-peer approach to an ecosystem which traditionally involves sending data to a third party provider, where a bi-lateral blind match between the two parties (such as an advertiser and media company) is carried out. The decentralization of this process means all participants can carry out blind matches directly with others and Comcast assures this is all encrypted and uses non-identifiable data and blockchain protocols.

The technology is already being trialed at subsidiary NBCUniversal, planning to fully incorporate Blockgraph into its addressable offering sometime in early 2019. But, more significantly, Comcast is in talks with Viacom for a future rollout, saying it has worked closely with the mass media firm to help shape the product roadmap and structure of Blockgraph.

Spectrum Reach, the advertising sales arm of Charter Communications’ Spectrum TV brand (formerly Time Warner Cable), is also cited as a key partner, so the prospect of a rival US cable TV company using Blockgraph is a pretty massive deal in our book. This could be a watershed moment for TV advertising and data sharing in the US, although we get the impression the technology is still relatively untested at scale, so the coming year will be sure to deliver some significant tests from which we may ultimately be able to decide if its thumbs up or down for blockchain’s TV career. Discussions are underway with several other unnamed potential participants, Comcast claims.

We see blockchain as much more suited for advertising as opposed to the blockchain-based tokenized video services of which a couple crept out last year. These allow viewers to directly pay rights holders in tokens, presenting fairer financial mechanisms for making, distributing and viewing content for all parties involved, although these ledger services are reportedly highly CPU cycle intensive and could potentially be done more cheaply.

These are designed to address three fundamental industry issues. First is money, with income for filmmakers today at a fraction of what they made during the peak DVD era, according to White Rabbit, emphasizing that recoupment takes years rather than minutes. Second is choice, claiming the variety of content within subscription streaming catalogs are shrinking, as services increasingly make and promote their own content. Finally, viewers are being driven towards illegal pirate sites simply because they cannot afford to subscribe to multiple streaming offerings at once.

Meanwhile, online advertising has suffered from fraud, via the tiny expedient of counting a video advert that begun but closed down after a second of viewing as a full view, to more obvious manipulation of the viewing numbers – like billing for more adverts than were seen. A distributed ledger, with millions of entries, which is what blockchain is, where a single version of the truth is established beyond any doubt through getting multiple tamper proof servers to agree all ledger entries, is an ideal way around this. If a blockchain shows that a certain instance of an advert was viewed the whole way through in an active window – then it was – and that essentially is what advertising has been crying out for, as this verification process has been holding up the proliferation of programmatic advertising.

Comcast says media sellers, media buyers and consumers can all benefit from Blockgraph technology, allowing participants to directly share insights derived from anonymized and aggregated information. In addition, Comcast has invited the entire TV industry to participate in Blockgraph, stressing in un-Comcast like fashion that it doesn’t want the technology to remain a solely Comcast-led initiative.

“When scaled, non-personably identifiable data becomes available to all, the focus shifts to what a provider is able to do with that data and how it can be used to drive outcomes. We believe that when advanced data capabilities are paired with TV and premium video’s awareness and engagement advantages, results will be difficult to beat,” said Marcien Jenckes, President, Comcast Cable Advertising.

Strangely, Pubitalia, the advertising division of Italian pay TV company Mediaset, jointly owned by France’s Vivendi and Italian investment firm Fininvest, was not directly cited as a partner company but the press release did include a quote from the company’s GM of the Adtech & Business Development, Paola Colombo, stating, “Blockgraph is another example of the industry coming together to adopt new standards and technologies that will allow us to compete more effectively as a medium, while simultaneously delivering more value to our advertising clients. Since Blockgraph is a peer-to-peer network, the greater the adoption by the TV industry, the greater the potential depth and scale of its data insights. We look forward to working together with our partners on this collaborative effort.”

So, Pubitalia looks set to be Blockgraph’s first European partner, likely serving as a test bed before setting the technology loose on Comcast’s new Sky empire.