“In 2018 we’re doubling down on blockchain,” says Gil Beyda, managing director of Comcast Ventures, the investment arm of one of the world’s largest media and telecom companies.
For the venture capital arm of Comcast, an investment in blockchain isn’t opportunistic, Beyda insists. “Just to be clear, if bitcoin were at $15 instead of $15,000 we would still be committing to this,” he said.
Comcast Ventures has been looking at blockchain technology for months, driven by Comcast and NBCUniversal’s long-standing interest in applications across several of the company’s business units.
In fact, internal experiments are already underway around advanced advertising alongside Disney and Cox Communications that will be used to match data sets without sharing consumer data. Other experiments are underway looking at applications around royalty tracking and energy, Beyda says.
“A lot of folks are trying to figure out how do you apply this consensus-driven immutable decentralized infrastructure and decentralized distributed applications,” Beyda says. “We have real-world applications inside Comcast where folks are trying to solve real-world problems with blockchain.”
Earlier this month, the company announced a commitment to MState Growth Lab, an accelerator program focused on enterprise blockchain startups that’s also being funded by IBM and Galvanize, an accelerator, investment fund and bootcamp.
“In 2018, we will see a growing number of enterprise blockchain use cases go mainstream from healthcare applications to government, supply chain and retail to the real estate and transportation industries. But for most of these use cases to succeed, blockchain startups need to be able to engage well with enterprise customers. Our growth lab is going to help make that happen,” said MState co-founder and CEO Rob Bailey.
Bailey is chief executive of MState program, which will be managed with assistance from the partners at Boldstart Ventures.
The $250,000 commitment that Comcast Ventures made to MState is only one in a series of experiments that the fund is trying as it wraps its head around the potential of blockchain for its businesses and as a startup investment opportunity.
The firm also has committed a few million dollars to a blockchain-focused fund as a fund-of-fund investment. And one of the firm’s portfolio companies, YouNow, is following the “when in doubt, ICO,” route.
Beyda says that Comcast Ventures is even discussing whether it will hold tokens or cryptocurrencies itself.
“As part of our move into blockchain technologies, we understand it’s going to disrupt many different types of businesses and it may even disrupt traditional venture businesses, and we want to get in there and understand that,” Beyda says.
Comcast Ventures invests across different classes, committing anywhere from $500,000 to $20 million in the companies it backs… and with its corporate parent, it can accelerate technologies and add scale to some of the blockchain applications that are currently in development, Beyda says.
Specifically for Comcast, blockchain technologies around royalty tracking, identity and digital rights management all sound appealing.
Other entertainment companies have already seen the value in blockchain startups. Last May, Spotify acquired the blockchain technology developer MediaChain to solve its music attribution problem.
The value of these applications are completely independent of the price of various cryptocurrencies, says Beyda.
“Irrespective of what’s happening in cryptocurrency we think that this technology — like database technology and internet technology were transformational — this technology will also have a high area of growth and adoption,” Beyda says.
While the company intends to make blockchain a priority, it’s not going to be overly aggressive in its experiments with the technology.
“We’re going to take a staged approach,” says Beyda. “We’re going to first try to make equity investment in these technologies and evaluate what our token position would be moving forward. We’re just trying to understand what are the implications in regard to governance and other issues.”