Consumer data vs. privacy: Comcast seeks the fine line

Comcast Cable Advertising (NASDAQ:CMCSA) says it has launched the next phase of Blockgraph, an industry initiative intended to create a ...

Comcast Cable Advertising (NASDAQ:CMCSA) says it has launched the next phase of Blockgraph, an industry initiative intended to create a secure way to use data and share information. Comcast is now working with other industry partners on the initiative, including Viacom and Spectrum Reach, the advertising sales division of Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR), in a collaborative effort to facilitate the secure exchange of privacy-compliant audience information for addressable advertising. Additional media companies and MVPDs participating will be named shortly.

Blockgraph is designed to become the "identity layer" for the TV industry, a platform on which media companies and publishers can offer marketers data capabilities without disclosing identifiable user data to third parties.

Blockgraph is a blockchain-enabled software platform, incubated to date within Comcast's FreeWheel group, intended to allow TV and media companies to control, connect and safely activate their data at scale. Comcast developed the software with the goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of data-driven multiscreen TV marketing and advertising.

Each Blockgraph participant's data stays in its own systems, and the participant continues to protect the data and manage the privacy of its users, including respecting any user choices regarding the use of the data.

"Data is a valuable and sensitive asset for media companies and consumers, so understandably it must be protected," said Jason Manningham, general manager, Blockgraph. "At the same time, data is now the fuel powering media and advertising. The TV community needs to ensure that we can compete with the data capabilities of digital-first companies. We understand that providing a safe way to protect data while benefitting from collective insights is the path forward. And we believe Blockgraph offers that path."

Today, stitching together data attributes between two parties, such as an advertiser and a media company, generally requires sending data to a centralized third-party provider. The provider does a bi-lateral blind match between the two parties, then sends back non-identifiable data segments that can be used for targeting or measurement. In contrast, Blockgraph is a peer-to-peer platform designed to allow all participants to perform blind matches directly with one another, secured through encryption technologies, non-identifiable data and blockchain protocols.

Comcast is currently working with NBCUniversal to test Blockgraph's capabilities with plans of incorporating it into its addressable offering in early 2019.

Comcast is also in talks with several other potential Blockgraph participants for future rollouts. Among those is Viacom, whose early involvement as a partner in providing feedback has helped shape the product roadmap and structure of the Blockgraph initiative.

"Viacom has long been committed to advancements in television advertising and industry collaboration to deliver better ads for clients and enhance the consumer experience," said Kern Schireson, executive vice president, chief data officer, Viacom. "We're happy to partner with Comcast on Blockgraph's technology and platform to facilitate the valuable exchange of data insights as a necessary catalyst to scale our collective capabilities."

Spectrum Reach is another collaborator with early involvement helping to shape the initiative.

"It's imperative that the use of data prioritizes the privacy of consumers' personal information," said David Kline, executive vice president, and president of Spectrum Reach. "Blockgraph's technology offers enhanced security and privacy protections by allowing all players within the TV ecosystem to directly share insights derived from anonymized and aggregated information. We support this initiative, believing it will help set the standard for secure information sharing in the years to come."

"Comcast has invested in building the Blockgraph technology, but we do not want this to remain solely a Comcast-led initiative. We are inviting the entire TV industry to participate in Blockgraph so that it becomes a true industry undertaking," said Marcien Jenckes, president, Comcast Cable Advertising. "When scaled, non-personally identifiable data becomes available to all, the focus shifts to what a provider is able to do with that data and how it can be used to drive outcomes. We believe that when advanced data capabilities are paired with TV and premium video's awareness and engagement advantages, results will be difficult to beat."

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