Blockgraph is an exciting new initiative that is designed to enable the privacy-compliant sharing of data between media owners, advertising agencies and brands using peer-to-peer technology. This means there is no longer the need to share data via blind matches through a third-party. A key innovation is that all data stays within the confines of the company that owns the data, even as the matching takes place.
Blockgraph, which is built on blockchain-enabled software, has been incubated within FreeWheel, the ad-tech specialist that is part of Comcast Cable Advertising. Comcast subsidiary NBCU is testing the technology but it has now been revealed that non-Comcast companies are already involved – and the project has been opened to the wider industry. Viacom and Spectrum Reach, the sales arm for cable operator Charter Communications, are early partners and influencers. Publitalia, Mediaset’s advertising division, is also preparing to come onboard.
The ambition is that Blockgraph will become the ‘identity layer’ for the whole TV industry, with all advertising stakeholders benefiting from shared insights. Ultimately the goal is to ensure television can deliver data-driven advertising at scale and so compete effectively with its many born-digital challengers for advertising budget. One of the immediate applications is the secure exchange of the privacy-compliant audience insights that underpin addressable advertising.
Blockgraph is described as:
- An industry initiative and collaborative effort designed to create a secure way to use data and share information
- A solution for the data activation challenges for all parties within the global TV advertising ecosystem, including those who sell, buy and consume media.
Data sharing and data matching are increasingly important in the advertising market. There is a mass of information about consumers that goes way beyond their demographics like age and gender to include lifestyles, interests and even attitudes. Meanwhile our purchase histories, via a myriad of sources, are available to confirm what we spend money on.
This is the basis for what is called audience-based buying, where you could, for example, target Mums who regularly buy detergent and have an eco-friendly outlook, or couples aged 40-60 who enjoy outdoor pursuits and holiday overseas. Audience-based buying is where you use this data to find channels, programmes and dayparts that attract a larger-than-average number of these kinds of people.
With audience-based buying, an advertisement is still seen by all the other viewers who are not in the target grouping. Addressable advertising is where you target your segment to the exclusion of others – showing the ad only in the homes that contain the exact profile of consumer you are seeking.
Nobody holds all the information used to build and act upon consumer profiles, which is why data sharing is important. Data matching could start with a retailer knowing half-a-dozen attributes about their customer that add up to a strong buying prospect. A media owner could then look for all the people in its subscriber homes (if the sales house is part of a Pay TV operator) or who are registered online viewers (like for a broadcaster streaming service) to find matches.
A broadcast channel, working with a Pay TV operator that has set-top box viewing data, could identify which homes are watching the channel, and so understand if that home contains the target audience segment. Thus privacy-compliant data sharing happens in multiple directions. None of this is new; it has been the basis for data-driven advertising (including addressable TV) for many years but Blockgraph aims to make it easier, more scalable and more secure.
Data matching goes further than the examples above. Advertisers want to know that TV advertising (against broadcast linear TV or premium streaming services) works, so the known exposure of consumers to advertisements needs to be matched against outcomes, whether people later visited a website, conducted an online search, visited a showroom or made a store or online purchase.
Retailer data, including purchase data, helps ‘close the loop’ and so attribute success to media spend. Loyalty cards and credit cards can provide insights on consumption.
Media owners also want to demonstrate that advertising against their content works, relying on the same attribution data. And both the advertiser and media owner should be looking to optimise campaigns so they can be improved over time, and this requires that the advertiser shares their outcome results (like retail data) with the media owner.
Comcast Cable Advertising explains the important process changes that Blockgraph introduces. “Today, stitching together data attributes between two parties, such as an advertiser and a media company, generally requires sending data to a centralised third-party provider. This provider does a bi-lateral blind match between the two parties, then sends back non-identifiable data segments that can be used for targeting or measurement.
“In contrast, Blockgraph is a peer-to-peer platform that allows all participants to perform blind matches directly with one another, secured through encryption technologies, non-identifiable data and blockchain protocols. An inherent characteristic of the platform is consumer privacy, since each Blockgraph participant’s data stays in its own systems and the participant continues to protect the data and manage the privacy of its users, including respecting any user choices regarding the use of the data.”
The Blockgraph website provides the following checklist for its privacy architecture:
- Blockgraph software is deployed entirely on participants’ systems
- As stated above, participants’ data never leaves their systems
- Participants securely link audiences with other participants without identifying their consumers to other participants
- Each participant controls which queries they answer
- Rights management at the data owner/device/person level gives participants the ability to enforce consumer preferences
The Blockgraph website claims the use of trusted third-parties for data/audience matching can add time and introduce risks, even when security controls are present. Comcast Cable Advertising says Blockgraph results in greater security and control while also benefiting from the shared learnings of the ‘network’ as additional attributes are matched against encrypted Blockgraph Identifiers.
“We developed this software with the end goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of data-driven TV marketing and advertising, resulting in better planning, targeting, execution and measurement across screens,” the company says.
Marcien Jenckes, President of Comcast Cable Advertising, says: “When scaled, non-personably identifiable data becomes available to all, the focus shifts to what a provider is able to do with that data and how it can be used to drive outcomes. We believe that when advanced data capabilities are paired with TV and premium video’s awareness and engagement advantages, results will be difficult to beat.”
With scale a key objective, Comcast has been looking for partners but has only just revealed their existence. “We do not want this to remain solely a Comcast-led initiative. We are inviting the entire TV industry to participate in Blockgraph so that it becomes a true industry undertaking,” declares Jenckes.
Viacom and Spectrum Reach/Charter were the first to RSVP and both are described as leading collaborators whose early involvement has helped shape Blockgraph, with Viacom particularly noted for “being integral in elevating its impact and adoption”. Additional media companies, including Pay TV operators, will be named shortly, it is promised.
Kern Schireson, Executive Vice President, Chief Data Officer at Viacom, says: “We are happy to partner with Comcast on Blockgraph’s technology and platform to facilitate the valuable exchange of data insights as a necessary catalyst to scale our collective capabilities.”
David Kline, Executive Vice President, and President of Spectrum Reach, comments: “It is imperative that the use of data prioritises the privacy of consumers’ personal information. Blockgraph’s technology offers enhanced security and privacy protections by allowing all players within the TV ecosystem to directly share insights derived from anonymised and aggregated information. We support this initiative, believing it will help set the standard for secure information sharing in the years to come.”
Publitalia, the advertising division for Mediaset in Italy, is also gearing up to get involved. “Since Blockgraph is a peer-to-peer network, the greater the adoption by the TV industry, the greater the potential depth and scale of its data insights,” says Paola Colombo, General Manager Adtech & Business Development at the company.
“Blockgraph is another example of the industry coming together to adopt new standards and technologies that will allow us to compete more effectively as a medium, while simultaneously delivering more value to our advertising clients. We look forward to working together with our partners on this collaborative effort.”
Jason Manningham, General Manager at Blockgraph, points out that data is a valuable and sensitive asset for media companies and consumers that must be protected. “At the same time, data is now the fuel powering media and advertising.
“The TV community needs to ensure that we can compete with the data capabilities of digital-first companies. We understand that providing a safe way to protect data while benefitting from collective insights is the path forward. And we believe Blockgraph offers that path.”
Blockgraph lists the following benefits for various stakeholders:
- Safely activate your customer data across the ‘new TV’ ecosystem
- Reduce waste by reaching your customers across screens
- Measure and improve ROI
- Augment your inventory with insights about your audience
- Improve yield with more efficient planning and targeting
- Measure and improve post-campaign analysis
For data owners
- Safely monetise insights
- Create new revenue opportunities by safely monetising information
- Added protection against exposing proprietary data; no need for any third-party involvement
Comcast has already demonstrated its commitment to collaboration, and an understanding that TV needs to increasingly compete as a medium against digital disruptors. The company was the lead innovator for RDK, the shared-source software initiative that makes it easier and faster to develop customer premise equipment, covering video gateways/clients and broadband gateways.
RDK is credited with improving agility for the platform owners using it, resulting in advanced services coming to market faster and adapting more quickly once they have been launched. RDK has been implemented by multiple cable operators globally.
Blockgraph is being presented as an organisation in its own right, with a website, which you can visit here.