A digital media pioneer, liberal news and commentary site Salon launched in November 1995 just as online news was starting to get its teeth. This was back when the internet was still ramping up. Publishers and advertisers had a simpler relationship then.
Despite its wonders, the internet has made advertising models increasingly complicated. Where advertisers and publishers once had a one-on-one relationship, today’s ads go through a series of intermediaries before they reach their target audience. This opens the door to high-tech fraudsters who do things like siphon money away from advertisers by spoofing them with fake impressions. The problem has gotten so bad that, by some estimates, one third of paid-programming impressions are not viewed by actual people.
Striving to find a solution, Salon is teaming up with IBM and nonprofit AdLedger to participate a proof-of-concept permissioned blockchain for programmatic ad buying. The hope is that blockchain technology will squash out fraud by bringing transparency to the ad-tech supply chain, giving advertisers clarity in regards to where their ad dollars are going.
"This proof of concept will not only help publishers like us regain more control over our inventory, but will also illuminate where inefficiencies exist within the long and complex supply chain," said Ryan Nathanson, chief operating officer of Salon Media Group, in a press release announcing the project on April 18, 2018.
AdLedger, a non-profit research-and-development consortium, is using the trial as way to educate its members about the potential of blockchain technology and also to begin forming rules and standards around putting ad tech on the blockchain. Salon will participate in the trial project as a publisher, while IBM is taking the dual role of advertiser and technology provider. Salon and IBM are both members of the AdLedger consortium.
The project itself is being built on Hyperledger Fabric, an open-source framework for permissioned blockchains, based partly on code contributed by IBM.
“To be clear, the goal is not to develop production-ready software; the goal is to really expose the potential of blockchain and show our members what it can do so they feel comfortable putting those rules and standards into place,” Christiana Cacciapuoti, executive director at AdLedger, toldBitcoin Magazine.
As she explained, at its core, the proof of concept will be an actual ad campaign that is run on the blockchain with the goal of helping the teams work out how blockchains should be implemented in the the digital media industry. The teams will be looking to answer questions like which consensus algorithm makes most sense, what data needs to be hashed onto the blockchain, and what things are better handled off chain.
“As an advertiser, we know better than anyone that the current digital advertising system is broken,” Chad Andrews, global solutions leader of advertising at IBM, said in a statement. “We believe that blockchain can help our advertising dollars go further by eliminating unnecessary intermediaries, and combining disparate sources of data and reconcile immediate metrics based on measurement KPIs tied to campaign delivery.”
The project should launch in the next few weeks, Cacciapuoti said, with the ad campaign running for at least a month so the data collected is statistically significant. Eventually, the findings will be published in a white paper.