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India must revolutionize its digital media industry with blockchain

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India has more than 65% of ut population below the age of 35, with the average age nationwide being 29 years old. Additionally, out of India’s 1.3 billion people, only half currently use mobile phones, and less than half of this number are smartphones.

Even though India is one of the world’s most populated countries, internet usage remains at 41%, with 700 million Indians currently connected to the internet. This leaves incredible room for growth in India, which lags behind other emerging economies when it comes to both internet access and smartphone ownership. This large, underserved population has long been the target of global entrepreneurs and mega tech corporations.

A $5-billion opportunity

According to a survey, roughly 84% of Indian users access the internet for entertainment purposes. In 2019, there was a surge in over-the-top, or OTT, streaming, both audio and video, primarily driven by original content and sport. For instance, the cricket World Cup streamed on OTT platforms.

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And there’s also the Bollywood effect — a wave of migration of movie stars from the big screen onto streaming services. This is an effort to tap into loyal fan bases and hack adoption. It may also be good business. According to one report, India’s OTT streaming market is expected to be valued at $5 billion by 2023.

This market is currently led by the likes of Hotstar (a subsidiary of Disney), which has over 300 million users. Other big players such as YouTube, Amazon Prime and Netflix, as well as domestic services, such as Eros Now, Voot, Zee5, Arre and ALT Balaji, are building up their content libraries to win market share in India.

On the music streaming side, there are numerous options. However, despite this variety, there’s still criticism over how streaming services enable the very model that many of them originally sought to disrupt. Whether it was by design or by accident, these platforms have become the new gatekeepers of digital content and distribution.

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Streaming reimagined

Technological revolutions are always carried out on the backs of idealists who often lack political clout but are driven by a burning desire for change. Many versions of this revolution are currently underway. They’re reshaping industries, washing away the foundation of legacy business and letting people build new and better systems. Yet, when it comes to digital media, there is a well-entrenched status quo that remains.

Most streaming providers currently offer either pay-to-play subscriptions or extractive ad-based systems that aggressively monetize their users’ attention. But what if there was a better way to meet digital content consumers’ needs while addressing limitations in current media models? There is, and that’s thanks, in part, to technology, that’s become more commercially viable in the last few years.

Building a new foundation

In recent years, blockchain technology has emerged as a transformative force in multiple aspects of public and private sector operations. Its promise of decentralized ownership, immutability and cryptographic data security has turned more than a few heads.

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In India, blockchain use cases are getting explored, and the technology is experiencing demand in banking, insurance, logistics and healthcare. Although it’s mostly financial players that are the first movers to capitalize on this technology, others are following. We’ve moved past the stage where, in practical terms, blockchain was a little more than a buzzword. Now the hype has quieted, and more real-world implementations exist.

Digital content on the blockchain

A few blockchain-connected projects have cropped up to provide an alternative to the growing hegemony of the streaming platforms. In terms of digital content, the technology is interesting from many angles. First, it potentially lessens the power held by corporate gatekeepers. This is because, at its core, it allows for the storage and processing of data in a distributed manner without interference from a central body.

By distributing power more equitably, blockchain technology presents the possibility of redefining the relationship between content producers, brands and viewers. And this is its most exciting promise because in doing so, it alters business models and can build systems with direct participation and benefits for all stakeholders.

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New solutions

A blockchain-powered video-on-demand platform stands to simplify interactions. For content creators, a primary benefit is the removal of intermediary services. At the same time, customers can take advantage of the pay-per-view model, a significant departure from standard subscription models. But it can also be taken a step further.

A blockchain-backed VoD platform can be designed to enable users to derive value for contributing their attention, engagement and data to the network. This is a key upgrade where financial inclusion is concerned. Instead of being treated as a commodity, getting charged for access or being bombarded with ads, users will be able to earn for watching content and engaging with the community. These rewards could come in the form of blockchain-based rewards — a benefit to users, as well as an engine to drive loyalty and growth on the platform itself.

Such models address issues such as revenue dilution for content creators, copyright problems and — critical in a country like India — economic access to media. Additionally, in some cases, creators have to deal with lost monetization opportunities due to distribution inefficiency, non-transparent earnings and unjustified right attributions — further issues that blockchain’s introduction is poised to resolve.

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On the user side, a system with new, blockchain-based incentives removes the need to worry about data privacy in the way one might under a freemium model. Such a network is trustless and secure by design, utilizing proven encryption schemes over many years. Finally, while centralized services can be censored, controlled or even taken offline, decentralized networks remain censorship-resistant.

Better incentives

Piracy and illegal file-sharing is a major issue for digital content creators and distributors, and it is mainly fueled by cost barriers. The result is that producers aren’t properly compensated, and advertisers searching for a target audience get ignored or skipped. In particular, this is a problem for brands that crave a more direct, insight-driven relationship with consumers.

It’s possible to solve these problems by harnessing blockchain’s unique characteristics to increase transparency and disintermediate the relationship between consumers and brands. For instance, proof protocols make it possible to monitor usage accurately and watch rates, deliver real-time engagement data, and reward users for attention. This undercuts the user incentive for piracy and compensates content owners. It also creates a more direct, insight-rich relationship between advertisers and consumers.

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Final thoughts

While the number of internet users and smartphone owners is trending upward, India features a unique confluence of factors: a young, tech-hungry populace and relatively low penetration rates for digital technology. Not only that, but thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown, India’s monthly active internet user base is estimated to grow faster than expected through 2021. Over the next five years, the number of users is projected to be close to 1 billion.

The current provision of digital content in India is rife with problems — centralized power, poor user experience, fragmented markets, piracy and structural restrictions — that limit consumer choice. Blockchain technology provides the backbone needed to revolutionize digital media by enabling innovations to customer experience, data-driven engagement and ecosystem economics for the benefit of the community.

The vision and the technology are there; what remains is fighting the incumbents and educating consumers that there’s a better digital world

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Mexican Company Launches Blockchain-Powered COVID-19 Test Certificates

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Medical services company MDS Mexico is using blockchain technology to prevent the forgery of fake COVID-19 tests in the Latin American country.

The COVID-19 crisis panic seems to be dissipating after almost two years; however, governments around the world are still searching for tools to control its expansion and allow their citizens to return to normal life.

A Mexican company is using blockchain technology to improve the reliability of COVID-19 diagnostic tests, using cryptography and the real-time auditability of the blockchain as a way to prevent counterfeiting and fraud.

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Fighting COVID-19 With Decentralized Technology

According to a report by Hispanic news outlet iProUP, medical services company MDS launched a rapid test application and interpretation service, as well as home PCR sample collection specifically designed to react to COVID-19. The results are delivered physically and digitally 24 hours later and will be certified with blockchain technology to guarantee in real-time the application of the test and the authenticity of the results.

Representation of a Digital Certificate protected with blockchain tecnhology. Image: MDS
Representation of a Digital Certificate protected with blockchain tecnhology. Image: MDS

As explained on its website, MDS produces a unique hash associated with the results of each test and generates a QR code that links to a digital certificate with personal information of the person who took the test, the results obtained, the physician responsible for administering the test and the date the test was taken.

To avoid the falsification of negative results, we began to certify the SARS-CoV-2 detection tests with blockchain technology and cryptographic signature, which protects the information in a unique, immutable, and unalterable QR Code that can be verified worldwide.

Mexico: Pro-Blockchain, Anti-Bitcoin

Mexico is one of the Latin American countries where the application of blockchain technology has known use cases that transcend the monetary.

As an example, the local Congress of Quintana Roo in Cancun, Mexico, experimented with the implementation of the Avalanche blockchain to digitize the records of the local public administration. The project was successfully implemented in March at the cost of 600,000 Mexican pesos (USD 290,000).

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However, the week the congress decided not to renew the contract on the grounds that the use of blockchain was “overqualified” for the needs of the Legislative Branch, i.e., the costs outweighed the benefits.

Similarly, the National Chamber of Commerce (CANACO) of Querétaro, Mexico, had already announced the availability of a digital vaccination passport issued in alliance with the blockchain company Xertify, which would allow locals to digitize their physical certificates issued by the authorities after a payment of about 400 pesos.

However, when it comes to finance, the use of cryptocurrencies – especially Bitcoin – does not enjoy the same support from the authorities.

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The country’s Central Bank has already stopped an initiative by the president of Banco Azteca to offer Bitcoin compatibility, and acted against 12 cryptocurrency exchanges for being linked to criminal cartels. Even last week, the country’s president even ruled out the use of Bitcoin as legal tender.

So, at least for now, in Mexico, the financial revolution and the blockchain revolution will walk two very distant paths.

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Benefits of Blockchain Technology to Businesses

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The year 2008 saw the introduction of bitcoin (decentralized electronic cash system). Since then, many more cryptocurrencies have been introduced to the market and turned doubters into believers. Those who had misgivings have slowly and surely embraced it as the future and alternative to fiat currency. Indeed, it is correct to say that the blockchain technology has greatly evolved and with it, a whole lot of benefits across industries (from finance to medicine).

Many businesses across different sectors are now looking for ways in which they can integrate the blockchain technology into their infrastructure. Without a doubt, it is correct to say that the future is here. We are firmly in the era of the blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are slowly providing a paradigm shift to the way we view fiat currency and even transact. That said, how do businesses benefit from the blockchain technology?

If you thought that solutions brought about by blockchain are confined to the exchange of cryptocurrencies, you couldn’t be more wrong. Through its decentralized nature, businesses across various sectors and industries stand to benefit in the following ways.

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1. Increased And Greater Efficiency

As a decentralized digital currency, blockchain has fully done away with the need for middlemen especially when making payments or engaging in transactions of whatever nature be it in the real estate or any other lucrative industry. When you compare blockchain to conventional financial services, there is no denying that it’s faster, instantaneous, and its peer to peer decentralized nature made transactions to be more efficient.

2. Transparency

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If there is something that puts blockchain on a different level, it has to do with the fact that transaction ledgers for public addresses is accessible for viewing by pretty much anyone. This level of transparency and an unprecedented layer of accountability is one of the reasons why blockchain has become very popular with businesses. This greater transparency has in essence held businesses to higher standards and essentially made them to be more open and ascribe to higher levels of integrity in so far as their dealings with customers is concerned.

Source: Pixabay

3. Traceability

The beautiful thing about the blockchain ledger is that every single time there is an exchange of goods or a transaction recorded in the blockchain, there is an audit trail. This audit trail is instrumental in providing an irrefutable proof of ownership or simply to let a person know where goods came from. This improved traceability provided by blockchain is instrumental especially in industries or sectors where verifying authenticity of transactions or traded assets improves efficiency and customer confidence.

4. Security

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Where security is concerned, blockchain is way ahead of other record keeping systems. Why is this the case? Well, every new transaction is not only linked to a previous transaction but also encrypted. There are zero chances of a transaction being altered and this gives individuals a sense of security and trust. The decentralized nature of blockchain also ensures that individuals can transact without having to answer to central governments.

To sum it up, if you are a business in whatever sector, you cannot afford to wish away the key benefits of blockchain outlined in this post. If you are keen on being transparent, efficient, and keen on winning the trust of your customers through secure transactions, blockchain is the way to go. The future that was blockchain is now here with us.

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Private distributed ledger technology or public blockchain?

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Some people think that permissioned distributed ledger technology can perform better than open blockchain because it is tweaked to address the issues of the latter. Such systems are also called “permissioned blockchain,” as if blockchain is a high-level concept and “permissioned” is one of its variants. But this statement is controversial and down below, you will come to understand why.

Is “permissioned” decentralized?

There are a lot of other options to choose from in DLTs: permissioned, private, enterprise, federated DLT, etc. And frankly, sometimes, it is not easy to distinguish between them. Therefore, for this level of discussion, let us compare just DLTs vs. blockchain.

A permissioned DLT and the mentioned variety thereof are not decentralized. There should not be any fallacy around this, as it might be fatal for a project. While some opponents to this statement might claim that decentralization can have a degree, and of course, permissionless blockchain is more decentralized.

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Let us put it simply. If there is someone between two counterparties in a transaction, and you can do nothing about this, it is centralized. In a public blockchain, if an ordinary user does not want to rely on a miner for their transaction to be included in a block, they can draft their transaction, and mine a block themself. If the block is valid, the network will accept it. Of course, mining nowadays requires enormous computational resources, but there are no technical or formal barriers to it — you don’t need to seek permission to mine. In DLT, users of the network have different roles and authority, and ordinary users are not able to create and validate blocks. There is nothing wrong with having a centralized system; it is just a matter of understanding what you are dealing with.

Permissioned DLTs can be decentralized only from one perspective, i.e., by having a consortium of independent members (organizations, companies, etc.) running the network with the exclusive authority to create blocks. Having a few affiliated companies controlled by one beneficiary will not make it decentralized.

And keep in mind, any consortium structure with independent members can be decentralized but only for these members — it will always be centralized for all those outside of the consortium.

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Is DLT a cartel?

A consortium (private/permissioned) DLT can be considered a cartel. Sooner or later, an antitrust body may question this. A safe strategy would ensure that the terms and conditions of the consortium were built in compliance with the antitrust laws.

By the way, to be completely centralized system is much safer. But a centralized system will never achieve the same level of reliability and credibility that blockchain can. It will be vulnerable as any other centralized system is, and here is why.

A centralized DLT is not immutable. The ledger can be rewritten arbitrarily by the one (or more) who controls it or due to a cyberattack. Because of its open and competitive nature (mining, staking, etc.), any blockchain can achieve immutability and hence its records will be credible. Thousands of independent nodes can ensure an unprecedented level of resistance to any sort of attack.

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Usually, it comes next after the discussion about immutability. How to correct a mistake? What if you need to change your smart contract? What if you lost your private key? There is nothing you can do retroactively — alteration in the blockchain is impossible. What’s done is done. In this regard, the DLT is usually the opposite of an alternative to blockchain. You will hear that DLTs can be designed so that those who control the network verify transactions on entry and therefore, non-compliant transactions are not allowed to pass through. But it would be a fallacy to think that censorship in the network will ultimately exclude all mistakes and unwanted transactions. There will always be a chance for a mistake. Then what? A retroactive change as the last resort? But if you can alter history, you undermine the whole idea of blockchain. No other technology can ensure such a level of the immutability of data. It is not one of the advantages of blockchain — this is its distinguishing advantage.

Nevertheless, immutability is perceived as something that impedes its legal application. Say, your circumstances changed, and you need to alter the smart contact. The answer to this is the proper design of an application that does not undermine the immutability of the ledger. The smart contract should be designed in a way that the user can attach a new transaction to reflect a change toward the previous one. Blocks are firmly chronological and only the latest transaction will reflect the current state of affairs, while all previous transactions will be a historical reference. You don’t need to change history. The blockchain is a public repository of evidence for everything that happened. There are different methods of designing applications that address all possible legal issues; for example, this and this academic paper proposed solutions to manage property rights in blockchain registries. These issues are also discussed in the series of articles that I published last year.

Permissioned is not blockchain

If anyone questions it regarding your system, they will be right. Further discussion about why permissioned is not a blockchain can be found in this academic paper, but in a nutshell: Not every chain of blocks is a blockchain. Connecting timestamped chunks of data with hashes was invented by Haber and Stornetta in 1991. But nobody has ever called it “blockchain” because blockchain is more than just a chain of blocks. It is about how these blocks are created and validated. Blocks that are created are the result of an open, decentralized and uncensored competition. This is the definition of blockchain and this is what Satoshi Nakamoto designed. Hence, anything that is centralized (permissioned, private, etc.) is whatever but not blockchain.

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Unfortunately, anyone is free to attribute the word “blockchain” to any technology they want, as there is no legal copyright or any legal protection to this word. DLT proponents tried hard to erase the boundary between these concepts. But it is only a matter of time until a few high-profile knockdown hacks of private DLTs show the real difference between DLT and blockchain and dramatically change the situation. There is a big difference in how many nodes ensure the security of the network, i.e., a handful of known nodes in the DLT network, or thousands and anonymous nodes around the world in the blockchain network.

We can argue about this on the theoretical level, but when it comes to losing money due to vulnerabilities in the system, nobody will listen to enthusiastic speeches about DLT. People will start asking questions. If you use “private/permissioned,” you should be ready for this.

If you still want permissioned

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A safe strategy would be to use the word “DLT” in all communications. It might not address possible vulnerabilities, but you can then say: “We had never said it was blockchain.” By the way, ENISA (the European agency on cybersecurity) always uses “distributed ledger” instead of blockchain in their reports. Conversely, their colleagues in the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the United States used “blockchain” in their earlier report.

Do you want to create your own public blockchain network? It is not necessarily a good idea unless you have reliable technology and a robust plan. First, [permissionless] blockchain does not mean safe by default. To achieve a decent level of immutability and resistance to attacks (hence, credibility and a high capitalization of your coin), you need thousands of independent nodes all over the world. If you have enough resources to create your community on this hard path, your network will survive and you will reap the rewards. But what are the odds?

DLT economy

If you are still considering creating your private or permissioned network, think about how this infrastructure will be maintained. If this is solely your network, you can have a solution to this because its maintenance can be covered by the commercial applications that you develop on it. But you have to understand — the network maintenance is completely on your shoulders.

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If you have a consortium of members, how do they redeem expenses on infrastructure? In a blockchain, there is a native mechanism to this — cryptocurrency. Independent nodes compete to mine coins. This is how the whole infrastructure is created and maintained. Those who develop applications on the blockchain need to worry about fees, not infrastructure.

But how about your DLT? Is your DLT only for private use among the members of the network? In this case, the end must justify the means, so the reason why independent players on the market created their own DLT network must cover the cost they bear to create and support it.

Consider another story about DLT by members who develop a network for outside users. Inevitably, you will need to design a viable economic model for the network members. No one will spend their resources for nothing or the resources will be applied unfairly — you will end up with a common tragedy. A possible solution to this is to create a native token of the network — say hello to cryptocurrency.

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Private DLT o a blockchain?

Is a permissioned/private DLT better than a blockchain? This is not an appropriate question. They are different and their use depends on what you are trying to achieve. But it would be a fallacy to attribute the features of blockchain to a permissioned DLT.

Leading existing blockchains can provide you with reliable infrastructure for an application. The idea that immutability impedes the application of blockchain is a misconception. On the contrary, it is the major advantage as no other technology can provide such a level of credibility to records. Various methods exist to create mature applications without bumping up against the immutable ledger.

A solely controlled DLT is centralized and therefore requires as much attention to cybersecurity as any other centralized technology. A consortium DLT is decentralized for its members, but will always be centralized for outside users (if, of course, the DLT is designed for public use). At the same time, the use of such a DLT can be fruitful in a private application among independent members, but be careful with objectives as it can be considered a cartel and questioned by antitrust bodies.

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