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Comcast Ventures Exec: Blockchain Offers Long-Term Opportunities

NEW YORK — Comcast Ventures is bullish on blockchain because it’s “transformative technology” that stands to be a major disruptive force, but it’s “still super early days” for the technology, according to Gil Beyda, managing director at the Comcast division.

“We need to separate blockchain from bitcoin,” the digital currency where blockchain first started being used to record transactions, he said July 11 at the New York Venture Summit. “We love bitcoin,” which “sort of brought the blockchain technology to the front page,” he told attendees.

Noting that the internet “brought us connectivity,” he said that what blockchain does is add “a layer of trust so that two parties unknown to each other can affect a transaction in a secure fashion.”

In addition, he said, “we believe that there’s an opportunity through smart contracts, which not a lot of folks are talking about, to embed a business model into the blockchain.”

He added: “As a result, I think that there are a lot of traditional businesses that are going to get disrupted and potentially we’re going to see some really new and interesting business models. To solve the problem of trust on the Internet today, we have all of these aggregators in the middle,” including Amazon and Netflix, that serve as the “arbiter” in connecting supply and demand.

He told attendees to “imagine a world where that trust was embedded into the platform and you didn’t need an intermediary.” He predicted companies like Amazon and Netflix won’t be going away. But he said: “There’s an opportunity for new business models to disrupt some of the existing business models. So, we think it’s very exciting.”

However, he stressed: “It’s still super early days. Some folks like to say that it is in early innings — sort of a baseball analogy. I like to think that it’s actually more of a pregame, where everybody’s in the parking lot drinking, barbecuing, having fun. The teams haven’t even yet arrived for the real game.”

Asked if he believes blockchain will be dominated ultimately by current trusted parties including governments, institutions and associations that already have a brand name that people know, he replied: “That’s a great point,” especially when you look at the U.S. and other parts of the developed world where digital currency is “not super exciting to us because we have credit cards and debit cards and we can do electronic transactions all the time.”

But he said: “If you look at the developing world, where they have erratic currencies [and] untrusted central banks, they don’t have access to digital currency. And so, just as the developing countries leapfrogged hard-wired telephones and went directly to mobile, I think that when it comes to digital currency, they will leapfrog debit/credit cards and use technologies like bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and they’ll be widespread. And I don’t think in those developing countries there are large institutions or brands that will own the platform.”

Along with blockchain, other sectors that Comcast Ventures is interested in investing in include cybersecurity and enterprise IT, along with companies associated with other Comcast divisions, he also said. “NBC was the first large media company for one of my cybersecurity investments,” he noted.

It was announced in early 2018 that Comcast Ventures and IBM were the largest backers of MState, a growth lab for enterprise blockchain companies with locations in New York and San Francisco. MState’s goal was to “focus on investing in the most promising blockchain companies globally and help them scale successfully with Fortune 500 customers,” it said in a Jan. 5 announcement.

The enterprise blockchain market is “expected to grow ten-fold” to $2.3 billion in the next five years, MState said at the time, citing a Research and Markets forecast from 2017.