Comcast Using Blockchain Technology for Targeted Advertising

Feb 4, 2019

Kelly Potter

Kelly Potter

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OTT delivery and multiscreen viewing has changed the TV advertising landscape forever. Consumers now have access to a massive number of content sources and ways of accessing their favorite programming that doesn’t include a set-top box. These include smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TV-connected streaming devices.

While this opens up multiple opportunities for programmers and pay-TV distributors to get new customers in the door, it is becoming a challenge for marketers as they attempt to reach and advertise to this fragmented world at scale with the number of options available.

“It’s creating more data than ever before, and it will only go up from here,” Jason Manningham, general manager of Blockgraph, a new initiative that originated at Comcast that, along with a growing group of partners, is attempting to solve the privacy and security challenges raised by the emerging, data-driven, targeted TV advertising model.

Marketers are eager to tap into that data in order to be more precise in their advertising tactics and optimize that spend in a way that drives consumers towards purchases or generates awareness for a particular product or service. In order to make this happen, each player in the TV advertising ecosystem also has to expose some of their data which can be a bit more difficult.

As each player owns a piece to that larger data puzzle, they typically work together via a common third-party service such as Experian to ensure that their competitive and sensitive data is protected but still available in a form that can be used to create targeted campaigns that, for example, seek out “auto-intenders” — consumers who plan to buy a vehicle in the next six months.

“Getting access to that data is “friction-filled” and time-consuming, and has generally prohibited the industry from driving true scale into a data-driven TV advertising market,” Manningham said during an interview at the recent CES event in Las Vegas.

Comcast Cable Advertising is trying to solve for this with Blockgraph, “a platform and initiative that’s designed to facilitate the secure exchange of privacy-compliant audience data for targeted advertising.” Blockgraph was incubated at FreeWheel, the ad-tech startup that Comcast acquired in 2014, but Comcast is attempting to make Blockgraph part of a broader, TV industry-wide initiative in the US and abroad.

Blockgraph uses “blockchain techniques and protocols to decentralize the peer-to-peer TV data ecosystem and network, allowing companies to run common software and build a shared identity layer between customers without exposing sensitive competitive or consumer-specific information.”

The key is for all parties to establish that the right consumer is being targeted for the ad campaign, but also making sure that the individuals privacy is not being compromised in the process and that anonymity is intact.

“[Blockgraph]creates a common ID without releasing private, sensitive competitive information” without the kind of middleman that’s been common in these cross-party data sharing practices, Manningham said.

Manningham estimates that “encryption and distributed systems make up about 95% of the new system, with the balance underpinned by blockchain technologies. “But blockchain provided a big piece of the puzzle,” he said.

The Blockgraph organization would essentially take on the role of managing the data network, but would not maintain any central data or have direct visibility into that data. Instead, the decentralized nature of it would facilitate the data-matching but not handle any of that centrally or locally, Manningham explained.

Blockgraph has signed up just shy of 20 beta participants, including involvement with a yet unnamed broadcaster in the UK and other unidentified MVPDs and major TV networks and device makers, as the organization validates the design and privacy framework. There’s also an internal pilot underway with Comcast and NBCU that is expected to move to a commercial deployment in a matter of months.

“The appetite is very high for the ability to run these data-driven, addressable campaigns,” Manningham said while acknowledging that there are operational challenges being overcome to help partners get up to speed quickly and participate.

Kelly Potter

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