Ian McKee is the Founder and CEO of Vuulr, a Content Marketplace platform looking to change the existing paradigm of trading content – a process that Ian describes as “not having fundamentally changed for decades – ever since televisions were black and white!”
AdAsia had the pleasure of sitting down with Ian to understand the proposition of Vuulr and the impact he was looking to bring to the world of content commerce. I also hoped to get more of a grip on my understanding of Blockchain and what changes we might see in the future.
Hi Ian, perhaps you could give us an overview of what you’re trying to achieve with Vuulr and tell us a little more about how you’re applying blockchain to the area of content?
“Content is an exploding category at the moment driven by huge chunks of the world population coming online with smartphones allowing them to consume content. There is a fast growing demand for content and linked to that therefore is a great opportunity to monetise the delivery of content and that’s why you see giants like Apple starting to move into it. There’s Facebook and Google too, of course, and Amazon and Netflix are firmly established broadcasters. Additionally companies known for traditionally making content are now looking to get into the business of delivering content – companies like Disney and Fox.
“What I spotted was the way the content industry trades that asset itself. It’s extremely old fashioned. If you’re a film studio or production house looking to get a piece of content distributed out to broadcasters around the world, you typically have to give exclusive 3-year agreements to a middle man – not very high tech companies with individuals who fly around the world selling your content and taking a 30 to 40% slice of the value.
“So this is an area of opportunity. At Vuulr we’re building an online marketplace. Marketplaces are well proven – Airbnb, Alibaba and even Tinder are good examples – and we’re bringing it to this category.
“In order to allow the industry to transact we needed to create a layer of good data to facilitate search and categorisation within the content.
“We are addressing three key areas: unique asset IDs, much like ISBN numbers for books; rights management, based on the blockchain; and meta-data, short descriptions, also put on the blockchain.”
Could you tell us more about the business model please Ian?
“It’s quite simple. For content owners it’s free to list their content on the platform. It’s free for the buyer to come and use our tools – search content, watch trailers and search avails. When a deal is done we take a small commission from the seller.”
Who are you talking to so far and what are the timescales for the business?
“We’ve got a very good relationship with MediaCorp and will be getting a number of their titles on board. Ditto with ALTBalaji, a video on demand platform owned by one of the major Bollywood producers. We’re in conversations with Disney and others around the region. We hope that when we launch it will be with two or three hundred titles.”
Is there the opportunity in the future to grow this into a B2C proposition?
“Stage one will be simply holding the listing data. After that, stage two will be actual asset management where we will hold the actual file and supply it to anyone buying it in the format they want with the appropriate transcoding. We’ll do that through the cloud. At that point we’ll have a large catalogue of content and it wouldn’t be difficult to bolt on an OTT streaming component. So technically not difficult. But it would mean that from a business standpoint we would be competing with our customers so we probably won’t do it.”
So as brands transform themselves into their own publishing houses, have you thought what your platform could allow them to do?
“Yes. There are a number of options and one of our first thoughts is allowing brands to link themselves to content and participate, for example, on a sponsorship journey. Miele might like to associate themselves with MasterChef for example and use the platform to register an interest to sponsor MasterChef in certain markets.
“But let’s return to brands as content creators. You and I could probably count the number of brands on the fingers of a couple of hands who have really done this successfully and I see it as a nut that they all have to crack.
“They will need to change the model of engagement. They’ve been in control of what gets presented and to whom and when, but what we’re seeing with ad blocking technology and people choosing to move to VOD packages, people are increasingly choosing what they want to watch and I see brands needing to move away from agencies and media buyers and working more with the filmmakers themselves.”
What about other applications of blockchain?
“I am convinced that it will become a mainstream technology platform. And that many industries will adopt it in the next five years.
“So what changes? One key thing is trust.
“Everyone keeps their own stuff because they don’t trust other people. Everyone has their own data about the same thing. Buyers and vendors have the same lists for prices. Copies of the same contract are held on each party’s own computer networks. Armies of accountants and clerks will process this and check it. To give it a name we could class it as ‘supply chain’ – where there many parties involved across a series of dependent transactions – all of this can be simplified with blockchain – everyone sees a single and trusted view.
“The other way is record keeping. Property transactions are so archaic and we don’t need the lawyers potentially.”
So do lawyers need to be worried and looking over their shoulder as far as Blockchain is concerned?
“And there are some others. It’s a great way to represent assets digitally – a share of a building, a company or fine art – things that can be tokenised and the traded. We’ll see a huge benefit to the global economy when these things can be traded in a lower friction way.
“The last one is about streamlining what the banks do – moving money will become instant and virtually free, or at least at very low cost when that is done as a cryptocurrency. Banks are also very worried and a lot of the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt – ed.) is orchestrated by the old guard. Banks and countries are worried about losing fiscal control and charging ordinary people for using the architecture and the framework they have in place.
“All this will allow individuals to have access to some of the most valuable assets – opportunities that have historically been restricted to the few.”
Another couple of blockchain examples please.
“Steemit is a platform that cuts out the ‘rent-seeking middlemen’. In a traditional model, a content creator – a journalist perhaps – would have their content published say in The Economist where the consumer of the content will add the value probably with an advertising or subscription model underpinning it. Steemit is looking to connect the content creators directly with the consumer of the content and this, like so many emerging business models, is built on the blockchain. The consumers, the users will pay the creator via a micropayment without the need for a branded publisher. This is an example of the blockchain causing the disintermediation of an existing model and there are plenty of other examples.
“The blockchain can, in a trustful way, connect the person who’s creating the thing of value with the person who wants to consume the thing of value and to transfer that value in a trusted way without the need for a publisher – a Google or a Facebook.
“The last case is the advertising example, – the ‘ad’ agency world is in disarray with a number of issues – ad blocking and ad fraud and programmatic playing a large part, mainly by obfuscating what happens in the middle. The blockchain can make this more transparent with some people suggesting this can be applied to existing structures and others saying a more fundamental shake up and fresh start is required.
“The ‘Basic attention token’ from Brave is a concept where attention is the most important currency whilst allowing it to be traded between consumers, advertisers and publishers.”
In conclusion: This writer thinks the blockchain is clearly a potentially transformative technology and presents new ways of transacting, underpinned by a de-centralised ledger. With Vuulr, Ian has identified an existing area that needs change and created a new platform – marketplace – to address a business need.
This sets Vuulr apart from other ‘Blockchain’ solutions where the technology has been used, to some extent at least, to find the problem.
Finally, we should end with some caution. The blockchain, far from being the modern-day technological panacea that some paint it as, comes with its own set of problems and challenges. Even if it is part of a solution to an existing business or industry problem, this may mean that any solution will be a far from stress-free ride.
Editor: Carl Griffith