Do you need to start thinking about blockchain?

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It’s a word that you have heard many times before. You are also probably aware that it is being billed as technology that could be transformative for many industries. But chances are you don’t know too much about Blockchain, or understand that it could have a profound impact on content creation and distribution.

This week at the Digital Innovators’ Summit (DIS), an annual event where publishers from across the globe come to discuss emerging technology and its implications for the media, Blockchain was one of the most keenly talked about topics.

Two presentations unpacked what Blockchain is and its potential, while looking at real word uses in the media.

The easiest way to think of Blockchain is a a big digital Excel spreadsheet which is housed on decentralised computer networks. Once it has been added to it can’t be altered. This obviously makes it great for recording interactions, and has in particular excited innovators in the financial world who see it as a way of going to direct to individuals or clients and cutting out intermediaries.

One of the speakers at DIS Ingo Rübe, CTO at Burda Magazine, argued that the Blockchain was a way that publishers can respond to the ‘closed web’ which he defined as social networks like Facebook. The companies that run the closed web own the media companies relationship with consumers as the media has to go through them to to get their audience.

Ingo explained “today the producers and consumers are connected by intermediaries. Tomorrow the connection will be via Blockchain protocols, owned by everyone, and they will connect users and producers and do it in a decentralised and secure way.”

Ingo shared an example of how Blockchain was already changing industries. “Today with Bitcoin, users can share money and there is no need for a bank to complete the interaction. Bitcoin is not the end of the story. A similar process will be repeated in more and more industries. For example, by the end of the year data hosting will move to Blockchain.”

For many publishers the big opportunity to reach consumers via the Blockchain is to ensure direct payments for content. Many in the media are now imagining a world where there is very little advertising on websites, rather consumers pay either subscriptions or more likely, small amounts per article. In the future this could be done with payment potentially, via cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, through the Blockchain.

“Publishing in the paid content world has moved beyond intermediaries. In the future there will be a Blockchain protocol, the advertisers and consumers will all live on that platform. Blockchain based protocols will replace intermediaries. Not today, but in five years the Internet will look very different. We will not call it Blockchain, but it will be Blockchain based,” he said.

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There are several other current uses of Blockchain in the media, from ratifying online advertising which is currently being developed by companies like Madhive, through to using the token system and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) to finance projects.

One of the most high profile of the new breed of Blockchain startups was also at DIS. Civil, a company that recently scored five million dollars worth of investment from Ethereum studio Consensys, hopes to revitalise journalism by using the technology to create a innovative new platform. At DIS the company’s co-founder and head of journalism operations, Daniel Sieberg outlined what he sees as the problem with the media today.

‘The future of journalism feels threatened with billionaire owners closing media titles and journalists being laid off.” He said he sensed a cry for help, with people asking what can be done to secure the future of quality content?

Daniel added “basically we are working on a decentralised market for journalism built on Blockchain technology. We are looking to create more direct relationships between newsrooms and audiences, taking out advertisers. Daniel added, “I know this feels uncertain, but I am now a convert.”

“There are many aspects of Blockchain that can help to change the relationship between journalists and audiences accentuating trust and transparency. We also think there is an opportunity for circumventing things like censorship etc.

Civil is set to launch in a few months time with fifteen publishers on board. They will use the company’s technology to create and upload their content. Crucially Civil is also offering a series of tools for publishers to monetise their content such as the ability for readers to pay easily for individual articles in cryptocurrency. The company has also developed a constitution, an amendable document which spells out to the audience what Civil stands for. Daniel added “we will soon open it up to the public. It will ultimately be a document managed and amended by the community. Newsrooms are independent and will be able to set up their own business models within the Civil platform from day one.

It is early days for both Blockchain as a technology and its potential uses for the media. What makes it exciting to those in the industry though is that there are likely to be used for the tech that hasn’t been thought of yet. In the future, for example, your content management system might look a little different. All your content might be published directly to the Blockchain.

As with all new tech, we will just have to wait and see.

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