Kirill Shilov

@kirillshilov

The Rise of Audio Finally Caught the Blockchain’s Attention

August 16th 2018

Now is the best time to be a content creator and publish things on the Internet, right? Surely with so many options for content to spread, from social media to blogs, live streams, stories, and more, it is easy to imagine that artists have it easy now. Before the Internet, people had to sell physical copies of their goods, and if you had something to say to an audience you needed to be on a talk or radio show. But times have changed and everyone has a voice to share to the world, yet the technology that fuels the audio industry is reluctant to catch up. We are seeing many industries receiving a much needed jumpstart with the introduction of blockchain technology. Is the audio industry going to be next?

Audio Enters the Digital World

Back when we were still listening to audio through a physical medium, whether that was in the form of vinyl records or cassette tapes, it was much easier for content creators to get paid. Sure, they may have signed a bad contract and a majority of the money was actually going to their producer/agent/director/etc., but the bottom line was that physical media typically only left the store in exchange for money.

When audio entered the digital world the game changed entirely. All of a sudden content creators had no idea where their content was going, and because this was before the time of Apple Music, there was no way for creators to get paid online for the things they created. Benjii Rogers, from dotBlockchain Media, points out in his Medium article that:

“Songs can have multiple writers, performers, publishers, and licenses, and even different usage rights by territory. A single song can sometimes have to pay out to multiple sets of people in different countries at different times through different organizations. To make matters worse, there is no central database anywhere in the world that tracks ownership.”

But this wasn’t, and still isn’t, a problem limited to music alone. There is no doubt that musicians aren’t getting compensated fairly for their work, as we discussed in one of our other articles, but the problem extends to other types of audio as well. Podcasts, for example, are still stuck in a monetization design that relies on individual advertisers as the primary way to support creators in exchange for shout-outs and endorsements, according to entrepreneur.com. Because podcasts are a personal form of media where the host is often respected by listeners who hang on every word, the need to endorse a product can cheapen the overall experience for all parties involved.

Given that podcasts and audiobooks are much younger than the music industry, it would be smart for major players in these emerging industries to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. IDP explains that:

“Given the ability of blockchain to bring all stakeholders to one platform to share data and execute smart contracts, the prospect for price optimization and increased transparency remains enormous.”

But as Stan Cornyn wrote in his book about the Warner Music Group, “In the race to adopt new technologies, the music industry historically has finished just ahead of the Amish.” The music industry always seems to lag behind when it comes to adopting new technology, and even though there are artists (like Imogen Heap and Bjork) trying to change that, it may be too late for the music industry to easily adopt a blockchain solution.

Still Small Enough to Change

The music industry is gigantic ($16 billion in 2016). Compare this to audiobooks ($2.1 billion in 2016) and podcasts ($119 million in 2016) and it comes as no surprise that it struggles to adopt new technology. However, audiobooks and podcasts might still be small enough that they can interweave new technology into their core to help eradicate problems before they even happen. One of the major issues with the digital audio world is the lack of tracking and accountability of content, something that the blockchain could certainly help with. Bill Rosenblatt, an intellectual property expert, said during an interview that:

“There have been various attempts to solve the data problems by building huge, centralized databases that would contain all of the data needed to manage rights and process royalty transactions… These projects all failed… for a number of reasons, including the sheer complexity of gathering and maintaining all that data in one place… Blockchains are a completely different approach to this.”

He goes on to discuss the idea of blockchains being used to track ownership rights for audio media, essentially by using an immutable digital watermark on the media itself (similar but far more advanced than the current “metadata” we use now). The whole purpose of being able to track this, of course, it to ensure that content creators are not only in control of their content, but are being fairly compensated for the work they’ve done. If we can address some of these underlying issues early it may help the industry grow faster. As Michael Mignano, CEO and co-founder of Anchor, wrote on Quora:

“Podcasts, which were once a subculture, now reach as many people in the U.S. monthly as Twitter does (around 67 million, to be exact).”

Getting Paid

There are specific steps that need to be followed before releasing something onto the Internet if creators want to be compensated for it.

  1. Pick a platform where they want to release it. This platform is responsible for regulating downloads, ensuring that those downloads can’t be copied and uploaded elsewhere, and operating as a financial channel between users and creators.
  2. Secure their work to their name; without proof that they are the owners of said content they are not guaranteed funds.
  3. Creators must promote their content. This often happens with the help of users who enjoy the content and share it on social media to spread it around.
  4. Pay those who have helped them along the process after they themselves have been paid.

This current system leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, on Audible there is no way for users to be rewarded when they help curate content (through tagging, voting, adding reviews, etc). The only reward systems that Audible offers are through referrals and milestone programs, neither of which has to do with content interaction. Another major problem is that when a creator picks a platform they force themselves into a silo, their content essentially being locked to that specific place. This is similar to when a musician chooses a label, a writer picks a publishing house, etc. Current industries are growing stale and are in dire need for change. The IDB explains in their extensive research paper:

“Overall, while value has shifted away from content creators, labels, studios, and publishers, among others, in effect to content intermediaries like Apple and Google, blockchain may disrupt their business models as well.”

When investigating the different ways that blockchain technology may help with this process, we have the perfect example coming to light through ContentBox, a company founded on the shoulders of podcast/audiobook giant Castbox.fm. Oftentimes, when blockchain solutions come to market they seem to spawn out of thin air, taking the form of a company that has no industry experience being led by a team that no one has ever heard of. In this case the opposite is quite true, which should make podcast and audiobook lovers rejoice. Castbox is highly recommended in the podcast community, particularly for its in-audio search function (which lets you find topics that may not be mentioned in titles/descriptions), and intuitive user interface that makes managing podcasts and audiobooks a breeze.

Castbox is already helping to revolutionize the podcast industry, but they realized they could do more by including blockchain technology in their current systems. One of the best things about ContentBox will be the content creator/user interconnected experience. Users who help curate content, whether by adding tags, descriptions, reviews, and the like, will be rewarded with a digital currency on the platform (that can be spent on other content or traded on the exchanges).

On top of the user/creator interactions, content creators will have a chance to be freed from doing endorsements/advertisements for products they don’t necessarily want to support. Being able to charge a small fee for podcasts will help creators support their productions without having to rely as heavily on outside sponsors. In traditional platforms creators typically lose most of their revenue to the platform, which thereby forces the need for sponsors to grow.

The real perk of using a blockchain for this, however, is the same perk that most blockchain-infused projects share: the ability to automate everything in an immutable way via smart contracts. Smart contracts keep everything fair, keep costs down, and ensure that there is no human error (or greed) involved. Lower platform costs mean higher creator earnings, which is a win-win.

Is the Market Ready?

Podcasts are certainly growing in popularity, and while the industry surrounding this form of audio media isn’t huge yet, it is certainly getting there. The music industry shares similar problems, and although some blockchain companies are trying to change the circumstances, the whole situation can be treated as a canary in a coal mine.

We may have waited too long in the music industry to fully introduce blockchain technology, but it is great to see podcast platforms getting ahead of the curve in this regard. They have a long road ahead of them, but with companies like Castbox.fm bringing 18 million users to ContentBox’s platform, blockchain podcast platforms have a promising future.

About the author:

Kirill Shilov — Founder of Geekforge.io and Howtotoken.com. Interviewing the top 10,000 worldwide experts who reveal the biggest issues on the way to technological singularity. Join my #10kqachallenge: GeekForge Formula.

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