A New Digital Advertising Model
"Digital advertising is broken"<1> and in desperate need of a new model.
The marketplace for online advertising, once dominated by advertisers, publishers and users, has become overrun by middleman ad exchanges, audience segmentation, complicated behavioral and cross-device user tracking, and opaque cross-party sharing through data management platforms. Users face unprecedented levels of malvertisements and privacy violations. Mobile advertising results in as much as $23 per month in data charges on the average user's data plan, slow page loads, and as much as 21% less battery life. In response,over 600 million mobile devices and desktops (globally) employ ad blocking software and this number is growing. Traditional publishers have lost approximately 66% of their revenue over the past decade, adjusted for inflation. Publishers face falling revenue, users feel increasingly violated, and advertisers' ability to assess effectiveness is diminished. The solution is a decentralized, transparent digital ad exchange based on Blockchain.
Started: May 31st, 2017
Market cap: $248,728,000 <2>
Price per coin: $0.25
Reddit subscribers: 7,728
Twitter followers: 38,000
Facebook likes: 1,480
Circulating supply: 1,000,000,000
Max supply: 1,500,000,000
Consensus method: ERC20
What is BAT?
BAT, or Basic Attention Token, is a project dreamed up by Brendan Eich that aims to tackle the above issues and develop a new, more transparent and effective digital advertising model built on the blockchain. The first aspect of this project, which is already live and working, is a new web browser called Brave which has built-in ad blockers, privacy protection and a ledger system that measures user attention. <2> There will also be the token itself, BAT (which I will refer to as the BAT token to avoid confusion), which will power the ad exchange and be given to users in return for their attention.
Why use the BAT platform?
As seen above, there are challenges facing users, publishers and advertisers in this proposed model. Some of the issues facing publishers include: <3>
The digital advertising space is becoming controlled by Google and Facebook;
Giving up revenue to intermediaries such as ad servers or data management platforms;
Their brand gets associated with malvertising they likely have little control over;
Likewise, advertisers have to deal with: <3>
Bots, which are estimated to cost advertisers up to $7.2B in 2016;
Fees for ad serving, campaign setup, deployment and monitoring;
Lack of transparent, accurate reporting on how well their advertising does; and
Increasing "blindness" to ad units and adoption of ad blockers over time.
On the other side, users are faced with: <3,5>
Lack of regulation over how personal information is collected and used;
A constant stream of ads which may not even be relevant to their interests; and
Battery drain, slow load times and excessive mobile data consumption as up to 79% of mobile data transfer on sites are a result of served ads and dozens of trackers.
Overall, the BAT project will provide: <7>
Users with strong privacy and security when viewing advertisements, improved relevance and performance, and a share of tokens;
Publishers with improved revenue, better reporting, and less fraud; and lastly
Advertisers with less expensive customer attention, less fraud, and better attribution.
How it will work
At a high level, the way BAT works can be summed up in the following image: <9>
Taking a deeper look at this model, the first aspect of the BAT project is the browser, Brave. The browser's built in ledger system measures user behavior and attention, while providing complete privacy to the user. This data can then be used to define the attention value of the ad which is based on engagement within the active browser tab. Coupled with machine learning this will ensure only the most relevant ads are served to users and advertisers can rest assured they are reaching the optimal audience, something existing solutions can rarely claim. <8>
The BAT token, which is Ethereum-based, is the foundation of a new decentralized ad exchange. From the user standpoint, BAT works on an opt-in basis. Instead of having their information collected and used without consent, users will have the option to withhold all information (by not participating in BAT) or to opt in to receive BAT tokens and relevant advertising. Users that opt in can rest assured that their information is protected as data is stored only on the device and any identifiable data is hidden.
Micropayments of BAT tokens will happen through the Braver Ledger system, an open zero knowledge proof scheme which will reward user attention and allow Brave users to make anonymous donations to publishers within the model.
In this model, some of the advertising spend is distributed to the users, making them an active participant in the digital advertising marketplace. These tokens could then potentially be used in a number of ways: <11>
BAT tokens can be donated to preferred content providers and publishers (this feature was recently launched);
Reused for the user's own ad serving;
Accessing premium or high quality content;
Purchasing digital goods or in game tokens; or
Sold via a third party exchange in return for other currencies such as Ethereum.
Initially, this model will only work within the Brave browser which is of course is a major limitation. However, the platform has already been expanded to YouTube and there are plans to make it available on other platforms including extensions for other browsers, as well as messaging apps like Telegram or WeChat. <12> Most of these initiatives will start in the latter half of 2018 with the launch of BAT Apollo; this will also mark the beginning of public advertiser access and hopefully the start of ad revenue.
The Brave Browser
As mentioned, the Brave browser will be the only integration of the BAT system initially. This is a huge hurdle to overcome and probably the most common critique of the project. Currently, the Brave browser has been installed 1M-5M times via the Google Play store and other platform usage is harder to determine. However as a point of reference Firefox has 100M-500M Google Play installs and Chrome has 1B-5B <13> and accounts for nearly 50% of all browsers across all devices. <14> That's a huge gap in adoption to cover in order to become one of the leading browsers.
However, consider that back in 2008 Internet Explorer was the market leader and then in December 2008, a new, faster browser came out - Chrome. People started using it and although it gained in popularity it lagged in adoption compared to other leading browsers; it wasn't until more than 7 years later when in 2016 it finally unseated IE to become the leading browser. <15> It may be a steep hill to climb, but unseating the market leader has happened before and Brave offers more than a standard browser:
It defends your data on your devices and synchronizes your personal and private browsing profile across devices using client-side encryption. Your data, studied and abstracted by on-device-only machine learning, provides you with private and anonymous options to get compensated for your attention. Brave cuts out all third-party trackers and middle-players, eliminating data leakage, malware risk,and excessive fee-taking. Brave does this while providing publishers with a substantially larger revenue share than they are receiving in existing inefficient and opaque marketplaces. <16>
I've used Brave as my primary browser on all my devices for several months now and generally have nothing but great things to say. Sure, it's still in early stages and as a result, there can be bugs at times, however the advantages are significant. It's fast, in fact 2x+ faster than Chrome <17> and it has consistently blocked every tracker I've tested it against. Online privacy is at the forefront of issues today and everyone demands instant results so the time is ripe for a new player; the technology and team behind Brave make it the most likely candidate.
What sets BAT apart
It benefits all parties including users, publishers and advertisers;
There's already a working product (Brave) which is offers several advantages over existing browsers;
Initial roll out of BAT tokens has started and users can now reward publishers;
Privacy and advertising generally don't go hand in hand but BAT seems to have found a balance;
Greater transparency than the existing advertising model;
Unique behavioral attention measurement offers unprecedented information, resulting in more effective and relevant advertising;
It is tackling major issues of the current system including fraud, bots, user privacy and malvertisements;
It rewards users and makes them an active participant in digital advertising rather than an unwilling passenger; and
Concerns about BAT
Adoption of the Brave browser, other browser extensions and other platforms is going to have to grow significantly;
Even with adoption, users still need to opt in and it is unclear right now what portion of the user base will do so;
Ease of use from an advertiser perspective is as of yet unknown, as is the extent of rewards that publishers and users will receive;
Definitely one of the longer term projects as BAT Apollo won't launch until the latter half of 2018 and investors will likely need to be patient with growth;
Huge supply, and likely that a vast majority of BAT are held by large token holders from the ICO;
The team have gone out of their way to state that the tokens are only a functional good and do not inherently have value, though this may be intentional to avoid securities speculation; and
Limited use as an advertising platform at this time, in early stages.
AdEx. Both projects revolve around a decentralized ad exchange but the approach each takes is very different. The biggest advantage of AdEx is that it's not completely redefining existing models so it may have an easier pathway to adoption. AdEx also cites that BAT relies on the adoption of the Brave browser in order to work, however as stated above there are a number of other platforms being worked on. I strongly believe that not only is BAT the stronger project but the outcome they are aiming for is more beneficial for the whole ecosystem as well.
Google and Facebook. Not exactly competitors but these two organizations own a large portion of the digital advertising space right now. Unlikely they will want a new model to change disrupt that.
What is the outlook for BAT?
BAT currently sits 48th on coinmarketcap.com with a price of $0.25 per token and a market cap of just under $250M, thought it has been as high as $323M. Meanwhile, worldwide digital ad spend is estimated to reach more than $220B this year and is expected to see double-digit growth in the coming years. <18> If BAT handled even 0.15% of the world's digital ad spend, that amount would be more than BAT's peak market cap.
I think that's an important point to consider, especially when one of the major concerns is the adoption of Brave and related platforms. These platforms don't have to be adopted by 50% of all users like Chrome; just grabbing hold of a tiny piece of the digital advertising industry would make BAT a solid investment. However, if Brave and the related platforms were to gain mass adoption and challenge market leaders, the potential is huge.
As mentioned, if BAT accounted for 0.15% of digital ad spend, it would gain more revenue in one year than it's peak market cap. For comparison, Google and Facebook account for more than 20% of global ad spend and this figure is continually rising. <19> What if BAT could achieve 5% or even 1%? That's $11B and $2.2B, respectively, in annual revenue. Even at the lower figure, that amount of revenue would make BAT's current market cap look tiny.
However, I'm going to pump the brakes here a little bit. Although the team already have developed a great model, have built a working product in Brave and have begun to integrate BAT tokens into the platform, there haven't been any major developments in regards to other platforms and there likely will not be until the launch of Apollo. This launch is also likely when monetization of the platform will begin and as such, it will be a pretty critical milestone for BAT.
BAT is attempting to redefine and improve a digital advertising model that has become inherently flawed for users, publishers and advertisers. The team have built a new digital advertising model with a decentralized ad exchange centered around attention. This new model will respect users privacy and security while simultaneously serving them more relevant ads and rewarding them for opting in. Publishers will hopefully see an increase in revenue, more transparency and fewer fraudulent ads. Lastly, advertisers will receive measurable user attention at a lower price, improved attribution and less wasted money on fraud.
The upside for BAT is pretty clear - worldwide digital ad spend is estimated to reach more than $220B this year and is expected to see double-digit growth in the coming years. <18> If BAT handled even 0.15% of the world's digital ad spend, that amount would be more than BAT's peak market cap. For comparison, Google and Facebook account for more than 20% of global ad spend and this figure is continually rising. <19> What if BAT could achieve 5% or even 1%? However, Adoption remains quite limited and it's unclear if there are any partnerships with advertisers for the launch, so I remain reserved on my short term outlook. Even if the Apollo launch goes well, it will likely be a long time before BAT starts to gain a foothold in the digital advertising world and starts to generate significant revenue. Looking long term I do think BAT is one of the most promising blockhain project out there for the reasons mentioned above.
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References and Notes
<1> Quoted from BAT whitepaper, page 1
<2> Price, market cap and logo are taken from https://coinmarketcap.com/currencies/basic-attention-token/. All social stats taken directly from social media pages.
<3> Issues adapted from BAT whitepaper, page 5
<4> Image taken from page 7 of the BAT whitepaper
<5> Issues adapted from BAT whitepaper, page 7
<6> Image taken from page 6 of the BAT whitepaper
<7> Adapted from BAT whitepaper, page 2
<8> Paragraph loosely adapted from BAT whitepaper, page 13
<9> Image taken from page 28 of the BAT whitepaper,
<10> Image taken from BAT whitepaper, page 15
<11> Adapted from page 16 of the BAT whitepaper
<13> Install stats from App Annie
<16> Taken from page 20 of the BAT whitepaper
<17> Taken from https://brave.com/
All other information is either adapted from the whitepaper and other research or is personal opinion.
Crypto Advocate currently has holdings in BAT.
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