By Chaitanya Chinchlikar
How making the blockchain as the platform for the Media & Entertainment industry will be greatly beneficial for everyone…
Now, before we get to the M&E industry, very briefly let’s just talk a little about what IS the blockchain.
While there are many ways to define the blockchain – both technologically and functionally, this is one which I find simplest:
“The Blockchain is a digital ledger in which a incorruptible & undeletable record of all transactions is maintained across computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network.”
Or to put it from the user’s point of view – “Users can have a look at the blockchain and see evidence of what’s going on and what has happened in the world, updated in real time.”
There are several ways in which the Media & Entertainment industry and the artists, technicians, executives & organisations who work in the industry, can benefit through the ubiquitous deployment of the blockchain as the platform for the Media & Entertainment industry.
While Piracy, Content Distribution & Monetisation and Royalty Payments are the most visible areas in which the blockchain will add value, the benefit that blockchain provides to content creation and everyone in the IP creation & monetisation ecosystem is probably the most crucial.
So let’s talk about it first…
Content Creation & IP Protection
Everything starts with the written word. While “the script is supreme” is an oft-repeated cliché, what most people don’t know is that a vast majority (almost 70% by some estimates) of the world’s scripts which are started to be written, are abandoned halfway or they are unusable / unmonetisable, because they are similar to some other story or some other piece of content that is either out there at present, or has been made in the past. Since all human storytelling is basically a confluence of everything we have read, seen & heard put through the blender of the imagination centre of our brain to create something seemingly unique, it is likely that we are both consciously and sub-consciously being inspired by things we have consumed.
So here is how the blockchain can act as an Early Warning System for writers from creating content that they would need to abandon / would not be able to monetise.
Basically it starts off with digitising everything. Once every word of every story / book / screenplay / shooting script / censor script / et al has been digitised and resides on a repository on the blockchain, and all the new stories / scripts / etc that a screenwriter is writing, is also being either written real-time on an application built on the blockchain or the content thereof is regularly updated on the blockchain, we can have an AI matching algorithm running in real-time which will compare what IS being written with what HAS already been written and pop up a warning on a regular basis, indicating to the writer that their content is similar to something that exists out there. Now, if the writer is witing an official remake of an earlier film or is adapting a book to screen, they can simply ignore the warning, but for others, this would be a massive help and an early warning system which will enable them to either abandon that particular idea or refer to the already-created material, understand how that story flowed and make changes in their story, so avoid similarities and a potential IP-challenge by the original rights owner in the future.
This structure will also enable producers who acquire scripts or publishers who acquire books to take an informed view of the degree of originality of said work and avoid potential lawsuits later.
Lastly, in cases of IP theft issues, currently content creators need to rely on slow and lengthy traditional copyright protection rules & guidelines. Once there exists a streamlined content upload process for secured storage of original written content on the blockchain, the date/time stamp is clearly available, visible and legally valid to adjudicate on proof of content ownership. Further, the current IP content repository market in India is heavily fragmented based on different geographical locations & organisations with whom you can file your IP ownership. For eg, one can register their script with both the SWA and the IMPPA for Hindi movies. There are similar organisations for each of our language industries. Given that both IP theft and IP similarities can occur across languages, if ALL scripts / all the written word are on ONE common digital blockchain repository, delays caused by fragmentation and geography can be eliminated.
We all know that due to multiple leakage points and insufficient controls, music and videos are downloaded illegally, resulting in huge losses for corporations, artists and technicians.
The blockchain, as a permanent, real-time record of all transactions, will be able to record every single view, every single transaction, including a download and maintain it on permanent record, tagged to the unique key / unique ID of the user. Once the piece of content is streamed or downloaded and played, every usage is updated as a transaction in the Blockchain. Now the same can be tracked and either monetised or criminal action initiated. Further, if officially someone does permit its users to download & play back the content off-line, then such a warning can simply be ignored.
Content Distribution and Monetisation
The global content distribution market is huge & complex. The plurality of rights go into high double-digits given that Theatrical, digital and broadcast rights are now split across countries. That said, there exists NO mechanism to know where a particular rights holder is monetising said content. If every single piece of content resides on the blockchain and there is a geo-stamped record of every single playback of said content, instantly the content owner would know which are the geographies in which their content is being consumed / viewed and the same is being distributed by which party. Just this real-time data is more than enough to act as a cease & desist order for potential unscrupulous distributors from monetising the content in jurisdictions that they have not paid for.
Taking this a step further, through the blockchain, the content owner can actually create a value chain where there are no ‘middlemen’ like broadcasters and/or distributors. That way content creators / providers can directly market their content to subscribers, collect payments for consumption real-time. They can even set up a micro-payment for partial content consumption. If you watched half a movie, you pay half. If you watched only 4 our of 8 episodes of a series, pay proportionately. A literal pay-per-view down to the smallest unit of content.
Royalty management & Payments
The existing royalty management is broken. There is a large lag in terms of payments to content owners from distributors and further royalty payments to creators from content owners. There are multiple contracts all requiring significant effort on reconciliations. Involvement of multiple parties between artiste content and those finally paying for the content results in issues like higher lag time, more chance of ‘leakage’ of revenues and hence lesser income for artistes, not to mention that they have to completely rely on data which is not available in the public domain.
Once copyright contracts, including royalty payment contracts are put on the blockchain as smart-contracts, the lag between payment by the consumer and receipt of funds by the content distributor / owner / artiste, technician and whoever else is included in the IP monetisation chain will be close to nil. All you need to do is set up just one time a smart-contract to split revenues & payments to all parties – including defining how royalties should be split among writers, performers, publishers, producers and so on.
Today, more than ever, the Media & Entertainment industry is digital. Everything that the industry does is digital, whether online or offline. And more & more of it has started to go online.
Given that the blockchain exists today. Is mainstream, can be trusted, is as public as you want to be and as private as you want to be. Identifies each individual / entity through a unique key and enables both transparency and real-time action, it is high time that the Media & Entertainment industry takes the necessary steps for building in the blockchain as its base platform for ALL its activities. Not only will it ease out a lot of the paraphernalia cost around the core business of content creation & monetisation (it will definitely eliminate the need for a whole lot of lawyers), but it will also enable real-time, accurate, efficient and transparent functioning of almost all, if not all aspects of the Media & Entertainment industry.
The author is vice-president and chief technology officer, head of emerging media, business head, Whistling Woods International
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