Blockchain for Advertisers? Not This Year

We have been personally studying the blockchain technology for a couple of years now, especially when the head of the Mozilla Foundation left to develop a browser that uses it to make micropayments to content providers. And then, as we watched all this develop, we wrote about the blockchain’s capacity to clean up the digital advertising supply chain.

Eight months later, the IAB Tech Lab has released a white paper on the uses of blockchain for video advertising. 

Here are the main points:

• Blockchain technology has ramifications far beyond the financial sector.

As an immutable, distributed, transparent ledger, blockchain is a natural fit for the digital advertising supply chain

• Potential benefits of blockchain for advertising include increased efficiency, transparency, cost reduction, and the elimination of fraud.

• 2018 will be the year that a wide range of blockchain applications will be rolled out across digital and cross-screen video advertising including linear television, with 2019 likely being the year that these technologies begin to see broader adoption – provided certain risks can be mitigated.

• Long-form, premium video and TV advertising, with their high CPMs and low volume, is a compelling use case for blockchain. In the coming year, we expect to see some significant beta tests from both traditional media and new entrants.

In the white paper, we came across a big reason why this will be slow to catch on, despite its obvious utility.  It’s because cryptocurrencies and the blockchain are completely user-unfriendly right now. A company called MetaX in Los Angeles has been working with IAB to make ads.txt more secure. A Q&A with its developer produced this conversation:

How does Ads.txt Plus work?

“We implemented Ads.txt Plus on the Ethereum blockchain and in tandem, built a frontend UI to manage publisher ads.txt files and buyer lists. Publisher ads.txt files can be downloaded in aggregate from one place for buyers. Publishers themselves can maintain their file versions and either keep it on the blockchain endpoint and/or export to their web server.”

What does a publisher do in order to transact in this process? “A publisher has to input their ads.txt file into https://adstxt.plus. In order to implement, you need a digital wallet. Using a browser extension called MetaMask (in Chrome), you can implement a digital wallet right in the user’s browser. In this case, the user would be the publisher. They have a public address and they have a private key to this wallet. They take their public wallet address and they add it to their DNS records. In the text field, they add their wallet address. For example, today if you go to pubA.com/ads.txt, you can see all of the names of authorized sellers. In the future, if you augment that with your digital wallet and then go to pubA.com/ads.txtplus, you will see just the wallet address. The publisher can obfuscate all the authorized sellers so that it’s not readable but it’s still verifiable.”

Only people who have the key can read it? “By default, the file is publicly readable (and read only) and can be validated by all third parties. You can obfuscate the text using encryption and provide the key to your buyers. To update the file, you also need a separate private key.”

Let’s just say I’m a publisher, and I am trying to sell ads against my video content. How willing am I to go through the digital wallet setup and the public/private key infrastructure requirements.

Now let’s say I’m a young media planner. I’ve just learned the routines of my job, and now this one site wants me to go through a completely unfamiliar set of hoops? I think I’ll buy elsewhere.

While blockchain technology may be the ultimate solution to ad fraud, it will need a killer front end before it is widely adopted by the ad industry. Right now it’s a bare naked infrastructure that’s not for the faint of heart.  And we say that as experienced users and lovers of