Comcast Is Working With Spectrum and Viacom on a Blockchain-Based Identity Solution  

Data transfer technology Blockgraph poised for rollout in 2019

The technology will let advertisers target audiences in a privacy-compliant way. Getty Images
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Comcast’s advertising unit today announced it is working with Spectrum Reach and Viacom on a blockchain-based offering that will help it better match audience data with advertisers in a privacy-compliant way to target ads across screens.

Dubbed Blockgraph, the new initiative involves an “identity layer” on which media owners can offer advertisers audience targeting at scale in a manner that better ensures the privacy of their viewers and also helps protect them from data leakage.

This is possible because each Blockgraph participant’s data stays on their own systems with the identity layer effectively acting as a firewall that lets advertisers verify the audiences they are looking for in a manner that means media owners don’t have to expose commercially sensitive audience data.

Planning the initiative began in 2017 before launching a beta program earlier this year, incubated within the specialist programmatic unit FreeWheel, ahead of a full 2019 rollout with partners including Charter Communication’s Spectrum Reach, Viacom and a host of MVPD players that will be publicly named at a later date.

Jason Manningham, Blockgraph general manager, told Adweek the scheme was geared toward introducing audience efficiencies. The previous means of data-led audience targeting involved using third parties to provide a blind match.

By contrast, Blockgraph is a peer-to-peer platform that lets participants perform blind matches directly using encryption technologies that create non-identifiable data and use blockchain protocols. Additional attributes are matched against encrypted Blockgraph identifiers.

“Marketers are under pressure from their CFOs to spend budget efficiently and prove advertising ROI,” Manningham said. “In order to do this, they need to find their most valuable customers, reach them efficiently and analyze their effectiveness of their campaigns.”

Blockgraph will help advertisers do so using a closed loop that ensures the security of their audience data, unlike other major platforms such as the media industry’s walled gardens.

“A handful of digital media companies and platforms are receiving and storing the bulk of the data and they have become increasingly valuable to marketer,” Manningham said. “However, this also comes with a cost because once the marketer exposes its customer list to those platforms, they lose control.”

Targeting capabilities on platforms such as the walled gardens has meant that ad spend on digital surpassed that of TV in 2017, according to eMarketer. Manningham acknowledged that the traditionally siloed nature of audience data in the TV sector has made it difficult for media buyers to target audiences at scale. However, the centralization, or aggregation, of TV audience data is unlikely to happen due to competitive and data privacy concerns, and his company is using a decentralized ledger to help solve this problem.

“You don’t actually need to centralize all the data to get a shared understanding of an audience and that you’re seeing the same people,” he said.

Denise Colella, svp advantaged advertising products and strategy at Comcast-owned NBCUniversal spoke with Adweek about how the technology could be used to transact media at scale.

“We use Open AP as a common exchange [to sell inventory], and we could potentially see Blockgraph becoming an element of Open AP,” she said. “Obviously, nothing’s been decided yet, but it could act as a data provision mechanism for an [advertising] exchange.”

Kern Schireson, chief data officer, Viacom, said such audience targeting is already available but is “clunky, expensive and slow” and that such technologies could enable his company to reduce ad-load time without having to sacrifice revenue, as better audience matching will help improve yield.

He added, “So, like any good enabling technology, we think that Blockgraph is really going to allow us to decorate advanced advertising impressions with the right data from all the relevant partners in a transparent, efficient and privacy-compliant way.”

@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.