Dow Jones Media Group Is Experimenting With a Blockchain Platform That Wants to Wipe Out the Ad-Tech Industry

Brave browser will reward readers for engaging with content

Brave has 12,000 "verified publishers" on its platform. Brave
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Digital media is full of companies that clog up advertising. Ad-tech vendors require multiple companies to serve ads and the duopoly of Facebook and Google dictate how publishers distribute content on platforms.

At the same time, publishers are looking for more ways to directly collect data from readers and rely less on third parties for ad targeting to comply with the European Union’s General Data Practices Regulations (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25.

Dow Jones Media Group—which is made up of brands like MarketWatch, Barron’s and Financial News—is experimenting with bypassing the so-called tech middlemen. Through a partnership with web browser Brave, Dow Jones Media Group will work with Brave to test new ways to distribute content and advertising as part of a promotion that offers readers free subscription-based content.

“We try and develop new ways of communicating with readers where we partner more freely perhaps than in other parts of the group,” said Almar Latour, publisher of Dow Jones Media Group. “We have a keen interest in blockchain, privacy and how digital users interact with content.”

Here’s how it works: Consumers who download Brave will receive a free two-year subscription to either MarketWatch or Barron’s premium newsletters. A one-year subscription to Barron’s typically costs $19.99 a month or $240 for a year. As part of the deal, Dow Jones Media Group will join Brave’s list of 12,000 “verified publishers,” including 3,000 publishers like Washington Post and WikiHow and 8,000 YouTube and Twitch creators. In exchange for engaging with content from verified publishers, users earn virtual tokens that can be used to unlock premium content like a webinar or play a game.

“These are large platforms where we think that the creators have been undercompensated and sometimes been taken advantage of,” said Brendan Eich, Brave co-founder and former CEO of Mozilla.

The currencies are dubbed Basic Attention Tokens (or BAT) and are Brave’s version of cryptocurrency that fits into a blockchain-based ad network that incentivizes users to engage with ads. Dow Jones Media Group and Brave will work to experiment with “consent-based” ads that require consumers to confirm that they are interested in seeing ads, for example.

Brave has not always been publishers’ friend. In 2016, a group of publishers (including Dow Jones-owned The Wall Street Journal) sent Brave a cease and desist letter outlining how the browser blocks ads but pulls in publishers’ content.

According to Eich, Brave is positioning itself to actually help publishers by stripping out complex ad-tech companies and platforms and serve a limited number of ads that they make money off of through a revenue-share model. Using Apple’s App Store as an example, Eich said the goal is to pay creators 70 percent of ad revenue. The ads are sold either by Brave’s team or directly through a publisher’s sales team. Brave had 2 million active users at the end of March.

“We’re trying to reconnect the funding that comes in gross payments after the fact from advertisers and gets chopped down by a bunch of middle players—notably Google—and the remnants are given to publishers,” Eich said. “We’d like to improve the efficiency of that system by cutting out the middle players and help publishers directly connect to their readers.”

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.