Blockchain your video (some assembly required)

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Blockchain has much to offer the video world, but it’s not a simple silver-bullet solution. Verimatrix CTO Petr Peterka explains why that’s not a bad thing.

Blockchain has perhaps become the big buzzword of 2018. That’s partly because blockchain is the technology behind the infamous Bitcoin, but it’s also because more people are starting to realize that the distributed ledger properties of blockchain can be applied to far more than generating cryptocurrencies. We’re already seeing demonstrations of blockchain being used for shipping logistics, wholesale settlements, diamond tracking and music streaming, to name a few.

The video industry is also fascinated with blockchain now, and it’s not hard to see why – a core feature of digital video services is the ability to track video content rights and enforce DRM business rules to prevent piracy whilst ensuring paying customers are authorized to access purchased content. However, this is often done via proprietary centralized systems.

Blockchain has the potential to decentralize such operations without sacrificing the security of proprietary systems. For instance, blockchain could be used to enable a decentralized database that is not governed by a single company or organization (an example being a digital locker such as DECE’s Ultraviolet). A blockchain-based app could publish content metadata and available content formats, as well as the rights that are required to distribute or consume such content. It can also aggregate usage stats or keep track of rights that consumers acquire over time and make sure those rights survive content format changes, DRM rule changes, or service provider changes.

Naturally, it’s not nearly that simple. Blockchain was designed with a particular app in mind (digital currencies), which means it doesn’t translate seamlessly to other types of apps. Consequently, there are pros and cons to take into consideration when applying it to the video ecosystem. 

The good, the bad and the ugly

The pros have been well hyped by now. Blockchain’s decentralized nature makes it resilient and able to work across multiple standards and organizations. It also provides a high level of authenticity, integrity and immutability – hackers can’t alter records, and those records come with an audit trail that can date back several years.

As for the cons, there are several, and they’re mostly related to efficiency. For a start, blockchain is incredibly data-intensive because all transactions are recorded and everyone on the network has a copy – that’s a lot of data to store and move around. Proof of work algorithms are computationally (and thus financially expensive). And blockchain is slow when it comes to processing high volumes of transactions. All of these can add up to serious scaling issues down the line.

There are ways to mitigate the limitations of blockchain with the right architecture. For example, you can be more selective regarding which data to store on the network, use a lighter, cost-effective consensus algorithm (like proof of stake or proof of authority) and limit transaction frequency. So, in the case of video, for instance, the content owner can store data on content publishing and content acquisition by a service provider, but not every single subscriber view.

The key takeaway is that blockchain is malleable enough so that it can be customized to serve a given application. The trick is to understand exactly what you want blockchain to do for you, then developing the right architecture to make it do just that.

Capsule case study: Veriteem

Recently, Verimatrix did just that with its Veriteem distributed ledger technology (DLT) for enterprise applications that aims to address security gaps for IoT blockchain apps. The Verimatrix team had been looking at ways to use Ethereum as an IoT security solution but found the public version expensive to use with inconsistent transaction performance, and it also lacked control over malicious users spamming the ledger or storing illegal information. On the flip side, a private Ethereum blockchain didn’t provide enough openness for public read access. .

The solution was a permission-based “open read and controlled write” DLT, which essentially restricts write access and adds proof of authority. Veriteem also makes use of Ethereum’s smart contracts capability to enforce its permissions-based approach. The smart contracts can only be created by ‘Guardians’, who have sole authority for closing blocks and control the different ledger applications and validate transactions. This approach limits usage risks without sacrificing the crucial blockchain benefits of permanence and public verification without the need for a central admin.

While Veriteem was created as an IoT security solution, it can also be applied in the video distribution world – after all, video set-top boxes were IoT before IoT was cool. Also, Veriteem can enable an open, decentralized and more efficient marketplace for content discovery, acquisition and usage reporting that optimizes the relationship and transactions between content owners and service providers.

The point is that blockchain has a lot to offer the video services ecosystem – but it’s neither a silver bullet nor a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s not a bad thing – it just means that all the various players in the video ecosystem should first get a firm understanding of what blockchain can (and cannot) do for them, and then find the most effective way to leverage the benefits.

Petr Peterka, CTO of VerimatrixWritten by Petr Peterka, CTO of Verimatrix | For more about the role of blockchain in the video ecosystem, click here. And for more info on Veriteem, click here

This article is sponsored content from Verimatrix

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