Can blockchain solve media transparency? We think it can
A view from Mary Keane-Dawson

Can blockchain solve media transparency? We think it can

The chief executive and co-founder of Truth, TMG's blockchain-based media agency refutes the assertion that blockchain is a ludicrous way to solve programmatic's problems.

Dan Gilbert's article in Campaign is an entertaining read, and as an agency we welcome all views on the role of blockchain in programmatic, and advertising in general.

Blockchain is certainly no panacea for the ad industry’s woes but we and others have built a technology that does relieve some of the concerns surrounding automated trading and are building tools that relieve others.

The initial solution we have built delivers programmatic media through a transparent supply chain where all fees are disclosed prior to any media being traded. This allows clients to know exactly how much money is deployed to media owners for inventory and how much money is spent on suppliers providing value along the chain.

Each transaction is tested against the contract’s rules and any omissions are highlighted in near real-time, rather than the industry standard of 6-12 months later as part of a media auditing process.

I agree with Dan that the industry needs simplicity, and a one-DSP process would be an excellent start. We also agree that giving clients access is the right next step.  

The problem is that there is a supply chain that the DSP cannot necessarily see nor verify that the participants are acting in the interests of the client. This is simply because it does play a role in confirming fees. A route to delivery at the publisher may not be using the best path and this will be invisible to the DSP.  However, clients deserve a line of sight along the entire supply chain, not merely one part.

So, it strikes me as a little naive to suggest that one DSP is the solution. The industry has had the chance and the capability to do this already, and it has failed.  

The issue with programmatic doesn’t come down to the technology - some of the multiple technology layers in play today do indeed add value.  This isn’t about technology, it’s about human beings. It is people who have led us down a path to complication and chaos.

Something needs to change, and we now need to take a closer look at the supply chains in media to make sure that intermediaries are always working on behalf of the client.

We don’t need to have transparency in the ecosystem, but sadly because of the mess that has been created, transparency has to be the route to giving visibility to the direction of transactions and instructions. We have to reset the entire process to bring trust back to the processes we use to deliver advertising.

Transparency is the route we are using to deliver this and the blockchain is simply the vehicle. 

You’ve got to remember that blockchain is actually a very boring technology and not particularly ‘dazzling’ as described by Dan. It is effectively an append-only data storage solution whereby once a record is created, then that record is immutable.  

It’s a pretty dull database technology really. As ever with technology, it’s how it’s used that is exciting.

The current vanguard applications of blockchain in media use a technology called smart contracts - these are coded contracts that execute when participants deliver results or act in alignment with the set of criteria encoded to the contract.  This means that for transactions to happen, consent has to happen for execution to occur.  This means that transactions take place in full agreement and if we build this across a supply chain, then everyone gets to agree. Everyone. 

To bust a couple of myths about blockchain in advertising - firstly it is here, it is now and it is in action.  We launched in November and have since built a solution that is delivering for advertisers - showing exactly where, how and why their budgets are being deployed.  I’ll use this as an opportunity to segue into a second myth about blockchain - that it’s not fast enough for digital advertising.

True, there is no blockchain that is fast enough to deliver an entire solution to the entire programmatic market.  We are not setting out to resolve this. We’re setting out to manage the expectations and budgets of our clients - and we have built a solution that processes (in its early version) 100,000 transactions per second.  This is more than ample bandwidth to deliver against any media agency’s entire digital client activity. 

But what about cost?  Well, the cost of using blockchain in our technology is very attractive for a couple of reasons:

  1. It's a lot cheaper than you think
  2. While it is an upfront cost, it immediately delivers value in the disclosure of the supply chain, and because of this, we are able to agree to contracts based on outcomes.  
  3. Our fee can be based on success and success in this case could be demonstration of budget savings.  A model that recommends how a client should effectively spend their money is one I would think we should be prepared to at least investigate. Surely we are failing our clients if we don’t. 

But let's get back to blockchain, and why we need it. It brings truth and transparency to transactions, and that sadly is what has been missing in the industry. I have to say I struggle to see why anybody would be against anything that is simply bringing trust back to advertising.

Mary Keane-Dawson is chief executive and co-founder of Truth

Mary Keane-Dawson will be speaking at the next Campaign Breakfast Briefing event titled Blockchain: Myth versus reality on June 6.