Coming In 2018: Comcast Hopes To Spur Data Sharing With Blockchain Technology

James Hercher contributed to this article.

Comcast Advanced Advertising Group said Tuesday in Cannes that it will formally launch a blockchain-powered tool in 2018 to help companies share their data with each other.

The Blockchain Insights Platform is meant to ease the often clunky and nerve-wracking process of data sharing. Because of these challenges, companies that would benefit from sharing their data with each other often don’t.

“Today, when you try to create an addressable campaign, the only way to do it is to tap into different data pools,” said Marcien Jenckes, advertising president at Comcast Cable.

There are two ways to do this: either handing data to Experian, Acxiom or another trusted third party to do a sometimes-slow blind match. The second process involves doing what Jenckes calls a “data-for-insights” trade with another company.

“Why you would put the most valuable thing in someone else’s hands is a hard argument to understand,” he said.

The Blockchain Insights Program is meant to let data owners share their assets without ever handing them over to a third party.

Imagine segmenting the data you’re willing to sell and locking each segment into different vaults. You decide which advertisers can access specific vaults, and you give them the keys to do so.

If a partner wants to act against your auto-intenders and has your permission, it can use its key to find that specific data segment and send its marketing or ad tech stack into the vault to execute the campaign. No data ever leaves, and the blockchain technology, acting as a ledger, records the transaction.

It’s a data-sharing process that’s meant to be faster and more secure.

“You never make anything available that you can’t, or that you don’t want to,” Jenckes said. “It’s always in your control, and that’s the most important thing.”

Jenckes also argues that Comcast’s blockchain-based solution is even more secure than a blind match.

“Someone could reverse-engineer your data if you do a blind match,” he said.

If IP addresses accidentally slip through, then the data buyer can potentially associate them with other characteristics, thereby stealing the audience.

Another common solution for pooling data – matching off a shared, unique identifier – also has issues. For instance, if the data owner rotates its identifiers every three weeks and the advertiser has a six-week campaign, the match must be redone mid-campaign.

But despite the promise of Comcast’s Blockchain Insights Platform, there’s still more work to do before it reaches its projected 2018 release date.

The data owners’ assets must be queryable through blockchain technology, Jenckes said. Comcast is working with its initial participants – NBCUniversal, Disney, Altice USA, Cox Communications, TF1 Group in France, Channel 4 in the UK and Mediaset Italia – to figure out different use cases for their data and ways to apply those use cases. That process will likely take the next six months.

Although Comcast is initially working with its own network (NBCUniversal) and with those that it has an “arm’s-length relationship,” which is everyone else on the list, it hopes to eventually open the Blockchain Insights Platform to everyone.

The tool to make data available to blockchain technology will be open-sourced, Jenckes said, though Comcast will have professional services available for participants who need additional help.

Merely educating partners and industry stakeholders presents a high hurdle.

“By and large, the awareness of blockchain is nonexistent, so it’s not surprising that this might seem out of left field,” said Ken Brook, co-founder and CEO of blockchain ad tech startup metaXchain. “However, this technology is a matter of when, not if.”

That being said, it’s important to keep expectations measured. The Blockchain Insights Platform, after all, isn’t generally available.

“This is coming in 2018, and the things that are exciting about it are the names of the companies involved,” said Will Luttrell, co-founder and former CTO of Integral Ad Science, whose latest startup Curren-C uses blockchain tech. “It’s difficult sometimes to get past the slogans and lingoism in these releases to figure out what’s going on. And blockchain is a particularly complex technology, so it’s doubly an issue here.”

Perhaps because of that complexity – as well as its promise – blockchain is an intriguing technology for the advertising community, with large enterprises like NASDAQ and IBM working to put their own spin on it.

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