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Will Blockchain Find a Place in Radio?

Acknowledging the hype, some see potential fruitful disruption for media businesses

Editor’s Note: Welcome to NewBay’s inaugural edition of Need to Know, where we explain complex topics and how they apply to each industry we serve, on our websites and in our magazines. Keep coming back for future topics, to include 5G, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and more.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Ask radio broadcast executives whether blockchain will affect their industry and they might reply: “Say what, now?”

Even among technologists who in the past have anticipated and debated the impact of developments like metadata, drones and programmatic, the concept of blockchain technology is unfamiliar, known from buzzy headlines about cryptocurrency and the financial sector.

Yet blockchain in some circles is being discussed as a candidate for any application that relies on digital value transactions. Some business sectors are starting to embrace it; could broadcast follow?


Radio World asked radio observers in engineering, sales and IT. Few had thought about the question through a lens of media enterprise management.

“If we take transaction records as being the strong point of blockchain, then the application to the broadcast business might be in the realm of traffic and business transactions,” one public media engineer speculated. Or it could be used in measurement and metrics, particularly for streaming or podcasting, including content distributed in a peer-to-peer fashion.

See our full Need to Know for more facts about blockchain. 

Another source, a veteran of the sales side of the industry, said, “I’m having a hard time pinpointing future effects for media, specifically radio. That’s not to say there won’t be any, but rather, the technology is still so new, it’s hard to see a roadmap for it.”

The general idea of distributed processing and multi-point verification, he said, could be put in play for securing media transactions, especially incremental digital transactions and ad delivery verification; whether that would have benefits is unclear. (He noted the related concept of hashgraph as another example to monitor.)

“Maybe someone else has some ideas,” a manufacturer of media asset management systems said, “but in general the complexity and sequential nature may not be very useful in our applications.” An IT-savvy engineer speculated that it could be used for a future method of paying for a song title or other content you want to purchase.

“I’m guessing you can place a radio order online somewhere using https: e-commerce methods,” another longtime engineer said. “Most of what we do is instantaneous, going out on the air and gone forever. Maybe intellectual property rights lend themselves to blockchain. ASCAP and BMI might find their services no longer needed.”

A Washington veteran familiar with IT technology seemed intrigued but cited technical concerns with blockchain involving scaling and reconciliation delays.

“As for an application to radio,” he said, “it would have to be a case where you would want to share an immutable audit log of transactions with a large number of people — and that didn’t want to do this centrally because you were concerned that the central provider might change the log without people knowing.”

He added: “The challenge is there is a lot of hype, candidly, about the blockchain at the moment.”


But discussions about the uses of blockchain may only be starting.

A company called Theta is pushing the idea of using the concept in streaming media. Separately, venture capitalist Sunny Dhillon wrote on Forbes about possible effects in entertainment, arguing that in media consumption, blockchain can solve problems involving micropayments and digital rights management. He noted that Spotify recently acquired a digital rights management startup with a blockchain component to create a media library in which a user can identify “author and story” behind a piece of content.

Of more immediate interest to broadcasters is a paper being presented at the spring NAB Show.

Stephan Schneider, CEO of Reelway GmbH, will talk in Las Vegas about “Securing Media Transactions Using Blockchain Technology.” His company operates an online video production platform, an arena where usage rights are essential.

“Creative people want to get and clear usage rights easily and without bureaucratic overhead,” Schneider said. “We think that the blockchain has the capability to provide a solution to these issues.”

He acknowledges that he has had little interaction yet with media companies about this topic; but he considers blockchain a fundamental technology with a disruptive potential.

“It will impact broadcasters as well as media companies like other IT technology did in the past, e.g. video compression technology such as MPEG in the ’90s or virtual reality technology now,” he said.

“Since blockchain includes the money side, I would expect an impact on payments for digital goods and media. The other advantages of the blockchain such as its distributed nature [and] robustness against manipulations will be relevant for all applications that require a secure, omnipresent and tamper-proof record.”

Asked how long it might be before the technology has practical application within broadcast media management, Schneider replied, “Turnaround periods in IT usually is about two to three years. However practical implementations are always lagging behind. I would expect, that — after the hype about the cryptocurrencies has settled down and they have evolved towards a reliable payment option — you will be able to pay for media in B2B scenarios in one or two years.” 

See our full Need to Know for more facts about blockchain.

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