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    Digiday+ Research: Buzz aside, how are publishers and marketers really experimenting with blockchain?

    This is the fifth part of a research series on the most popular emerging technologies. The series follows up on a report Digiday produced five years ago to discover how technologies previously reported on have evolved and to explore new technologies that have since emerged. In this segment, we look at how publishers and marketers are using blockchain technology.

    Despite a lot of hype surrounding non-fungible token drops and cryptocurrency investments, blockchain technology is lagging well behind other emerging technologies in widespread adoption. In fact, of all the emerging technologies Digiday+ Research has examined in this series, blockchain remains the most theoretical and speculative in its use. 

    NFTs and cryptocurrency were hot buzzwords in 2021, with brands and publishers ramping up investments and experiments – or at least paying lip service to doing so. But by late 2022, the daily market size of NFTs on Ethereum, a cryptocurrency platform supporting the majority of NFTs, was much lower than in 2021. The daily average sales value dropped from $178 million in August 2021 to just $90,000 by Nov. 29, 2022, according to Statista

    And cryptocurrency itself suffered a major market crash late last year, with crypto exchange FTX filing for bankruptcy in November. The crypto market in general tends to be volatile as cryptocurrencies are purely speculative, backed by little inherent value or meaningful regulation. Waning consumer interest in cryptocurrency was also reflected in Google search trends, as searches for the term “cryptocurrency” rose and fell rapidly between 2020 and 2022 with lower and lower peaks, according to Digiday analysis.

    Of the small set of publishers and marketers who do use blockchain technology, the majority have found the most practical applications in NFTs, with cryptocurrencies coming in third in actual usage. To ramp up consumer interest, some early adopters aim to make the technologies more accessible and easy to use. Publishers are incorporating blockchain experiences into live events by turning event tickets into NFTs, while marketers are hoping to demystify NFT sales by letting consumers use credit cards rather than cryptocurrency for transactions. Other marketers are adding bitcoin payment options for transactions on their websites. But across the board, both companies and consumers are struggling to find a true purpose for the technology. 

    “If there’s a term that is overused more than AI, it’s probably blockchain,” said Gannett’s CTO Vincent Cirel. “I don’t think the general public out there has anything but the vaguest idea of what some of the use cases for blockchain are.” 

    For this report, Digiday+ Research surveyed 388 industry professionals at organizations including agencies, brands, retailers and publishers to uncover how they’re currently using blockchain technologies, like NFTs and cryptocurrency – and how they plan to incorporate the technologies in the future.

    01
    Key findings
    • Only 16% of marketer and publisher respondents invest in or use blockchain, making it the most theoretical emerging technology in Digiday’s series. More than 70% said they do not use it at all.
    • Of those who do use blockchain, more than half (51%) rely on third-party vendors to build their blockchain technology.
    • NFTs are the most used blockchain technology, with 64% of respondents using them. Supply chain transparency and cryptocurrency are the second and third most common uses at more than 45% each. Security is last at slightly more than one third of respondents.
    • Publishers and marketers mainly use NFTs with the goal of generating brand awareness (81% of respondents). Establishing new revenue streams and gaining new customers come next.
    • The most common goal for using cryptocurrency is for transactions (58% of respondents chose this), with new revenue streams, brand awareness and customer acquisition also top of mind, similar to NFTs.
    • Third-party NFT marketplaces (70%) and cryptocurrency exchanges (45%) are platforms marketers and publishers commonly use to sell virtual goods in exchange for crypto payments. But owned and operated platforms rank high too, in second place at 60%.  
    • Publishers and marketers alike are struggling to find practical ways to implement blockchain technology, with the majority (71%) saying it is not relevant to their business.
    02
    Blockchain’s potential has yet to be realized, as real-world applications are lacking

    When considered alongside the other emerging technologies Digiday has examined over the course of this series, such as artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality, blockchain is lagging behind other emerging technologies in widespread marketer and publisher adoption. Only 16% of marketer and publisher respondents invest in or use blockchain and nearly three quarters (72%) of marketers and publishers said they don’t use the technology at all.

    Adam Simon, executive director at IPG Media Lab, said this lack of adoption is keeping blockchain stuck in the realm of a largely theoretical emerging technology, rather than one with widespread usage. “NFTs and Web3 technologies have gotten a lot of attention, but if you look at the real numbers, they’re quite small,” Simon said. “The number of people who have activated a crypto wallet is less than a million people.”

    A primary reason behind the lack of adoption is that companies are struggling to find real-world opportunities to use the technology beyond creating buzz through one-off events like NFT drops. NFTs act as a non-duplicable digital certificate of ownership for any assigned digital asset. They are easier to market to consumers in the form of digital artwork or collectibles, but maintaining consumer interest in NFTs is something companies are still experimenting with, according to Simon.

    “There are potential long-term interesting applications of things like tokenized access — using an NFT on the blockchain to provide access to unique experiences,” he said. “The experiments we’ve seen with tokenized access so far have been very similar to things you could easily build using traditional technologies like ticketing.”

    “There has been talk about reducing the cost of coordination and offering experiences that are unique to someone who is a holder of multiple NFTs from different providers,” Simon added. 

    Cryptocurrency has its own hardships to face when it comes to business investment and consumer interest. It took a major hit recently —  both financially and in terms of public perception. FTX, a popular cryptocurrency exchange based in the Bahamas, collapsed in November 2022 after a CoinDesk report revealed that the company lacked funds to back customers’ withdrawals. FTX declared bankruptcy on Nov. 11, with founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried stepping down as his net worth dipped to near-zero from almost $16 billion. In December 2022, Bankman-Fried was arrested on eight federal counts of fraud and conspiracy after being accused of organizing a plan to defraud FTX investors. 

    In general, the crypto market tends to be volatile, as cryptocurrencies are currently purely speculative, backed by no inherent value and no federal governing body yet regulating the market. Likewise, the value of NFTs can be unpredictable, since they tend to rely on hype to drive and sustain consumer interest.

    For companies that have found a reason to invest in blockchain technology, most rely on external vendors to build their technology applications, with just over half (51%) of respondents saying they use a third-party vendor. Only about one quarter (24%) use an in-house team to build blockchain technology – likely given its complexity and security implications – and another 25% use a combination of in-house and third party vendors.

    Decrypt Studios is one such third-party vendor that helps provide brands with the means to mint their own NFTs and produce other blockchain-related products. The studio is owned by the media arm of the blockchain investment company ConsenSys Mesh and opened in October 2021. It focuses on producing projects using blockchain and Web3 technology for both brands and individual creators, ranging from NFT drops to metaverse-adjacent activations.

    “Minting an NFT is not for the faint of heart. You have to understand things that are endemic to the crypto world that a lot of the folks coming into [Web3] don’t understand yet,” said Alanna Roazzi-Laforet, CRO and publisher at Decrypt Media and head of Decrypt Studios. “There’s so many open questions in the space and the answers keep changing. So we help demystify all of that.

    In other instances, brands themselves are investing in third-party solutions. For example, late last year Nike bought digital art studio RTFKT, which specializes in virtual product drops and NFTs. With the purchase, Nike became the first major retailer to acquire a company in the NFT space, perhaps signaling that NFTs and virtual product drops could become a more important part of retailers’ digital strategies going forward, despite some post-hype skepticism.

    03
    Marketers, publishers primarily use blockchain tech for NFTs

    Although blockchain’s early promise for business utility was to securely log transactions between buyers and sellers — and indeed that remains its most talked-about capability — the most common reason marketers and publishers use blockchain technology is for NFTs (according to 64% of respondents). Supply chain transparency and sustainability (49%) and cryptocurrency (47%) are second and third, with nearly half of respondents using blockchain for those purposes, respectively. Only a little more than one-third of respondents have found reasons to employ blockchain for encryption and security, making it the least common utility.

    NFTs have risen to the top of the list of potential applications thus far because both publishers and marketers can readily market and sell NFTs to consumers as digital art pieces or collectible items, foregrounding the aspect most understandable to consumers. Brands generally make the one-of-a-kind digital tokens available through “drops” on an app or NFT marketplace, releasing them at an exact date and time and minting them in limited batches. 

    An NFT’s value is based on how well received the item is by the people who are willing to buy it, usually using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Once a consumer has purchased an NFT, they have the digital rights to resell, distribute or license it as they see fit. 

    Some companies, like clothing brand PacSun, have even shifted to a digital-first marketing strategy, with an emphasis on NFTs, along with other emerging technologies like AR and VR. The company launched its first NFT initiative in November 2021, which focused on its classic wave logo. In January 2022, PacSun unveiled its own NFT series, dubbed Pac Mall Rats.

    “This is not just a new category, but it’s an important one,” PacSun co-CEO Alfred Chang said. “Being able to have products, skins and other elements in a virtual world along with the physical world, I think it just expands our retail reach. For us, it’s important that we not only participate today, but it’s something that we absolutely [need to] stay relevant. Our expectation is that we will be right there as well in terms of expanding our offering.”

    While PacSun has its eye on increasing its future use of NFTs, Complex Networks’ head of experiential Neil Wright said not enough brands have thought about how to use the technology beyond initial experimentation. 

    “A lot of brands have tried to drop an NFT as a knee-jerk reaction to what was happening [in the marketplace], but they didn’t have a long term strategy,” Wright said. “They’re not monetizing this NFT on the secondary market because there’s really no value, no incentive for people to want to trade it.”

    Notably, brands are unable to make revenue in the secondary market when NFTs are resold because reselling typically happens on platforms other than brand owned-and-operated ones. Since NFTs do not generate lifelong revenue for brands, marketers typically use NFT drops in order to bring attention to the brand and the company’s ability to use emerging technologies.

    04
    Supply chain transparency and cryptocurrency are next in line, but security has low priority

    Companies’ second most used application of blockchain technology is for supply chain transparency and sustainability. This form of blockchain technology provides accountability and security through the production process —- something that’s particularly important for fashion brands as a way to better verify a material or product’s authenticity. 

    In April 2021, luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, in conjunction with Cartier and Prada, launched a global luxury blockchain in which users can add information about a product as it makes its way from where materials are sourced to the creation of the finished product — thus opening a window into the company’s supply chain and allowing consumers to follow the entire product journey. 

    The nature of a blockchain means that no one can change any information added to the ledger, and LVMH said in a statement at the time, “The objective is to provide consumers with a high level of transparency and traceability throughout the lifecycle of a product.” 

    Five years ago, as blockchain began to enter more mainstream vernacular, it mainly referred to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Tether. However, in 2022, cryptocurrency is only the third most commonly used form of blockchain technology, with 47% of respondents saying they use blockchain for cryptocurrency and digital coins — mainly by accepting them as payment. 

    Much of the early hype around cryptocurrencies subsided not long after it began. Crypto values skyrocketed for a while until early 2018, when the bitcoin bubble burst and prices dropped. At the same time, public perception of the technology began to erode.

    Early on in blockchain discussions, security and decentralization were main selling points for the entire blockchain paradigm as well. However, the majority of companies do not use the technology in that context — or at least for that purpose — with less than 35% of respondents saying they use blockchain for encryption and security benefits. 

    When Time launched its first NFT, decentralization and security were front of mind for the publisher, but Time’s CTO Bharat Krish noted the company had to adjust its strategy for future sales. “We went into the first drop thinking that we have to keep it open and inclusive, but it turns out it was actually the opposite effect,” Krish said. “We kept it so open that only the crypto-native and people who could game the system could participate. That gave us an important lesson that we really need to focus on the customer journey from the beginning for somebody who’s a novice.”

    Since then, Time has shifted its approach to put more emphasis on requiring advanced user registration and verification prior to NFT purchase, while adhering to the principles of decentralization. “Everything we’ve built is 80 to 90% decentralized,” Krish said. “We purposely made sure that we don’t use the centralized ways of database management. Everything we do is purposefully decentralized to follow the principles of Web3.”

    It’s important to emphasize that security and decentralization aren’t always ends unto themselves, but can be a feature inherent in some other blockchain use cases. So, while survey results show that security isn’t respondents’ main end use, it may factor into other blockchain technology applications, such as supply chain transparency, as discussed above.

    05
    Marketers, publishers use NFTs to elevate brand awareness

    As marketers and publishers dip their toes into the NFT waters, they do so mainly with the goal of raising awareness about their brands. The majority of respondents (81%) said they use NFTs for brand awareness, while more than half (64%) use NFTs as a new revenue stream. New customer acquisition and increased security were less important outcomes for companies.

    NFT drops can be a quick way for larger companies with research and development dollars to spend to create attention-grabbing headlines and potentially generate new revenue in the process. The strategy focuses on using the moments in which the brand announces it’s using blockchain technology and then actually releases the NFT to garner interest, but it tends to be employed as a short-term strategy to generate public awareness rather than as a long-term technology strategy.

    In July 2021, Campbell Soup Company jumped into the NFT game with a digital product art drop geared toward increasing brand awareness and product purchases after canned goods sales declined post-pandemic. It used the drop to remind customers of its most iconic brand images, including the red and white soup can labels Andy Warhol appropriated in the 1960s to create his famous Campbell’s Soup Cans artwork. The NFT collection could be repurchased on OpenSea, a leading NFT marketplace, and the art pieces were selling at around 0.39 ETH (Ether, equaling $1,283.38) in January 2022. Campbell also used the drop as an opportunity to further connect with the tech-savvy millennial demographic.

    Time magazine, on the other hand, has taken a slightly different approach in its use of NFTs — potentially converting a shorter-term awareness tactic into a longer-term strategy — by stoking a community in which current and future NFTs will maintain value and cachet. The publisher built its encompassing blockchain business bit by bit. The publication represented one of the only companies seeming to use blockchain technology as a long-term strategy.

    In March 2021, Time launched its first NFT project, a three-part collection of digitized magazine covers from decades prior. The top-selling one sold for the equivalent of $250,000 (135 ETH at the time). One month later, the company began accepting cryptocurrencies as payment for both subscriptions and advertising deals. That fall, Time launched its TIMEPieces project, which convenes crypto-enthusiastic audiences into one Discord-based club (that had 40,000 community members as of April 2022) and labels all of its NFT drops under the TIMEPieces umbrella. 

    Keith Grossman, who was president of Time when Digiday spoke with him and is now president of enterprise at MoonPay, said Time’s strategy is meant to engage consumers on a long-term basis. “What we learned through all of the ups and downs is the importance of building community,” Grossman said. “It doesn’t make a difference that we dropped all these NFTs. What makes a difference is how much we’ve managed the community. Our community is not about short-term thinking.”

    “The community is about values, and we rally our community around those values every single day,” Grossman added. “The rationale is that we believe that values create value over time. Our ability to think long about what we’re building allows people to think and care about the community that we’re building through good moments in the crypto cycle and challenging moments in the crypto cycle.”

    Other publishers see potential value in future use of NFTs and other blockchain technologies to serve multiple purposes at the same time, such as providing access to events or educational certifications while creating brand loyalty. This overlap within blockchain applications harkens back to the security-based underpinnings of the technology and the potential to apply these benefits across uses of the technologies. 

    Vadim Supitskiy, CTO at Forbes, said he sees many potential uses for blockchain technology among publishers. “One of the major use cases is access — membership, access to live events, access to metaverse,” Supitskiy said. “The second is authentication — education, certifications, validation that you completed a course. For publishers it could be grading, reading a series of articles or watching a series of videos that are reported on blockchain.”

    “For publications, it creates loyalty and engagement,” he added. “It gamifies the whole experience and it gives the user that validation, ‘Hey, I accomplished that.’ [The user] could potentially get perks for [activities] on a website or inside that ecosystem.” For the time being, however, these applications of blockchain are largely theoretical outside of some publishers sporadically using NFTs as authenticated event passes.

    06
    Companies hope crypto will increase brand recognition and revenue, but it’s a largely speculative endeavor

    Cryptocurrency, while a more established use of blockchain than the theoretical authentication and certification applications mentioned above, is still largely abstract. Marketer and publisher survey respondents said that their most common goal for future usage of cryptocurrency is for transactions, with new revenue streams (50%), brand awareness (47%) and new customer acquisition (33%) also top of mind, similar to NFTs.

    However, when it comes to real-world use of cryptocurrency, most notably consumers typically use cryptocurrency as a speculative investment. Cryptocurrencies are created, distributed, traded and stored using blockchain technology, which serves as a digital ledger, recording and facilitating the digital transactions. This is the only mainstream practical application of cryptocurrency currently, while survey responses noted here are marketers’ and publishers’ goals for its future use. 

    Several beauty brands have been adding bitcoin payment options for transactions, the most common usage goal of cryptocurrencies, with nearly 60% of survey respondents selecting this usage. It is also the only one that most companies can readily implement. 

    In January 2021, Wake Skincare, a U.K.-based DTC brand designed for millennial and Gen-Z consumers, began accepting cryptocurrency payments by making bitcoin and ethereum payment options available using Coinbase in its Shopify checkout. Wake co-founder Alex Mavor said he sees the payment option as a long-term strategy for the company. ??

    “The reason why we wanted to do it is because other beauty brands weren’t doing it,” Mavor said. “We know that we’re not going to get a load of customers, or maybe any customers, today paying with bitcoin.”

    “A lot of the people at the moment are just using it as an investment,” he added. “But the thing is that — with all technologies — they always say that change happens really slowly, then all at once.”

    Publisher Time has aimed to use crypto applications to create new revenue streams and to stimulate brand awareness, the second and third most commonly selected answers at about 50% of respondents each. In April 2021, Time started accepting bitcoin (and 31 other types of cryptocurrencies) from paid subscribers through a partnership with Crypto.com.

    Maya Draisin, chief brand officer at Time, said while current subscribers weren’t asked to switch to the crypto payment options, the method allows the company to introduce the Time brand to native crypto users and to give them accessible payment options — thereby setting up pipelines to generate new revenue streams. She said she hoped it would also give current subscribers that are “crypto curious” an entry point to see crypto usage in the real world.

    While not an offered survey response, other brands are using cryptocurrencies to create brand loyalty. Lolli, a Rakuten-esque platform, gives portions of bitcoin as online shopping rewards rather than money. Similar to NFTs, this usage generates buzz for the brand, and the application has gained traction, with more than 1,000 Lolli merchants using the program. Alex Adelman, co-founder of Lolli, said the incentives are not aimed at getting consumers to spend bitcoin just yet.

    “We saw it as a way to distribute bitcoin to more people, way easier by not making them have to be an investor to get into bitcoin,” Adelman said. “They could just be a shopper, which is something that everybody [is].” 

    While cryptocurrency, like other areas of blockchain technology, has strong potential applications for security by using cryptography to secure transactions, security was very low in importance to survey respondents. Only 11% of respondents said their goal is to use cryptocurrency for its security benefits.

    IPG Media Lab’s Simon said one reason for the lack of interest may be the need for users to set up crypto wallets to protect their currency from hacks. “The complexity of setting up a crypto [wallet] is the biggest consumer block and some of the complexity extends to things like security,” he said. 

    “You see high profile people all the time who theoretically know what they’re doing, who get their NFTs phished and lose millions of dollars, everyone from celebrities to people who are leaders in the space have fallen victim,” Simon added. “The setup and onboarding is complicated, but the security is also complicated. Until we have decent answers to both of those things, it’s going to remain a niche hobby technology.”

    07
    NFT marketplaces and owned-and-operated platforms are best for crypto transactions

    When marketers and publishers are determining where to sell virtual items like digital art pieces in exchange for cryptocurrencies, the majority turn to NFT marketplaces. Seventy percent of respondents said they use the third-party marketplaces to sell virtual goods for cryptocurrencies and digital coin-based payments. Owned-and-operated platforms, where some companies are putting the framework in place now for what could become more wide-scale use of crypto in the future, are their next best choice, in second place at 60% of respondents. 

    Cryptocurrency exchanges are much less commonly used, with less than half (45%) of respondents saying they use the exchanges – likely because they’re only accepting cryptocurrencies, not creating them. But, perhaps not surprisingly, almost one-third of companies are finding opportunities to sell goods in gaming environments, with 30% of respondents selling virtual products through online gaming.

    The most commonly used platforms, NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea and Rarible, allow companies and individuals to display, sell and buy NFTs in exchange for cryptocurrencies. Consumers can also resell NFTs to other shoppers on the marketplaces, and some NFT marketplaces offer the ability to mint NFTs on the platforms as well.

    Time magazine chose not to create its own platform for selling its TIMEPieces NFTs, instead making them available through a third-party marketplace. Time’s Krish said the marketplaces offer a built-in consumer base. 

    “We don’t need to build our own marketplace because the audience is actually in marketplaces like OpenSea and Coinbase,” Krish said. “So we only take care of the primary mint and then we create our community within our collection within OpenSea for secondary sales.”

    “The journey of going from a primary mint to the secondary sales is also something that’s part of a lifetime customer journey that we’ve built,” Krish added. “User experience is really important. … We want to make sure that everybody who comes in could be a novice and participate in this.”

    Other companies find value in offering consumers the opportunity to use cryptocurrencies on their owned-and-operated platforms (60% of respondents). The strategy is interesting considering the majority of respondents said they primarily use third parties to build their blockchain technology. However, having a strong owned-and-operated system in place now could pay off down the road.

    By accepting cryptocurrencies on their own platforms, companies can potentially set themselves up technologically now for what could become more wide-scale use of cryptocurrencies in the future. Additionally, accepting crypto payments may provide access to new and younger demographic groups and to consumers who may not have access to more traditional payment methods like bank accounts and credit cards.

    Another platform through which publishers and marketers are trying to reach new consumer groups with cryptocurrency transactions is online gaming. Thirty percent of respondents said they are selling virtual goods for cryptocurrencies and digital coin-based payments in gaming environments. 

    Companies, including the aforementioned PacSun, sold NFTs in ComplexLand 3.0, the third iteration of a virtual fashion and music festival hosted by BuzzFeed’s Complex Networks in May 2022. ComplexLand sold its own artist-created NFTs within the environment as well. 

    Complex Networks’ Wright said although the NFTs were available in the virtual environment, sales took place on third-party platforms. “In year two, our NFT gallery was in partnership with Nifty Gateway, so everything was a click out to Nifty Gateway’s marketplace for the actual transaction,” Wright said. “This year, we weren’t rigid to one partner. So many different marketplaces have emerged that we are working with whatever the artist or the collaborator prefers. If an artist is dropping on OpenSea, we could accommodate that.”

    Wright said that selling NFTs in gaming environments has the dual value of helping artists monetize their artwork, while simultaneously supporting burgeoning Web3 technology. “That’s really important that whatever we do within ComplexLand, even if it isn’t happening within the confines of the venue that we’ve created, that we’re still supporting it,” he added. “The technology is very important to these virtual worlds and we really want to stay curatorial, first and foremost, whether it’s brands or artists, and then be able to support them wherever their transactions are occurring.”

    08
    Blockchain needs tech improvements before adoption increases

    Despite marketers’ and publishers’ new ventures and experiments with NFTs and cryptocurrencies, the majority of survey respondents haven’t found a reason to use blockchain technology yet. Business relevance is the main barrier to company adoption, with the majority of respondents (71%) saying the technology isn’t relevant to their business.

    Of the respondents who aren’t currently using blockchain technology, more than half said they aren’t investing in the technology because it isn’t relevant to their business, while another 16% percent cited a lack of customer interest. 

    When it comes to NFTs, the digital tokens are often used to create immediate buzz and awareness around a brand, but companies struggle to maintain ongoing consumer interest. Another challenge is getting audiences to care about acquiring digital art in the form of NFTs. The inability to associate value to some level of ownership of an image, video or other digital asset limits adoption by individuals who have never before bought an NFT or invested in crypto.

    Complex Networks’ Wright said finding a long-term approach with added user benefits is needed to retain consumer attention. “In the short term, there’s no equity or utility in the actual [NFT],” Wright said. “If you are strategic about how you’re launching it, from a brand standpoint, you can really build a deep connection to your community that is giving them skin in the game to a certain degree of decision making. That’s the lowest barrier of entry, giving them perks.”

    Turner Sports has attempted to do that by creating an NFT-based golf game called Blockletes that gives players the opportunity to buy and increase the value of their NFTs. Yang Adija, svp of digital league business operations, growth and innovation at Turner Sports, said perks can help build communities among users and increase and sustain longer-term consumer interest. 

    “If you own a particular NFT or digital collectible, you are then given access to other media assets … and so these become a rewards program and a ticket that you then own and have access to something that has a value,” Adija said. “Because you own this, you can sell it or give someone else access to it, and you’ve earned it. It’s yours, and you have jurisdiction.”

    Turner Sports’ approach is similar to Time magazine’s community building approach noted earlier — here within a game and there within a cultivated community — of creating a context in which the NFTs are valuable, and sustaining that context so the NFTs maintain value within it beyond the initial purchase. The companies’ efforts to make NFTs matter to specific circles of users, within specific environments, while not banking on the inherent value of the NFTs, seems to offer a winning strategy. 

    Cryptocurrency faces some of the same challenges as NFTs in terms of lack of consumer interest, including a need for more widespread use for transactions as opposed to speculation. But a more pressing concern at the moment is market stability. 

    With the recent FTX collapse, some prominent companies have begun distancing themselves from crypto across the board. At last November’s Fortnite Championship Series 2022 Invitational, for example, TSM taped over the FTX sponsor logo. When asked about the move, an Epic Games spokesperson pointed Digiday toward the company’s public event license terms, which restrict the promotion of sponsors in a number of “risky” categories, including crypto.

    Gannett’s Cirel, whom Digiday spoke with prior to the recent crypto market crash, said he could see potential for increased use of blockchain if the industry can find a way to move past the technology being discussed theoretically and if cryptocurrencies were narrowed down to a few select digital coins. 

    “When you say blockchain, people automatically think of cryptocurrencies, bitcoin,” Cirel said. “It’s pretty clear that as those types of services and products and domains become more commonplace that some form of cryptocurrency is an absolute requirement to facilitate the economy. … One of the things that the industry and the players in the industry have to sort out is how do we divorce the term blockchain from equating to cryptocurrency? Are we going to wind up with hundreds of different ones? I don’t think that’s a sustainable structure.”

    Time’s former president Grossman agreed the technology itself needs to be less at the forefront of discussions and instead must become enmeshed in people’s everyday lives, similar to the way computers evolved. “The technology right now is leading the conversation, in the way that in the earliest days of PC adoption, people talked about their computers,” Grossman said. 

    “What’s really important is [blockchain] will not be mass adopted until the technology is invisible and people are not using the term NFT,” he added. “It’s at the earliest point of the early adopter curve, but we could see, every day, friction being removed from the ecosystem and mass adoption coming.”

    IPG Media Lab’s Simon said user experience needs to improve, with more decentralization. “People who are theoretically primed to do something like own multiple NFTs from multiple brands and unlock experiences is still a very small number,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done on the user experience side.” 

    “The way those technologies are mainstreamed is that they’re absorbed into the platforms and the platform owners that we already have,” he added. “A lot of the promise of decentralization around Web3 is not guaranteed because decentralization tends to be pretty consumer- and user-hostile.”

    In order for blockchain technology to see increased future marketer and publisher adoption, further innovations to the technology will likely need to come from tech giants that have the funds and bandwidth to invest in improvements. In the same way that Meta acquired VR headset maker and developer Oculus VR in 2014 and Samsung and Apple are creating AR compatible smartphone camera lenses, other tech companies will need to lay the foundational infrastructure to make blockchain technology readily available before marketers, publishers and consumers alike increase their use. 

    So, for now, blockchain remains a largely theoretical emerging technology.

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