If you have a rudimentary grasp of cryptocurrencies, the term blockchain may have flown under your radar once or twice. While the technology is mainly the throbbing heart of Bitcoin – serving as a distributed ledger mechanism – its possible other applications are plenty.
The blockchain is on its way to revolutionize the internet as we know it, and solve some of its nagging problems like copyright and security. Streaming video may be just one of the industries it’s about to flip upside down.
Here’s a quick primer: design-wise, blockchain is basically what you think it is: a chain of blocks. What’s important is how they are connected – each contains a cryptographic hash of the previous one, along with a timestamp and transaction data. The chain design makes it impossible to tamper with its individual blocks – i.e. change their content or number without being “detected”.
Blockchain can be adapted for various applications, but was originally invented as an effective, simple and fraud-proof method that made cryptocurrencies possible in the first place. By verifying transactions in a quick and secure way, it eliminated the problem of double-spending – without the need for a central authority and servers.
The simplicity, resilience and openness of the technology quickly inspired other applications: from financial services, real estate, contracts, and agriculture, to voting systems and online content. But most notably, blockchain has recently gained some traction in online video.
How the blockchain can soon revolutionize video
Blockchain can be applied for anti-piracy protection for video and other types of content just like it is used for securing cryptocurrency transactions – the difference being the processing time and the amount of data being transferred between the nodes.
The video-streaming giants of today are under constant pressure to provide ultra-HD video content instantaneously to every part of the world, and protect it copyright-wise. Blockchain solves the problem by decentralization. It reduces the cost and eliminates the need for cloud storage providers or central servers. At the same time, it safeguards the system against failure – with its distributed ledger design and Byzantine fault tolerance.
Video distribution with blockchain is possible by utilizing excessive disk space and bandwidth of multiple computers participating in the chain. It connects computers all over the world into a vast peer-to-peer distribution network.
With the advent of the internet, because online content is no longer tied to physical media, controlling copies has become very difficult, and is typically associated with big bucks being paid to the controlling companies making sure the content creators get the fair share of the revenue.
While there exist anti-piracy technologies for video like watermarking or CAP coding, it is very easy to circumvent them by simply transcoding the videos, cropping the frames or slightly shifting the colors.
Blockchain is a leap forward in terms of anti-piracy protection. Not only are the files not stored centrally, but also every frame of the video has the name of the individual buyers and sellers imprinted in it by using unique alphanumeric strings. Authenticity is encouraged and managed by thousands of individual peer operators. A romantic comedy No Postage Necessary (announced in 2018 by the production house Two Roads Pictures Co.) will be distributed exclusively via Vevue – a video app running on the Qtum blockchain. The watchers (i.e. the de-facto owners of the film) will be rewarded by Qtum tokens.
The first taste of blockchain-based anti-piracy measures is already here. The company Proofstack offers the blockchain technology and timestamps to give creators a way to prove that they are the original authors and (thus) rightful owners of the content. Timestamps check if a person was the first to process that piece of data through the system, and can be easily tracked by everyone else using the system.
Just like cryptocurrencies toppled international banking a few years prior, the blockchain may soon change the online video. This not only involves solving the problems associated with copyright and security, but also helping smaller players enter the video streaming game without the need for vast, global infrastructure.
But the full future business impact behind blockchain is still quite hard to grasp and may in fact be more about the philosophy and economy than the technology. The most important thing to understand is that in blockchain-based, decentralised economy the users will no longer steal from big corporations. Instead, they would be stealing from each other. This incentivises fairness more than anything.
But let’s not get carried away – blockchain for video content is not quite here yet. It’s an exciting proposal, but requires a vast amount of computers to participate. Think of them as “miners” we know from cryptocurrencies – people with machines adding transaction records to the public ledger of past transactions, and rewarded with cryptocurrency units.
While we know cryptocurrency miners exist, blockchains of today are not quite ready to handle video-streaming. Why? Long transaction times and vast computing capacity needed to process video blockchains is holding it back for now. The videos being distributed via blockchain should be considered experiments and may not offer the quality we know from Netflix and the like.
All we can do is just sit quietly and wait for the first wave of blockchain-backed companies to provide the necessary technology for video. And we know it’s coming.