This first appeared in ExchangeWire on 30th October 2018

Dan Dawson, Chief Creative Technology Officer at Grand Visual, explains how blockchain technology could transform digital OOH – but we need to crack programmatic first.

We’ve taken an active role in defining how it might affect Digital OOH media specifically. Through our work with the Digital Future Council, a think tank of clients, industry leaders, and technologists, bridging the gap between media, advertising, and technology, and here’s what we found out about the transformative role that Blockchain technology could play across the Digital OOH media landscape.

What is Blockchain?

To start at the beginning, in simple terms, Blockchain is a type of digital ledger or ‘tally’ of transactions. The word ‘tally’ actually derives from Old French ‘taille’ meaning a “notch in a piece of wood signifying a debt”. Tally sticks would be split through the middle of the notches – with one retained by the creditor and the other by the debtor as an equal record of a transaction. Blockchain effectively works the same way, just multiple times over. A tally of batches of transactions stored in a database known as blocks (hence the term blockchain).So it’s just a database then?

So it’s just a database then?

The main differentiator for blockchain versus a regular database are the specific rules about how to put data into the blockchain.

  1. Data cannot conflict with some other data that’s already in there.
  2. It’s append-only and the data itself is cryptographically signed and locked to an owner.
  3. It’s replicable and available to be seen.
  4. Everyone agrees on what the rules of the database are without a central party, making it decentralised.

These points have made Blockchain technology very attractive to businesses, as there is no single point of failure. It’s also the reason cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin exist – not regulated by a single government or state, owned by the people who invest within an agreed set of rules. It’s also why I can see a future for Blockchain implementation across the media world, including Digital OOH.

Blockchain & Digital OOH

Media Agency Truth launched last year, the first of a new breed of media agencies utilising blockchain smart contract technology to provide 100% transparency for clients. It’s clear to see that the transparency and security that the Blockchain can offer as part of a media buy could help brands seeking value from their suppliers and agencies.

But where do we expect to really see changes, with DOOH in mind?

Data Management: In the DOOH space we are rich in data. We have the benefit of screens (in general) not moving; and therefore we are able to build an awesome data picture of the location, and the changeable conditions and audiences. Moving this all into the blockchain could effectively mean smarter planning, targeting, buying, execution, distribution, and measurement across DOOH screens.

Audience Targeting: Increased data sharing through the blockchain will fuel omnichannel and omni-screen campaigns with much smarter cross-platform audience planning. With more electronic devices in everyone’s pockets, connected, cross-platform digital platforms campaigns will become a programmatic reality.

Media buying: With the above two points in place, and with media owner tech stacks sitting with the same protocols, we see a clear rationale for the media buying of DOOH to be more automated, smarter, and more transparent using blockchain technology. The use of smart contracts between parties makes the whole integration process seem very appealing for most parties.

Content distribution: For those of us in the content creation and distribution world, it could be even more important. If a campaign is bought in this way, it really should be delivered and reported on with the same level of transparency.

Playback reporting: The ability for brand managers to see real-time, independent third-party verification of campaign play out is essential. The industry needs to provide this level of transparency and accountability for the programmatic future of digital OOH.

What now?

No doubt it’s going to be tough to implement blockchain technology across the digital OOH landscape. It could be said that the things that make blockchain so appealing to the media world are the same things that will impede its uptake. Development of this technology is inherently slow, there are many moving parts, it relies on users, protocols and, coupled with that, the maintenance of such systems does not come cheap.

But, it will certainly get easier. Great strides already being made by the major OOH media owners to get the ecosystem working programmatically are a huge first step. Media Protocol, another founding member of the Digital Future Council, is looking to create the protocol from which everyone works. So, just as we use FTP for File Transfers or HTTP for Hypertext Transfer for websites, everyone in the media industry could use the same protocol, an important step that will make it a whole lot easier to implement at each step of the process.

McDonalds Digital OOH McWeather

What next?

Imagine a brand manager who is able to interrogate the blockchain containing their campaign information, to see ALL media buys, content distribution, ALL playout reports, and tracking, from across the entire digital supply chain. That is truly powerful and unifies the currently fragmented digital advertising space.

We’re excited by the prospect, but let’s not forget to take it one step at a time. Programmatic first, blockchain second. Arguably, the leap to blockchain should be easier after the shift to programmatic DOOH. However, the industry will have to adopt blockchain-based solutions en masse for them to be useful and effective; and there are plenty of players in the DOOH ecosystem who may not feel as incentivised as others to make this dream a reality.

The week before Cannes your inbox lights up, brimming with emails from long-lost clients, agency friends and Cannes comrades asking if you’re going to the Cote d’Azur next week. Half the industry is buzzing in anticipation, the other half are planning their week of World Cup viewing. For me this year, Cannes was a chance to join my fellow founding members of the Digital Future Council as we strategise over the future of our respective creative and media worlds. To catch up with a number of industry partners, clients, agencies and, well, let’s face it… mates. It’s not all work.

The Digital Future Council had a villa a short walk from the Croisette and the founding members had sessions on Monday and Tuesday. Sessions centred on Blockchain technology and how it may affect the creative and media worlds. Much more to come on this (watch this space). The event was well attended and prompted a lively debate about technology and the future. I spoke with people from varying industries all tasked with understanding new tech roles for their business. It is clear the tech players are beginning to own Cannes. Facebook, Snap, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Spotify all have prominent spots along La Croisette beachfront. Plenty more had their yachts moored up for intimate chats with the right person. But it’s clear the ad tech world is viewing Cannes with big cow eyes. Rubicon, Trade Desk and MediaMath booked out some nice spaces to party into the night, while the Media Agencies take their usual spots at large hotels. It definitely feels like the tech players and publishers are splashing the cash to get in on the action.

Despite Lion’s creative heritage and emphasis on being creative, this year’s festival was dominated by technology. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), blockchain, Artificial Intelligence and printing technology, and how these technological advancements are about to change the face of the creative and media worlds. With well publicised decreased agency presence, the void was filled by digital firms shouting about their tech-based offerings. As well as entertaining the creative community nightly with live music, beaches and of course cocktails, Minuty and Lager beer on tap (they know us so well.) So much entertainment was on offer that chats at each beach party invariably moved quickly on to ’where we going next?’ or ’did you see The Killers last night?’ or ’are you going to watch Duran Duran later?’ (incidentally overheard on the Croisette from a young Lion ’I think my mum saw Duran Duran once’ – man I feel old.)

So are the awards a sideshow to all of this? I don’t think so. The two mutually exist. While there were several peers I spoke to that by Thursday hadn’t even picked up their delegate pass, there were quite a few discussions about shortlists and awards from that night or the next. I was really pleased to see the hard work I put in with the Cannes Lions Outdoor team come to life on the awards side of things. For too long I’ve written about how the categorisation of Outdoor has almost excluded Digital. It’s now fully integrated into the Outdoor category, though judging by the shortlists and entries it’ll take a few years to bed in on both agency and judging sides. Don’t get me wrong, there were some very worthy winners, but there were also again some technically suspect entries with poor categorisations.

In amongst everything were some real flashes of brilliance, and a real stand out I thought, was McCann London’s, XBOX Dynamic Campaign Outdoor win. A very smart and dynamic way to promote a product they were not allowed to talk about. Outside of that, it was great to see our partner Adam and Eve do well at Lions, especially for the great Project 84 campaign, but also in reclaiming the coveted agency of the year award.

Tech tech tech. This platform. The whole thing is pointless without effective creative, storytelling and crafting. So the question is: With all this technology, from sponsors, platforms, publishers, media owners, tech providers and future thinkers are we ruining the ’festival of creativity’?

I cannot see it changing anytime soon. Creative and Media are a huge business. And Tech knows it. Tech is rich. Tech is powerful. Tech can woo your client on the yacht while you’re watching The Killers.

We are stood at the very beginning of a transformation of the media and creative worlds in terms of digitisation and technologification. Predictive analytics and artificial intelligence are set to change the way we buy, distribute and attribute campaign work at scale. Smarter integrated campaigns, with better results for clients. Transparent in their process through the implementation of blockchain technology throughout the entire campaign. There is still a race to be the first. I feel there should be more pressure on collectively being ’the best’ as industries, working collaboratively to build a brighter technological future so that smarter creative can make the whole thing work.

Daniel Dawson, CCTO Grand Visual