Will blockchain technologies disrupt digital creative industries?

Bronwin Patrickson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    As the technology that powers cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, blockchain technologies have previously been associated with volatile and unregulated financial trade, but they are fundamentally about much more than money. A blockchain is a programmable system for tamper-resistant registration/authentication and trade, thereby avoiding the need for trusted third party notaries like banks. These consensus systems for the relatively secure exchange of digitized value enable efficient and semi-autonomous peer to peer transactions, even between strangers online. Alongside artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 3D printing and nanotech, blockchain technologies have been characterised as essential aspects of a fourth industrial revolution (Schwab, 2016). Through their capacity to help automate, incentivise and authenticate global trade, blockchains are a breakthrough consensus technology with numerous applications. Their revolutionary potential was so infamously hyped during the 2017 bitcoin speculation/exploitation rush (Mattila 2016), that the pursuant 2018 crash created a backlash of “blockchain fatigue” (O'Dair 2018: 3). Nevertheless, beyond the initial, overblown hype cycle , the capacities that blockchain technologies enable continue to offer tools to help ensure greater accountability of trade and potentially increase direct payments for creative enterprise (O'Dair 2018). Even though technical challenges such as the long-term security, stability, scalability and transaction speed of blockchain applications are still being resolved, nevertheless these nascent technologies are starting to be implemented more broadly. Blockchain technologies may not yet be a global, mainstream consumer application , but future mainstream adoption of blockchain inspired applications seems increasingly inevitable. Facebook’s recent enforced rethink (Knowles 2020) of its plans to launch its own global Libra cryptocurrency amidst a public and regulatory backlash (against the risk that facebook would control global currency) reflects not only how close these technologies are to potential mainstream adoption, but also the power struggles currently underway to control them.

    As blockchain applications multiply, it is therefore important to continue to interrogate their applications and implications:
    Whilst numerous studies (Karafiloski and Mishev 2017, Seebacher and Schüritz 2017, Wang, Han, and Beynon-Davies 2019, Konstantinidis et al. 2018) have already analysed how blockchain technologies might change particular industries and business transactions, in this article I explore how blockchain technologies might potentially disrupt digital creative industries such as digital media, web/interface/experience design, application development, extended reality and game design. Previous evaluations of these potential developments have either focused on particular sub-sectors of the various digital creative industries (O'Dair 2018, MacDonald-Korth, Lehdonvirta, and Meyer 2018a), or focused upon particular geographic contexts (Rennie, Potts, and Pochesneva 2019). This study is grounded in the Scottish context but also generalized to global digital creative industries. The popular notion of a “blockchain revolution” (Tapscott and Tapscott 2016, Klaus 2017, Berg, Davidson, and Potts 2017, Radziwill 2018) is analysed using Christensen’s seminal theories (Christensen, Raynor, and McDonald 2015) of disruptive innovation. As such it helps to distinguish between the potentially disruptive and sustaining aspects of blockchain inspired innovation processes within the digital creative industries, whilst also highlighting the value of evaluation models that also consider the broader social and cultural networks that contextualise these processes. Specifically, I consider the ways that creative digital industries which embrace new technologies and could therefore be described as early adopter industries (Gandhi, Khanna, and Ramaswamy 2016), are engaging with blockchain technologies – and what this engagement implies for theories of creative innovation and digital disruption.

    The UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS 2001) defines creative industries as ‘Those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.’ Whilst many creatives use digital software and tools as part of their production process, here the focus is upon the potential implications of blockchain technologies for those who produce a creative digital output, or service.
    Globally, the digital creative economy is connected, shared, personalised, tracked, analysed and increasingly automated (Potts 2016). It is also complex, vulnerable to fraud and exploitation. Due to the democratisation of technology, a resurgence of entrepreneurialism, faster transitions to scale and more access to networked funds, the digital ecology is dynamic and fluid (WorldEconomicForum 2016). Yet, at the same time due to network economies of scale this ecology is prone to centralisation. In the business world, this encourages the rise of platform monopolies and in the creative industries it can create vast income discrepancies. Whilst a few ‘super-stars’ (Mulligan 2014) enjoy enormous wealth, the vast majority of small to medium size creative digital enterprises struggle to secure increasingly precarious incomes (McRobbie 2018). Against this backdrop, social distribution channels combine to embed a hype cycle in the marketplace that is more noticeably associated with emergent trends but also creates instability across the sector, the 2017 bitcoin rush being a prime example
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalCreativity and Innovation Management
    VolumeDigital DisruptIon
    Publication statusSubmitted - 2020


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