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Addressing Challenges of the TV & Film Digital Supply Chain

Following up to my previous article where I scratched the surface of what we’re architecting, I now want to get into a bit more detail of what we’re thinking about with regards to the Digital Supply Chain. And why we believe blockchain is the perfect technology to drive advancement in this space.

As you may recall, we’re doing something more than building “just another internet marketplace”. (Although the marketplace is core to our business model).

I mentioned blockchain, but we’re not just simply adding crypto-currency as a payment option so we can call it a crypto business.

Our aim is to transform the TV and Film digital supply chain industry (currently a manual, email and PDF process) and implementing it onto the blockchain. The marketplace will sit on top of this to provide a seamless, end to end solution with related value-add services.

A Complex Supply Chain

Photo Credits: Pixabay

Before we continue and explore what specific components will sit on the blockchain, let’s take a step back and talk about what is this “supply chain”?

Supply chain here, does not refer to the movement of physical goods from one party to another (although, in this industry, it is not all that uncommon today for content assets to be loaded on to hard disks and couriered in bubble wrap to the prospective buyer).

What we are talking about is the end-to-end digitized supply chain for content, specifically the

listing, discovery, acquisition of rights and delivery of digital content for the TV and Film industry.

In the early days leading up to the formation of Vuulr, the “supply chain” comprises of three primary components. These are (and I’ll refer to this later in this article as “Vuulr’s Foundation Framework”):

  1. Content Identifier — the “ISBN” of TV & Film Titles
  2. Content Metadata — the data that describes the content (title, synopsis, actors, etc)
  3. Content Avails, or Rights — what is available to be traded and what has already been sold

It is the third component, the Avails, where things get really interesting. We realize, though, that without solving the complexities around the first two components, we wouldn’t get very far with Avails, and thus, the Marketplace would flop.

Ian, our CEO, has a good explanation on our specific thinking of and the genesis that lead to the identification of these components.

We found that from the perspective of the TV & Film Industry, the “supply chain” was a little deeper than what we thought at that time. We have since come to further refine and align our thinking with what the industry as a whole has defined.

Enter the MovieLabs Digital Distribution Framework (MDDF).
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A very descriptive whitepaper can be found here

The MDDF builds upon the three critical components outlined above, providing a much more holistic framework. You may be thinking that some of these other components may not seem relevant to Vuulr’s short-term business. While today this is true, we hold a long term vision that addresses each of these components to meet the changing needs of our customers.

Adapted from the MovieLabs Digital Distribution Framework

In particular, some components we’re keen on expanding into include:

  1. Media Manifest
  2. Content Ratings
  3. Extras and Media Interactivity
  4. Reporting

Not to get ahead of ourselves, the initial three components outlined in the Vuulr Foundation Framework remain the core focus of our early work. We view the MDDF as an extension to our Foundation Framework and the two overlap and complement each other.

We are delighted to be collaborating with such industry groups as MovieLabs, EMA (Entertainment Merchant’s Association) and EIDR (Entertainment ID Registry) in realizing this joint vision. On the 9th of January this year, Ian and I attended the EMA Digital Forum @ CES in the United States, where we jointly announced the establishment of EMA’s first international arm, “EMA Asia”, to be operated by Vuulr.

Vuulr CEO Ian presenting at EMA’s Digital Forum @ CES on EMA Asia

Vuulr has also since become an official member of EIDR, enabling us to integrate EIDR registration into our supply chain implementation.

(See EIDR, EMA and MovieLabs for more information…)

On to the Blockchain!

“That’s wonderful, where does the blockchain come into play” you may be asking…

Our position is that the blockchain is the best delivery mechanism for the Vuulr Foundation Framework. Why? Can’t we simply build a standard client-server architecture implementing this and plop the marketplace on top?

We could, but the industry as a whole would be much better served leveraging an open, distributed and decentralized technology. The immediate benefits of leveraging public blockchain include:

  1. Open — Available for all to use and not controlled by any one organization. Access constraints are codified and known to all.
  2. Trust (or trust-less disintermediation!) — There’s no single organization or person who controls the information — not even Vuulr.
  3. Immutability — Information cannot be altered by those who are not authorized to.

Allow me to explain how these benefits apply to each of the three components of the Vuulr Foundation Framework. I’ll also describe a little about how we are planning to implement them. But as with the rest of the Blockchain ecosystem, things are very much in flux and we may alter some of the implementations as time goes on.

(1) Content Identifiers

As mentioned earlier, a movie or a TV show must be addressable by a unique, common identifier. And this identifier, once created, shouldn’t need to change down the road.

Movie A is addressable by the ID ABC123, and it should forever be addressable by ABC123. Note that there’s another layer of complexity that I won’t get into at this stage and that deals with content edits and adaptations. The basic premise remains valid.

The Industry (primarily in North America) has already come up with a standard for content identifiers. The not-for-profit organization EIDR manages this standard and maintains a centralized registry. Instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel, we would much prefer working with EIDR as they share much of our vision and have already enjoyed a lot of traction in the industry thus far. In fact, the likes of Netflix and Google Play are requiring their content providers to work with EIDR. The momentum is already there.

A critical component to the Vuulr Foundation Framework, we’re planning to build an interface to the EIDR registry on the blockchain and are currently architecting what that might look like.

(2) Content Metadata

Metadata is what describes a Title. The title, list of actors and actresses, the director, synopses, and the “poster image” all serve as Metadata.

It is this MetaData that eventually becomes the On-Screen guide that you and I see at when choosing what to watch.

This Metadata needs to be available in many languages. Sometimes when a Broadcaster or OTT buys a title, the distributor or Rights Holder will only have a partial of the MetaData, in one language, as a PDF brochure. Because of this, many broadcasters HAVE to employ teams of people to collect it, write it and edit it for populating their own on-screen guide. As a result, this work is often replicated again and again by different Broadcasters & OTTs around the world as there is no existing mechanism for sharing/trading. It’s an incredibly inefficient system.

The industry has just created a definition of Metadata and the interoperability standards describing it. (See “Common Metadata”). This specific definition of Metadata, can, in theory, be immutable. Upon release of a movie, it’s list of producers and crew members probably won’t change. But, the method of implementation should support future adaptations, such as adding translations.

Vuulr sees an opportunity to provide value back to the industry by building this Metadata standard onto the blockchain. Broadcasters & OTTs will benefit as it will be a single, decentralised source of interoperable data usable as they see fit.

(3) Content Rights / Avails

Another attractive element of the vision is bringing Avails (or “Availablity and Rights Management”) to the blockchain. Today, there’s no central repository for storing a single version of truth. That information is maintained manually, often in Excel Spreadsheet held on someone’s laptop with all the opportunities for error and miscommunication. Creating a single, trusted, distributed ledger of availability is a perfect application for the blockchain.

In fact, while we were in the United States for the EMA Digital Forum @ CES, we heard from several content retailers that it would be great if there was some sort of single, global listing of Titles and their respective Avails for all to access and benefit from. This was welcomed validation of our thinking!

Of course, there are many Rights holders who may not want this information to be in the clear for all to see. Some may view this as confidential trade secrets critical to their competitive advantage.

Let’s explore doing just that for a moment. What if we could put this information on the blockchain, but in a secure way, allowing only those authorized to query? (e.g. the buyer and seller)

Further, all Avails contracts related to a specific title would be in one place, query-able at any time.

The entire history of TV & Film Rights trading would be available, immutable and secure.

This would bring a considerable amount of transparency to an industry handicapped by complexity and with its fair share of legal challenges. No longer would rights owners have to rely on excel sheets to know what rights packages are available in what geographies within a period!

Taking this one step further, Vuulr envisions a system where even the commercial and release of rights can be fully automated. This can become a reality by leveraging DApp smart contracts, with escrow built right in. Once a rights package (period, geography and distribution channels) is negotiated, these are codified and activated only upon receipt of funds.

Our Vision for autonomous, decentralized Rights trade

The diagram above represents a simplified illustration of our long-term vision of enabling TV & Film Rights transactions in a completely decentralized, autonomous and trustworthy way. The final solution will almost certainly look very differently from this crude early representation.

But in summary, the key steps are:

  1. The Content Creator (e.g. the Studio) adds the Title to the Marketplace. The relevant Avails are defined. Behind the scenes, the different layers of the Foundation stack are invoked and the Title is ready to be transacted on
  2. A would-be buyer accesses the Marketplace for relevant Titles
  3. Titles matching the interests and Avails criteria are returned for the Buyer’s further evaluation and selection
  4. Buyer and Seller negotiates on terms via the Marketplace negotiation module and final terms are agreed
  5. Buyer submits the equivalent value in crypto to the Avails Engine dapp (Smart Contract). The funds are effectively held in “escrow” by the dapp and are not released until told to do so (item 10)
  6. Seller is notified funds have been received by the Avails Engine DApp
  7. Seller instructs Avails Engine DApp to release Title and related Metadata, extras and manifests to the Buyer
  8. Avails Engine DApp instructs Media Distribution and Delivery process for transcoding and delivery of Title to Buyer
  9. Buyer receives Title and supporting materials in desired formats
  10. Avails Engine dapp is instructed to release funds held in escrow to the Seller
  11. Seller receives funds held in escrow

It’s important to note that this is merely part of our long term vision — we will need to balance the desire or need for transparency with the Rights holder’s desire or need for privacy or confidentiality. These are details to be worked out with industry involvement and consultation via our various trade association memberships.

Foundation Services and The Marketplace

These three components of the Vuulr Foundation Framework will sit within the “Vuulr Foundation” suite of tools. The Vuulr Foundation will be self-serviced and self-reliant. This means, content buyers and sellers can use the Foundation services independent of the Vuulr Marketplace. By doing so, they will still enjoy the benefits of an all-in-one, standards-based digital supply chain system.

This may be attractive to some who wish to take advantage of the supply chain technology while using their existing in-house TV & Film Rights trading teams. Other organizations may prefer a more all-in-one solution and trade directly with the Marketplace (itself a direct consumer of Foundation services).

We’re working on formalizing the spec of the Foundation technology stack and will be sharing more details as time goes on.

If you have any specific suggestions or interests in working with us on developing this, do reach out!

Speak to our team directly on our Telegram at @Vuulr


Chris Drumgoole is the Chief Technology Officer of Vuulr. Connect with Chris on his LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisdrum/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cdrum.

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