By Shawn Liew
SINGAPORE – What started off as murmurs of passive concern has in recent months, morphed into a global effort by governments around the world to regulate bitcoin.
In the process, it has brought the concept of blockchain technology into the public consciousness, although blockchain and bitcoin are inherently different.
In a blog post, Matt Lucas, Global Blockchain Labs Enablement, CTO Europe Office, IBM Industry Platform, wrote: “When bitcoin was released as open source code, blockchain was wrapped up together with it in the same solution. And as Bitcoin was the first application of blockchain, people inadvertantly used ‘bitcoin’ to mean blockchain.”
While bitcoin is essentially a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system, blockchain can perhaps be described as the underlying technology used for verifying and recording transactions that are at the heart of Bitcoin.
And it is the former that is likely to have the bigger impact on society, as Lucas described: “Similar to how the Internet changed the world by providing greater access to information, blockchain is poised to change how people do business by offering trust.”
With blockchain technology, the digitisation of assets can be decentralised, trustful, traceable, highly transparent and free of intermediaries, Mock Pak Lum, senior advisor at Tembusu Partners, a Singapore-based private equity firm, told APB.
Citing the NEO Foundation, a non-profit, community-based blockchain project, Mock, a former CTO of Singapore pay-TV operator StarHub, added: “Given that all media assets will be digitised, the distribution and consumption of media content is well suited for blockchain adoption. With the adoption of digital identity on blockchain by incorporating biometric verification, we can determine the person in the family who is consuming the content.”
Blockchain can also potentially facilitate the sharing of Internet infrastructure to lower the cost of distribution. If users can be persuaded to share their unused bandwidth and compute capacity, content owners will not need to engage expensive content delivery network (CDN) resources to distribute content, Mock explained.
The way to persuade users to share their infrastructure is through the ‘smart contract’, which allows for automatic transactions following the terms of the contract without further intervention.
“Users who share can automatically be rewarded with tokens. Similarly, content owners who use the shared infrastructure will have to pay tokens,” Mock elaborated. “This can be done automatically through the smart contract feature, without service providers having to build expensive support systems.”
The management of copyrighted content can also be improved through blockchain, where the smart contract on blockchain makes it easier to distribute payments directly to the different loyalty holders.
This, according to Mock, will make it easier to buy and deal in copyrighted content, and also encourage the production of more original content. “Piracy issues will also be reduced when the framework is in place, and there are many more applications that will then evolve. It is important for broadcasters and content owners to start learning about blockchain now,” he urged.
Decentralisation is a clear feature that blockchain will bring, according to IABM. “Blockchain could impact the Internet distribution model, where it becomes more decentralised and users actually pay for distribution of the content they absorb,” said Stan Moote, CTO of IABM, while echoing Mock’s sentiments that blockchain will “definitely affect” ad buying, royalties on content and how profits will be distributed.
Decentralising file storage on the Internet brings “clear benefits,” because no individual or group can then have full control, added Peter Bruce, director, APAC, IABM.
While governments or regulators may resist the loss of control of ownership and regulations of contracts, digital assets and cryptocurrencies, the over-the-top (OTT) and video distribution model is changing and blockchain will “significantly” play its part.
Bruce explained: “Blockchain can allow the distribution of media without boundaries, with commercial agreements that are recorded differently, compared to the old model of renting physical videos from ‘blockbusters’ in which the income, and therefore tax, was accounted for by the countries’ governing body the store was in.”
While acknowledging the potential benefits of deploying blockchain technology across the broadcast and media industry, Dr Amal Punchihewa, director, technology and innovation, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), cautioned that it is far too early to definitively put into conclusion the supposed efficacies of
He said: “Blockchain enables transactions that are chronologically recorded in distributed records that are transparent to users, but encrypted so nobody can access to make undue changes.
“Some of the opportunities or merits broadcasters can find in blockchain, as some innovators say, are its decentralised character and tamper-resistant nature, although how long it is immune to tampering is still open to question.”
As for potential uses, Dr Amal identifies fund monetisation, contract enforcement and payments. For example, while service providers currently have access to personal and sensitive data of audiences stored in headend and delivery systems, intermediaries will not be able to access selected data.
Where Dr Amal is less convinced is, the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of blockchain crowdfunding of creative productions, while he emphasised that it is far too early to judge whether blockchain will be a game changer for the broadcast, media and entertainment industries.
“Like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain is in the very early stages of being deployed in the media industry. At the moment, it is still more hype than reality,” he concluded.