If blockchain sounds like the latest in a never-ending stream of digital ad-tech buzzwords, one can hardly be blamed.
But consider the context. Digital advertising revenues are fleeting; far from the antidote to print declines they were — pardon me — advertised to be; according to some estimates, at least one-third of all digital ad impressions are fraudulent. What’s more, brands are growing increasingly skittish about the potential for their messaging to wind up in brand-unsafe environs, and transparency and trust have never been at such a premium.
That was the upshot of a publisher round table held by blockchain technology firm MetaX in New York Wednesday evening.
“[Advertisers] are providing a big portion of the capital into this ecosystem, funds to enable content creation and transactions. The system been broken since the internet was born,” said Richard Bush, chief product and technology officer at ad-tech platform NYIAX. “By its nature, blockchain is a collaborative thing. There should be a mutually beneficial incentive for all parties within the ecosystem to operate that way, and that’s something we should consider embracing.”
In short, blockchain is bigger than ad tech. And publishers might want to consider joining the conversation. But don’t take the platforms’ word for it.
Elisabeth Murray, SVP of Digital Ad Ops at TEN: The Enthusiast Network, set the tone.
“Content does not have to be delivered within the standard webpage that it always has been,” she said. “Our content is getting distributed and syndicated. Being able to track it at that level, and then being able to determine, track and confirm where it has been who has seen it, and how it is monetized is interesting.”
So what is blockchain, exactly?
Blockchain is essentially a digital ledger—a secure, decentralized, continuous, and un-alterable record of transactions. In other words—it can’t be tampered with, and no one can remove it. In the context of media, blockchain allows the way users interact with a piece of content to be tracked across the internet, thus incentivizing ‘reputable’ publishers and de-incentivizing fraudulent or bot traffic.
But can blockchain fix digital advertising’s transparency problem?
“Attention is valuable,” added Ken Brook, founder and CEO of MetaX. “It’s a commodity that’s being traded in this industry. Blockchain has unlocked new cost models, where we have the ability to conduct micro transactions. Ad blocking is a symptom of the underlying problem. Going to a webpage and seeing you’re being tracked by 100 different companies—that’s unsettling.”
Blockchain technology has existed for years as the framework behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Every time a transaction occurs, that particular bitcoin’s blockchain of data is altered to reflect it. In the context of publishing, Brook argued that it actually opens up a way for users to be compensated for their valuable attention by grounding that attention as a unit or token of value.
“Right now, I am in an advertising industry and I force people every single day to look at things they don’t want to look at,” added Murray. “Some people have chosen not to see them, and I try to find ways to force them to anyway. I don’t like being that person. But there are ways for publishers to connect much more closely with their consumers and then take that connection and create something meaningful with an advertiser. This feels, to me, like the best way to get their quickly and speed up the death of the banner ad.”