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Blockchain in Media and Entertainment: The Future Calls

Protecting content and establishing trust in media sharing and distribution.

By James Wilson

From enterprise IT to finance, manufacturing and everything in between, it’s no secret that blockchain is set to dramatically transform a host of industries. New blockchain-based applications and use cases are constantly emerging as the technology continues to extend beyond cryptocurrency and usher in a new era for the internet.

Simply put, blockchain refers to a distributed database that can be shared by multiple systems contributing to the same body of data, creating a shared system of record among those who have the required access privileges. One of its great strengths is that the data can’t be tampered with—i.e. it’s immutable—because every transaction is recorded chronologically and validated by other members of the network.

As such, blockchain networks establish trust through a combination of transparency, traceability and state-of-the-art cryptography. Relevant parties are granted visibility into the history of every single transaction through intelligent access control mechanisms, so users can be sure that the data is both secure and accurate. When thinking about the media industry specifically, it’s this trust—combined with enterprise-grade security and authentication capabilities—that will be essential to the technology’s future success.

Of course there are still some hurdles that will need to be overcome as the technology develops. But, blockchain’s inherent transparency and security benefits make it ideally placed to provide a fresh and innovative approach to content distribution and monetization. Add to this its ability to autonomously execute smart contracts, and the massive potential impact of blockchain in media is clear to see.

BLOCKCHAIN IN M&E

So, what’s driving all the excitement around blockchain in the media industry? Despite its relative infancy, several foundational solutions and use cases are starting to showcase blockchain’s immediate potential and pique the interest of media organizations.

One such example is blockchain’s role in verifying the provenance and pedigree of assets to enable collaboration across the industry. Digital assets are exchanged between multiple parties throughout their lifecycle, traversing many hosted services and multiple IT solutions in multi-cloud infrastructures. This presents a significant security challenge. Parks Associates estimates that video piracy will cost pay TV and OTT providers $9.1 billion in lost revenue this year, and that number is expected to grow by 38% to $12.5 billion by 2024, meaning media organizations have to secure this exchange of content to avoid leaks and unauthorized access.

However, this security often comes at a price. Aspects such as data transfer performance and speed of asset exchange can suffer as a result of increased security measures, highlighting a need for technology that’s both secure and performant. Only then will it truly add value to these collaboration and asset exchange processes.

The good news is that blockchain meets these needs, offering the ability to: establish trusted networks through an immutable chain of custody; build an additional layer of security around assets; enable forensic auditing; and reliably execute commercial contracts over the internet. In practical terms, this means a global registry of assets could be created, providing an interconnected network of metadata and integrations with different databases and systems. This would enable media organizations to take any registered asset and gain access to data around who has come into contact with it, what corrections or VFX techniques have been applied to it and who has the rights to it—providing full and accurate visibility into the asset’s lifecycle.

Having this infrastructure in place would then let members of the media community set up ad-hoc networks between relevant participants for specific projects, offering a secure, auditable and transparent way for organizations to manage collaborative projects.

Such a future isn’t far away, as multiple disparate frameworks based on blockchain technologies are already in development today. However, it has become apparent that concerns around blockchain networks being too open and potentially compromising the confidentiality of high-value assets are holding the industry back, with many members of the media community yet to be fully convinced.

For real progress to be made, organizations need to be given the confidence to embrace a blockchain-powered future. This is where a combination of standardized frameworks, open source tools that can be examined and adopted by any developer, and integration with standardized IT tools (such as high-speed transfer software) comes into play.

STANDARDS NEEDED

What many in the media industry have realized is that a standardized framework that clearly lays out blockchain’s role in enabling the movement of assets through many different entities and participants in an ecosystem needs to be in place before blockchain can go mainstream.

Vendors, customers, content producers and standardization bodies will have to come together and reach an agreement on how these new networks should work. This will enable the industry to move away from disparate systems and create a global network that people can use to identify and track assets through their lifecycle.

Moving forward, users will benefit from various enterprise-grade security and privacy capabilities as these standardized networks grow in size for larger content production and distribution workflows. For example, smart contracts could be used to negotiate the secure exchange of encryption keys through integration with modern key store services, as well as enabling use cases like watermarking, which creates unique assets to mitigate piracy and leakage.

When it comes to blockchain, media organizations have to remember that the ability to build trust is a key aspect of blockchain technology—hence why we call it a “trust network.” Trust has the ability to reduce both overheads and frictions in collaboration, making it a precious commodity in the media industry where businesses are dealing with extremely valuable data, assets and intellectual property.

There is undoubtedly a huge opportunity for media organizations to leverage the power of blockchain to securely identify and distribute content and broker transactions. It all comes down to the standardization of tools and a solid technical foundation to encourage organizations to take the leap. With this in place, the media industry will be ideally positioned to be a technology leader and a pioneer for all in its use of blockchain.

James Wilson is director, IBM Aspera Hybrid Cloud, IBM Aspera.

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