After I exited Volcanic and left it in the hands of GroupM in 2016, which was then the largest social media agency in the region with more than 100 people, I was thinking about what to do next. I guess it’s in my DNA to go back to first principles;
- Look at tech enablement
- market readiness and
- observe people’s behaviour patterns, then try to identify where those 3 things converge.
Recognising Convergence of Patterns
I have been a technologist for the early part of my career, working for companies like Sun Microsystems. I recalled back in 2004, I was sitting at my desk one day and staring at my Nokia phone, with my Palm Pilot next to it. The Palm was a good old buddy, it synced to my laptop, calendar and my address books; good features, but it couldn’t do my phone calls. Having done an engineering degree, I knew that fundamentally these two devices are the same and it is inevitable they will make way for the arrival of the smart phone. At that time, I just started blogging on a newly launched platform called Typepad. Looking at these 3 separate things, I envisioned a device we can carry around; meaning that the internet was no longer tethered to our desks, but it would be in our pockets. It would have easy to use tools that everybody could use to publish and share their stories. And because brands are so important in our daily consumption and use, we spend about 60% of all our conversations talking about the experiences we have with brands. So, if we are able to publish this by sharing photographs and videos and text, it means this word-of-mouth would be on what is now known as Social Media (the term had not been coined then). This, would have a completely transformative effect on the advertising and marketing of a brand. It was then I decided to make a pivot in my life, and started a company that addresses this coming change. That’s where the name Vocanic came from, V.O.C — the Voice Of Customer.
Because of the work that I had done with clients like Astro, StarHub and Discovery Networks, I have had glimpses into the broadcast content industry, and found it fascinating and appealing. It was something interesting to get into.
The “What used to be called TV” sector is undergoing huge disruption, primarily from the same things that disrupted the marketing industry before; smartphones phones plus high-speed internet. This brought with it, the ability to deliver entertainment content, as they say Over-The-Top (of the Internet) or OTTs. The OTTs, being able to deliver video entertainment content, over the top of a broadband content, brought with it disruption to that industry as they have such a fundamentally different cost and reach structure.
And where there’s disruption, there’s opportunity. Disruption forces industries to look at assumptions and to put that assumptions back onto the table — Is there a better way of doing it?
The Dollar Value of Change
In a report by BCG, it was quoted that “The value of content rights traded every year is worth US$240 billion dollars”. And this is done face to face at trade shows, then followed up via phone, fax and emails. This manual process from discovery to delivery, can sometimes take a slow 3 to 6 months to be completed.
On average, the industry standard for the intermediary for the content distributor or agent stands at 35% plus cost. Whilst a big content creator selling their main titles like “Lord of the Rings” to big customers like Netflix would be done face to face, the rest of their business which is the mid to long tail of their content catalogue, and being sold to the mid to the long tail broadcasters around the world, is often put through the distributors simply as a distribution mechanism. So, in terms of number of deals done, vast majority goes through the intermediaries.
The solution was clearly to modernise the process of matching buyer and product. Marketplaces have already transformed almost every other industry, and it was clear that there was a huge opportunity for the industry to reap savings by using an online marketplace to transact.
Thinking more deeply about this, I realised that:
a marketplace is only as good as the data upon which it sits.
To add complexity to old practices, the TV industry culturally is still evolving from its analogue roots. So, it has what you might politely call “sloppy data habits”. I realised we would need to explore a little wider than simply a marketplace. We needed to address a problem that sits upstream. This created the basis of Vuulr’s proposition;
a digital supply chain for the TV and film broadcast content ecosystem and it is upon that, that our marketplace sits.
The entrance of Blockchain — Solving fundamental problems underlying the Film & TV industry
As we were scouring for feasible approaches to the problems that we needed to solve, it became apparent that a blockchain was the absolute ideal native solution. Let me highlight the three areas,
1 To transact business digitally through a supply chain, one of the first orders of work is to identify the item you are dealing with. For example, when you go to a supermarket, you will find a barcode on the side of your shampoo bottle. That barcode is by a standard body and used by all the manufacturers and retailers. You can simply take that shampoo bottle, check out at any retail, any country and it will be recognised. The book industry has the ISBN number, which allows for the supply chain in a book publishing industry. Amazon probably couldn’t be Amazon without that. But I was perplexed to find that although film and TV content assets are sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or millions of dollars, there is no unique identifier for them. Yet, they are inherently very complex because a film may have different titles in different parts of the world, each would come in dozens of variations, edited to different censorship laws, edited to length and edited to format (for instance, to fit on a little screen on the back of a seat in an airplane). It is not a singular item but an item with a family of variants. This complexity makes it even more important to find a powerful way to uniquely identify, and make sure buyers and sellers actually get what they are transacting. However, I’ve come to learn that this isn’t a common place of understanding for the film and TV content industry, for when a business is done face to face, this is less important. But for a business to be done electronically and digitally, it needed more precision and management. The content originator would absolutely want it known that they are the originator. Once a unique number and the details are fixed, it is fixed forever.
No one should be able to hack into the system, and suddenly take ownership of that unique identifier or make unauthorised changes, and disturb all the revenue streams that might come with it.
2 The second layer is the metadata. The metadata is the information about that film or TV show you see on your on-screen program guide; the title, synopsis, cast, producer, director, the year of production, genre, keywords and other crucial information. Again, the Film & TV content industry does not have a systematic approach to dealing with metadata, to the point that many broadcasters employ teams of people to collect it, write it and edit it because they need to have that information for their own on-screen guide. We asked ourselves, how can we create a metadata ecosystem where there is a single repository for content creators and the broadcasters to be able to collaborate more effectively by removing the vast amount of the rework that currently gets done around the world, fixing the same old problem again and again?
3 And lastly, the third lap, is the Availability/Rights Management, where the contractual status between the rights holder and the bodies who have contracted broadcast rights, need to be held as a single version of the truth. For example, there should be a single immutable view of whether a film is available in X territory for a specific period of time, with a particular rights package (meaning maybe a free-to-air / PayTV S-VOD etc), which is shared and kept updated by the people who have the rights to update it, but protected from interference, from anyone who do not have the authority.
Blockchain was the clear solution to the three problems described, from issuing a unique identifier to keeping a catalogue, which is openly accessible, is immutable, and trustless.
We would have these three components come together into creating a digital supply chain for the TV and film content distribution industry, and mapped under a single umbrella term called the Vuulr Foundation.
Vuulr will be providing the service to do digital asset management, the transcoding, the delivery, handling, payment, end-to-end of the current process that the broadcaster needs to search for, evaluate, negotiate, contract and then take delivery. Instead of the minimum 3 months and to 6 months that it takes to transact today,
Vuulr’s vision is to compress that process to simply 24 hours.
If you imagine the disruptions that will rock the way the film & TV industry operates forever, these opportunities are tremendous. I am sure we haven’t even imagined all the opportunities that will come up as we journey. Sitting where we are at the moment, we are about to start our ICO process. Vuulr will be issuing our own tokens that will be circulated within this eco-system and enable all the transactions, removing intermediaries’ cost and reduce friction across the supply chain.
I hope you would join us in this journey of change as we collectively make entertainment better and more accessible by creating a new broadcast content economy. Connect with us on one of our communication channels, my team and I would love to hear from you.
To be updated of our progress, please sign up for our Whitepaper and updates at vuulr.com.