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How blockchain can solve the industry’s rights management problems. By Tracie Mitchell

By 02 Feb 2019
How blockchain can solve the industry’s rights management problems.  By Tracie Mitchell
 

We’re facing one of the industry’s biggest challenges – how to find, track and monetise content when we can’t access the data that surrounds it.  Can blockchain be used to solve this problem and, if so, how can it be applied in the broadcast industry?

As well as being a non-executive director at Blue Lucy, I’m a media technology consultant with a background in broadcast automation and media asset management systems. Much of my time is spent helping clients integrate different, disparate systems designed and purchased to do very specific tasks including communicating with each other to form complete operational workflows to fulfill a client’s specific business objective.  I bolt rights and scheduling systems to media asset management systems, bolt them to the storage and then transfer content to automation systems for delivery to linear television or VOD platforms.

One of the key problems I continually encounter when integrating these disparate systems is data fragmentation.  Because so much data has been lost in the transition from tape to file-based systems (remember those scribbled cue sheets…) and, with each media business building systems that exist as silos (with their own database(s) with the metadata stored internally) we’re now faced with one of our industry’s biggest challenges – how to find, track and monetise content when we can’t access the data that surrounds it.

 

What are the implications of data fragmentation?

Imagine if you wanted to use a piece of content from a news agency in your package.  So, you cut it into your story, and then you repackage and repackage that story throughout the day for different purposes and platforms, and before you know it, the genealogy is lost and it’s almost impossible to track or report the usage. There is no reliable way for the originating news agency to check that the usage report you do submit is accurate.

This demonstrates the two major problems facing content rights owners;

  • Cost.  Trust is maintained by third parties delivering reporting to each other to just keep each other in check. There is a lack of transparency for the buyers, sellers, owners and distributors.
  • Time.  The reconciliation process is very time consuming and manual – a recent piece of consultancy work for a marketing agency in London demonstrated that 50% of the financial team’s time was spent on moving data from one system to another to reconcile their campaigns for the routes to market; print, broadcast and digital. So that’s 50% of their time just to raise invoices.

These problems are caused by the lack of ability to track content and data across different platforms, all the routes to market and the organisations. After considerable research and investigation, the conclusion I’ve come to is that blockchain has the capability to deliver the change needed to resolve these issues.

 

A simple explanation of blockchain

Blockchain is clever but it’s actually quite boring.  Also, blockchain for media has little, if anything, to do with Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies.

Firstly, blockchain is a supercomputer – you could think of it as a new internet infrastructure.   It’s like an online Google document that everyone can view, edit or delete and where versions are automatically tracked and saved, creating an audit trail.  But, unlike a Google doc where the timestamps, versions and tracking data are owned by Google, a blockchain is a distributed database called a ledger, spread across multiple computers (or nodes) – so no one person or organisation owns or has control of the total data.

Secondly, a registration on blockchain is immutable. Every time you transact on a blockchain database, that transaction is timestamped into history and it cannot be deleted. It is unchangeable. Because it is distributed, the computer nodes in the chain regularly ‘agree’ on the status using a feature called a consensus mechanism, to create the immutable audit trail.

Thirdly, blockchain takes security to the next level by including cryptography throughout the process – it’s like your user name and password on steroids – and the only people who have access to the original data are the owners who put it there.

Finally, blockchain can utilise a feature called smart contracts to minimise lawyer costs, save time and negate conflict.  Smart contracts are a set of instructions, programmed into a blockchain database and stored in the distributed ledger and therefore act as a digital contract and negotiation tool for acquisition, raising contracts and documenting their terms. The digital contract can be agreed and executed and therefore used for content rights management or to agree any set of terms for use, e.g. the distribution rights.

 

How can blockchain solve the media industry’s problems?

So how do we think the use of blockchain will resolve the problem of conflicts we see today in managing the disparate datasets that are in the hands of different clients and businesses?

  1. It will provide an immutable record

The beauty of blockchain is that it provides a transparent, immutable ledger.  This makes dispute and conflict resolution more based in fact. The transaction really did (or not) happen. I did transfer that content to you, and you did air it ten out of the twelve times you have the rights for, on that platform.

  1. It provides a universal method of identifying an asset – and its owner

Maybe, just maybe the Unique ID required in every silo system becomes mute. Certainly, blockchain will be able to determine the content owner of the asset so that there will be no dispute of ownership and identification of pieces of content in the genealogy can also be exposed. This will significantly improve the complications of piracy and copyright enforcement.

  1. It can help us track media

Blockchain tracks and, and therefore can supply, the history of the steps travelled by a piece of media as recorded in the immutable ledger.  Additionally, by utilising the originating terms and agreement of the smart contract, the media usage is reported directly to the content owner.

  1. It provides reporting in real time

The best thing about blockchain is the link it provides between the content owner and collecting their money. Collecting and distributing royalties will be automated based on smart contracts which will remove conflicts and capitalise on exact knowledge (e.g. the monetisation of re-runs will be trustworthy and transparent.)  This will be achieved in real time, so the rights owner won’t have to wait for their payment. Using smart contracts will also result in significant operational overhead savings and a reduction in legal fees.

 

What does this mean for consumers?

While viewers have more content choice than ever before, what we can watch is limited by the service providers and entertainment packages we subscribe to – which is a by-product of inefficient content tracking and rights management systems.   I see a future world where we can access any content on any system and a smart contract will figure out who to pay. Because ultimately, we (as consumers) do not care about who created it, about how it is distributed, or about the underlying infrastructure to support the supply chain, we just want to find and view the content.

 

Here’s how it would work

  • A content owner or rights owner accesses a rights management system with their user name and password protected by cryptography
  • They negotiate a contract by assigning the rights to distributors and negotiating the terms, essentially creating a smart contract
  • They upload a piece of content to the media asset management system and associate the rights from the smart contract
  • The asset is registered on blockchain creating an immutable record of the content ownership, rights and the contract. This data can now be tracked and associated with the asset as it is transferred to the distributor.
  • The asset is played (or transferred) and tracking mechanisms invoke the smart contract which in turn informs the content owner of real-time usage
  • Payment is executed based on the terms set out in the digital smart contract

 

Where to from here?

Billions of dollars have been, and continue to be, poured into the development of blockchain technology.  After 10-15 years of academic and scientific research, the infrastructure and compute layers exist and are very stable. The third layer is now required – new business technology applications to be placed on top of these supercomputers to utilise the benefits discussed above in a real-life implementation.

It is clear that the media industry’s current processes for content tracking, rights assertion and reconciliation are inadequate and are due a complete overhaul – I believe blockchain can provide this underlying functionality, if the systems that support our workflows – i.e. our media asset management, storage, delivery and distribution systems – begin to utilise the characteristics of blockchain and distributed ledger technology.  Blue Lucy has already started this process within the BLAM product, now we just need other technology and software providers to follow suit.

 

Get in touch to find out more, email enquiries@bluelucy.com