Nine Blockchain Projects That Will Redefine Media
The last few years have been defined on how media’s perceptions are changing. Considering fake news, foreign intrusion on the political discourse, and open discussions about if the media conglomerates are taking too large a share of media revenues, all the media institutions that were held up and revered ten years ago are now under attack.
This has led some to seriously consider using blockchain technology to correct the media ecosystem. From rights management to licensing and distribution, decentralization presents the possibility of creators asserting control of their works in a way unheard of before bitcoin and Ethereum.
This article will look at nine projects that seek to redefine how we relate to media.
It has been said that the app that can break YouTube’s monopoly will probably inherit the world. While this might be putting things in too poetic a frame, it does represent an all-too-real reality: YouTube owns the video streaming world. The second-largest website, Google’s video platform has a market share that overshadows all its competitors. The situation is so acute that it is not uncommon for other streaming services, like CBS All Access, Hulu, and Netflix to preview their offerings on YouTube.
Despite this, YouTube has serious problems. Akin to its parent site, Google, YouTube’s policies are revenue-forward, with many commentators arguing that this have led to the proliferation of “upvote” manipulation and the spread of fake or propagandist news on the site. The revenue sharing and licensing policies have also made it difficult for smaller content producers to get a fair share on YouTube. Finally, YouTube’s lackluster security framework makes it easy to steal or block content, increasing creators’ frustrations regarding intellectual property rights.
Viewly seeks to create a remedy for all of this. By creating a blockchain-based video platform, Viewly seeks to create an ecosystem where creators can receive support directly from their viewers without the need of a third-party. Creators can license their content as they choose and will have a direct connection with their viewership, allowing for direct interaction.
“[T]he drive to maximize ad‐revenue comes at a great cost,” the Viewly whitepaper says. “One method of dumbing down of content occurs via the exploitation of the dopamine reward circuit of the human brain. The fast delivery of diverse novelty triggers dopamine release, which increases total time spent on the platform and ultimately ad impressions and clicks. Such platforms employ devious ingenuity to effectively hack human vulnerability and keep attention locked in for as long as possible. We are now learning of the personal and social cost of this kidnapping of attention. Users are complaining of growing dissatisfaction in hand with social media addiction they nevertheless cannot break. Engineers who designed these mechanisms are breaking rank to regretfully speak of designing such exploitative systems. For creators with a broader scope of ambition, such methods are also a poor foundation for the building of communities around their work.”
“With Viewly, every creator has a platform to build their community. Our model stimulates the development of content with true quality and meaningful community interactions. The Viewly economic model thrives with positive community building.”
By offering a relatively-free video platform to rival YouTube, Viewly presents an alternative to the advertising obsession that ruins the YouTube watching experience. This may be the key to finally breaking YouTube’s monopolization.
In this age of newsroom closures and media mergers, investigative reporting has been on the decline. With news revenue declining, many news outlets have either closed or moved to offer more “consumer-friendly” fare.
As we are now living in the age of “fake news,” the demise of investigative reporting is devastating. “Consider that in the past 15 years, more than half the jobs in the news industry have disappeared, according to a US Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in April,” the Guardian reported in 2017. “In January 2001, the industry employed 411,800 people. In September 2016, that number plummeted to 173,709. There has been growth in online news employment over the last decade, but not enough make up for all the lost newspaper jobs. Most of these websites are concentrated in a few large cities, no solace to the small towns and more modest regions hit hardest by the industry’s collapse.”
An experiment that has been touted is the idea of crowdfunded journalism. Considered a way to fund untraditional journalistic projects, crowdfunded journalism asks the readership/viewership to chip in for the cost of producing the piece. This creates a sense of “ownership” in the final piece of journalism by its audience while allowing the journalist the independence needed to unbiasedly tell the report. However, conflicts of interest and the difficulties of maintaining a flow of contributing journalists failed most early attempts at this type of journalism.
“Civil is the decentralized communications protocol for journalists and citizens, launched by The Civil Media Company,” the Civil whitepaper reads. “The protocol limits the need for (and influence of) third parties like advertisers and centralized publisher conglomerates. The protocol aims to support independent newsrooms initially focused on producing high-quality local, international, investigative and policy journalism. In time, we envision a vast ecosystem of journalists, citizens and developers building products and services dedicated to powering sustainable journalism throughout the world.”
“Civil’s cryptoeconomic model seeks to enable a more direct, transparent relationship between journalists and citizens, while using blockchain to also strengthen protections for journalists against censorship and intellectual property violations. The goal of Civil is to create a sustainable, global marketplace for journalism that is free from manipulative ads, misinformation and outside influence. Civil will differ from current media companies, both platforms and publishers, where a centralized operator controls the distribution of content to the public. By improving transparency and autonomy through a decentralized approach, Civil aims to strengthen trust between citizens and traditional news reporting, creating a renewed appreciation for the value of financially supporting journalism directly.”
By leaving business decisions to the member newsrooms, Civil seeks to differentiate itself by being purely a funding channel. If participants adhere to the Civil Constitution, which enforces a code of values and principles in line with the group’s goal to support sustainable journalism, one is free to produce stories and reports that satisfy the needs of the newsroom’s community.
“Civil is introducing a new solution that leverages the Ethereum blockchain and cryptoeconomics to take third-party interests out of the equation and allow newsmakers to run their own operations, and be accountable to their communities alone. Civil is the decentralized marketplace for independent newsrooms initially focused on local, international, policy and investigative journalism. It seeks to restore journalism’s eroding presence for severely underserved communities and to ensure mission alignment among all participants, including citizens and newsmakers, from day one.”
Decentralized News Network
While Civil offers newsrooms a new way to fund journalism, it does little for journalists that seek to maintain a personal brand. For those that choose to contribute to the public discourse via a blog, the proliferation of fake news makes it hard to be taken seriously and to gain readership.
The Decentralized News Network seeks to make it easier for “the good guys” to stand out. By using the consensus of the readership itself to weigh if a story is newsworthy, the site is hoping to bridge the gap between citizen journalism and formal fact-checking.
“DNN, or Decentralized News Network, is a news platform combining news creation with decentralized networks to deliver unbiased, credible content — and the chance to be rewarded for contributions,” the DNN website reads. “DNN will harness the benefits of the Ethereum blockchain to allow for an infrastructure that can never be infiltrated or taken down. Since computing power will not be consolidated, DNN won’t suffer from having a single point of failure — something that exposes most companies when their security is compromised.”
“DNN’s core purpose is to present an open news platform, community curated and funded, without corrupt incentives or hidden agendas that plague most news corporations. DNN’s news will focus exclusively on the balanced-and-factual observation of current affairs, rather than opinion and propaganda.”
Reviewers would vest tokens to review an article. Reviews that goes against the consensus will see their tokens forfeited, while tokens of the majority opinion will be refunded. This “punishment” is meant to weed out possible dissenters that would encourage the proliferation of fake or propagandist news. While DNN admits that this will not stop all possible abuse, it should be enough of a deterrent to prevent the system from becoming corrupted.
“The goal of building a community currency is to get more ‘crabs in a bucket’ already full of crabs,” the DNN whitepaper continued, citing the Steem whitepaper. “Going to extreme measures to eliminate all abuse is like attempting to put a lid on the bucket to prevent a few crabs from escaping and comes at the expense of making it harder to add new crabs to the bucket. It is sufficient to make the walls slippery and give the other crabs sufficient power to prevent others from escaping.”
DNN is looking at offering fact checking as a service (FCAAS) to other news organizations should this fact verification platform takes off. This, of course, begs the question of if a well-invested party chose to stake enough money to be the sole reviewer of an article. While DNN does not have a solution in place to deal with intervention from malicious parties with deep pockets, DNN has suggested that quadratic voting, or the geometrically-increased staking of risk with additional votes, could be a possible deterrent.
“Based on our research of blockchain-based networks, we believe everyone on the platform will want to maximize their personal gain and act out of greed. In this case, that’s a good thing, because more reviewers will act in the best interest of the system if the rewards are high enough and the penalties are sufficiently harsh. We’re confident that reviewers will vote in a proper manner. Of course, it’s possible that all seven reviewers assigned to an article don’t vote properly, but the probability of that happening seems too low, considering that they’re all working for a specific reward and don’t even know how the other reviewer is voting. If that does happen, we’d have measures to simply take an article down.”
A different approach to honest news reporting is to get rid of the primary motivation behind fake news: the ads. Many of the fake news reports that proliferate social media were produced to maximize ad revenue from Facebook and Google. In one case, for example, two Long Beach men netted up to $40,000 per month in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election for running a website full of articles that they admit was nothing more than opinion and rhetoric posing as news.
With Google and Facebook receiving the majority share of the ad revenue from these sites, there is open suspicion that the sites may choose to protect their revenue sources than do what is needed to weed out all the profiteers from the news ecosystem. The more outrageous these stories appear, the more likely they are to be clickbait and the more likely they will be large revenue makers.
Snip chooses to get rid of this economy by offering readers short news items or “snips,” covering the topics they are interested in. By denying the space to add clickbait filler, the impetus to earn ad revenue is gone. Advertisers can still buy ad space, and the writers will still be paid for their content. However, this revenue is based on if the reader finds the content to be relevant or excellent, and not just if the reader views the webpage.
“Snip’s goal is to become the place where people go to learn and stay updated on any subject — politics, tech, sports, art, philosophy, etc.,” the Snip whitepaper reads. “The stories are presented to readers in an algorithmic feed, tailored to each user’s interests using open-source algorithms. People are busy and prefer to read concise content, so he platform will be oriented towards short content. Writers Will be able to post content of any length.”
“The platform is powered by the community, with members writing stories, voting on the best stories, engaging in discussions, and rewarding contributors with tokens. The Important role of community feedback gives writers an incentive to create high-quality content. The voting mechanism also assists in personalizing content for users, creating a feed which is truly valuable and interesting. By harnessing the power of the community, Snip aims to become the top news destination on every subject. Importantly, the product will be accessible to anyone, and will not require an understanding of cryptocurrencies and tokens.”
Of all the decentralized media projects, Steemit receives the most press, and only partially because it is one of the first. Founded by the founders of BitShares and EOS, Steemit has yet to meet the promises that were hyped when the project was launched. Questions about Steemit’s upvoting feature, where the weight of a single vote is tempered by the size of the voter’s wallet, and the fact that Steemit only pays for the first seven days new content is up have left smaller content creators and evergreen content creators wondering who exactly Steemit is trying to target.
Steemit is a decentralized social media provider. Steemit seeks to differentiate itself by allowing content producers to create unique Smart Media Tokens, which can be distributed to the producer’s readership for “upvoting.” This allows content producers to directly address their audiences and build a community. Steemit also rewards contribution to the Steemit website with STEEM, the service’s traded token.
“Steem is designed around a relatively simple concept: everyone’s meaningful contribution to the community should be recognized for the value it adds,” the Steemit whitepaper reads. “When people are recognized for their meaningful contributions, they continue contributing and the community grows. Any imbalance in the give and take within a community is unsustainable. Eventually the givers grow tired of supporting the takers and disengage from the community. The challenge is to create a system capable of identifying the contributions that are needed and their relative worth, using a methodology that can scale to an unbounded number of people.”
“Steem is designed to enable effective micropayments for all kinds of contributions by changing the economic equation. Readers no longer have to decide whether or not they want to pay someone from their own pocket; instead they can vote content up or down and Steem will use their votes to determine individual rewards. This means that people are given a familiar and widely used interface and no longer face the cognitive, financial, and opportunity costs associated with traditional micropayment and tipping platforms.”
While Steemit may have it flaws, it started the conversation of if creators should be rewarded for their content online. Breaking the revenue monopoly between advertisers and publishers were an important first step to the democratization and decentralization of media.
“Steem is an experiment designed to address challenges in the cryptocurrency and social media industries by combining the best aspects of both. Steem presents earning opportunities to content creators and internet readers in ways that have not existed within the social media industry. Within Steem, individuals earn real rewards online that are directly correlated to their contributions. Those rewards may have dollar value due to the market price discovery and liquidity of Steem, and the people who hold Steem may have more exclusive earning powers than those who do not.”
It is difficult to say what exactly is Hubii. Starting off as a local news aggregator, Hubii has spread to film financing, a content marketplace, an Ethereum scaling solution, a wallet manager, and others. However, most press coverage of Hubii tends to focus on the company’s choice for a spokesman, boxing champion Floyd Mayweather.
Hubii functions as a marketplace of sorts for content creation, divorcing the process of publishing content from the process of engaging one’s audience and marketing oneself. The idea is to allow the marketplace to determine the true value of a piece of content, and not leave it to the intermediaries who may judge content on its basis to draw ad revenue.
“Hubii’s mission is to create a new leading Ethereum-based decentralised content marketplace where creators and rightsholders can meet distribution networks and reach content buyers directly, all while having total confidence in maintaining the integrity of their rights through the use of smart contracts,” the Hubii whitepaper reads.
“We will utilise cross-side network effects in our marketplace. The value for a content creator joining Hubii Network is a function of the number of distributors and consumers that are present. Similarly, for distributors and consumers, the value is related to the number of content creators publishing their work within Hubii Network. Hubii has proven experience building this type of market already. Demand liquidity is the single biggest challenge in any cross-side network effect plat- form, creating a chicken & egg problem; a band would not be willing to distribute their songs through the platform if there are not enough distributors/consumers in it. In our case that issue is already solved thanks to our existing distribution pipeline.”
Among other projects Hubii has launched are Striim, an intermediary layer between the Ethereum blockchain and users which would facilitate transaction speed while minimizing transaction costs, content verification to sort out fake news, and a marketplace for film financing. Hubii presents a challenge to the current distribution scheme of music and movie companies; under Hubii, creators can finance, market, and distribute their own content without the need of profit-sharing or production censorship.
“Hubii Network will replace a number of middleman in this industry and charge a small commission to the distributors. We intend for this to be a high volume, low margin market, which will make the content industry as a whole much more efficient. Distributors and ultimately customers will pay less for content, yet on the flip side content makers will get paid more. Hubii will also have the potential to generate revenue through provision of liquidity for eliminating exchange rate risk.”
“Within our existing portfolio of distribution partners we encounter a small number of them who mainly want low-quality and commodity content and have a policy of no paying for content acquisition. In these cases we might apply server-side ad stitching and DAI [dynamic ad insertion] to monetise the content as it is being distributed.“
It is hard to break in to the art world. It is not enough to just make good art. Someone in a position of power must be interested in staking their reputation on your art just so it can be discovered, Usually, this “reputation lending” is only a way to share in on any revenue the art produces, leaving the creator the lesser party between the buyer, the intermediaries, and the producer.
“This whole crypto economy, this is the future. To me it’s like the new rock and roll… Cutting out the middleman, they’ve done it with Airbnb, they’ve done it with Uber. The community is running the world now. Direct source. Traditionally what’s happened in music for decades is that the artist is the last guy to get paid. At Artbit, we’re going to make it the first guy to get paid,” Matt Soren, former drummer for Guns N’ Roses and velvet Revolver, said. Soren is backing an answer to the creator quandary, the decentralized project Artbit.
“My interest is in cutting the middleman. That’s been something on artists’ minds for years. There’s all these people you got to pay along the way. With blockchain, imagine if you bought a song online for 99 cents and that money was automatically distributed straight to all the contributors—the producer, all the writers of that song. With this technology, the money can go into everybody’s wallets automatically, it doesn’t go into a bank account where somebody’s making all that money and interest.”
ArtBit is a digital rights management platform. Allowing creators to retain prominence of their works and receive full compensation, ArtBit proposes allowing creators the ability to control their art without the need of agents, managers, studios, or distribution companies.
While it is unclear exactly how ArtBit will do this, there is growing excitement about decentralized content distribution. The potential for musicians and other artists to perform without restrictions and be compensate offers a lifeline for many struggling artists seeking their break.
Of concern, however, is the fact that ArtBit is not based on blockchain, but hashgraph. The Hedera Hashgraph Platform, or hashgraph, is a distributed ledger technology, like blockchain, that is based on a known and controlled number of participants on the network. As it is known how many nodes are on the network and what the maximum would be, the network is not open – a requirement for decentralized networks. If the network is at capacity, a new user would not be free to join. Technically a directed acrylic graph, the hashgraph claims the ability to process hundreds of thousands of transactions per second.
The most notable DAG, IOTA, was plagued with security problems, requiring a software upgrade. It is unknown if the problem was limited to IORA’s code or is a feature of DAGs. Also, Hedera is own fully by a conglomerate of 39 companies that would make startup decisions. This means that users of the hashgraph would have no ownership stake in it. How this would affect the hashgraph’s community is unsure yet.
“Before I had any recognition as a musician, I was roaming back alleys in Hollywood, playing any gig I could get, sleeping on couches and surviving off Top Ramen,” said Sorum. “Today, getting recognition is easier, but getting paid is even harder. With Artbit, we’re giving power back to the fans to tell the world who deserves attention, and we’re giving a platform to artists to turn their dreams into a paying reality.”
Ubisoft is a major game developer with titles such as the Assassin’s Creed series, Far Cry, Prince of Persia, Raving Rabbids, and Just Dance. The fourth-largest game publisher in North America by revenue, licensing and game piracy is a serious concern for Ubisoft.
While it is arguable if game piracy hurts or helps game sales – as it exposes games to audiences that could not or would not buy the game initially – it is still a touchy subject for intellectual property holders. In 2016, for example, it was found that 35 percent of all PC gamers pirate games, with the majority arguing that the game is too expensive or that they do not have the money to pay.
Ubisoft has always been the leading edge for digital rights management. In 2012, Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot made waves by claiming that most PC gamers were pirates. “We want to develop the PC market quite a lot and F2P [free-to-play] is really the way to do it,” said Guillemot. “The advantage of F2P is that we can get revenue from countries where we couldn’t previously – places where our products were played but not bought. Now with F2P we gain revenue, which helps brands last longer.
“It’s a way to get closer to your customers, to make sure you have a revenue. On PC it’s only around five to seven per cent of the players who pay for F2P, but normally on PC it’s only about five to seven per cent who pay anyway, the rest is pirated. It’s around a 93-95 per cent piracy rate, so it ends up at about the same percentage. The revenue we get from the people who play is more long term, so we can continue to bring content.”
Given Ubisoft’s positioning on DRM, it is not surprising to learn that Ubisoft is pioneering blockchain game licensing. Seeking to create unique, non-replicable game assets, Ubisoft is seeking to embed smart contract technology into its upcoming titles.
Lidwine Sauer, director of insights and trends for Ubisoft’s Strategic Innovation Lab, argues that blockchain offers users a chance to “finally have real digital collectibles that cannot be replicated by anyone and can be 100 percent owned by you. Thanks to the blockchain, we can now have the equivalent of a digital Picasso, with the advantage that it’s a lot more difficult to steal something on the blockchain than to steal a Picasso.”
“It’s one of the use cases of the blockchain, and we want to go further than that. We feel there’s something even more interesting to find [through the blockchain], and we’re in the process of trying to find that interesting thing.”
Here’s a thought: instead of finding creative ways to trick users into looking at ads, why not just pay them? This is the thinking behind Brave, an open-source pay-to-surf web browser. Pay-to-surf is a concept that emerged in the late 1990s where a company would pay users to place an advertisement on their browser while they are on the Internet. A kind of voluntary adware, this allowed users to be paid a modest stipend – typically, $0.50 per hour surfed – which could be used to pay for the Internet service.
Based on Google’s Chromium web browser and its underlying Blink engine, Brave runs advertisement derived from its Basic Attention Token ad exchange. Users would be entitled to 15 percent of the ad revenue for ads that they personally viewed. This revenue can be used to support bloggers and content providers via micropayments. The browser also comes equipped with the advertisement-blocking software AdBlock, meaning that the browser can block webpage ads at the user’s discretion.
Users can dictate what type of ads they would want to see or if they want to see ads at all. While user payments must be used in the Brave ecosystem – no payouts are allowed – the level of user involvement and control would make Brave a disruptor in the advertisement world if it succeeds.
“Brave Payments is a system that allows you to anonymously donate to content producers that you like,” Brave writes in its FAQ. “All you need to do is create a BAT wallet and add an amount. Then, when you visit websites, Brave Payments automatically distributes microdonations based on the time you devote. You can customize your list of favorite websites. You can even “pin” specific sites to receive a certain amount every month. It’s like becoming a patron. With regard to your privacy in Brave Payments, we do not know which BAT wallet is associated with the lists of sites that you choose to support. In other words – you, the user, have access to your browsing report but Brave (the company) does not have that information.”
The problem, however, lies in the fact that the last time PTS browsers were introduced, they were subjected to user spam. Users found ways to simulate browsing so that one’s payable surfing hours would go up even when the user was not actively using the Internet. This became such an issue that an arms war broke out among the various PTS companies over who could make the best anti-fraud defense. Eventually, the dot-com bubble collapse ended the debate. As no real dollars are being traded in this system, however, the hope is that this problem can be avoided.
“Digital advertising is broken. The marketplace for online advertising, once dominated by advertisers, publishers and users, has become overrun by ‘middleman’ ad exchanges, audience segmentation, complicated behavioral and cross-device user tracking, and opaque cross-party sharing through data management platforms,” the Basic Attention Token whitepaper reads. “Users face unprecedented levels of malvertisements and privacy violations. Mobile advertising results in as much as $23 per month in data charges on the average user’s data plan, slow page loads, and as much as 21% less battery life. In response, over 600 million mobile devices and desktops (globally) employ ad blocking software and this number is growing. Traditional publishers have lost approximately 66% of their revenue over the past decade, adjusted for inflation. Publishers face falling revenue, users feel increasingly violated, and advertisers’ ability to assess effectiveness is diminished. The solution is a decentralized, transparent digital ad exchange based on Blockchain.”