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March 13, 2013

Free Peer-To-Peer Video Streaming is Here with BitTorrent Live, Creator Wants to 'Kill Off Television'

Internet video streaming as we know it is about to change. Delivering video online is a terribly inefficient process, and Bram Cohen, the creator of the BitTorrent protocol, has figured out a way to do it better. While BitTorrent often gets a bad rap thanks to its links to piracy, it's still one of the least bandwidth intensive ways to share files with other people. Now the company is introducing what they are calling BitTorrent Live, which works in a similar way to the original BitTorrent protocol, but is instead focused on delivering streaming video. By using the bandwidth of the users, BitTorrent is able to take the load off of the original broadcaster, making it efficient for anyone to host a streaming video.

Here's a little bit from TechCrunch about the new service [Update] the "Kill TV" quote was apparently not meant to be taken seriously:

“My goal is to kill off television” Cohen said during the SF MusicTech demo session I hosted. Afterwards he explained to me in rhyme, “Television’s physical infrastructure is inevitably going to go away, but TV as a mode of content consumption is here to stay.” Essentially, people love what they see on television, but want it accessible from the web.

BitTorrent Live sidesteps the infrastructure cost by having viewers stream the content to each other like they’d torrent a download instead of pulling video from a central source. Cohen tells me he’s spent 3 years hacking on BitTorrent Live, “It’s a difficult engineering problem, and I’ve figured it out.” Now the protocol can offload 99% of the data transfer to users and achieve just a 5-second delay even with millions of viewers.

The requirement from users is that they download a simple plugin that remains live while using the service (similar to the SoShare, the service we talked about last month that allows you to do a file transfer of an unlimited amount of data to any user/users up to 1 TB at a time). A 5 second delay is simply remarkable considering it takes all of the heavy lifting off of the original provider. While the service is going to be free for those not looking to profit, those selling ads will pay a licensing fee which is reportedly much, much lower than anything else out there.

So what does this mean for you? While the service is in Beta right now, and I'm having a bit of trouble making any of the streams work, this has the potential to make streaming viable for anyone at anytime, absolutely free (potentially making a service like Ustream obsolete). The best part about the distributed nature of BitTorrent is that it works in a completely opposite way to other streaming services. It doesn't bog down with more users, in fact, the more users accessing the stream, the better the performance should be.

There is also an important distinction to be made between this service and services like YouTube or Vimeo. While we call those sites "video streaming" sites, they aren't technically streaming video. They are using what is called progressive download, which begins downloading a video to your cache at whatever point you select in the timeline. A traditional streaming network, like Netflix, does not work in this manner, and delivers video in realtime, and adapts the stream in realtime based on performance.

While Cohen is aiming for this to replace infrastructure for live TV content on the web, I could see filmmakers using it beyond just streaming live events. If everything works out as it should, the potential is there to hose live screenings of films online and show them anywhere, at very high quality. You could even host a live Q&A after the screenings, and show them all across the web, without any hit on performance, and at no cost to the filmmaker or the viewers.

Cohen has been teasing the service for a while now, but once the bugs are worked out, BitTorrent Live could very well could disrupt the status quo and truly democratize streaming. To try it out, and learn more about the service, head on over to the BitTorrent Live page.

What do you guys think? Do you have any other ideas about the possibilities for the service?

Links:

[via The Verge & TechCrunch & The Next Web]

Your Comment

12 Comments

Really cool concept. He might want to consider changing the name, though - the undeniable stigma attached to BitTorrent isn't going to be easy to shake, and will likely make many hesitant to adopt any service under that name.

March 13, 2013

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David S.

On the other hand ... Bit Torrent could do with a bit of an uplift in image! If the process works, people will use it ... I know I will. I've done a number of live streams on corporate level meetings, for example, on 3 continents and have found that process to be expensive and a real pain to do.

March 13, 2013

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This is actually brilliant. This is one of those things that makes too much sense not to take seriously. I can't wait for 5 years from now where we can (hopefully) stream 4k live, just because we can.

March 13, 2013

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I think it's not a revolution from customer's side. Twitch.tv is already really good at streaming stuff without too much lagging (for example SC2: HoS event has been watched by 500k people without lags). I know twitch is strictly made for streaming video games, but the technology has already been out there.

March 13, 2013

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AndyTok

Yes, but Twitch is not P2P, meaning that they have to pay an insane amount of money in order to be able to deliver content to 500K people. In this case there is a company behind this, they earn money with ads.
If you, as a typical low- to middle-budget guy want to stream to that many people you will have to face the fact that that will be very, very expensive.

March 13, 2013

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SDX

I agree with David S. on the name change.
If it is the end of mainstream TV, I, for one, won't be shedding any tears.

March 13, 2013

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ben

BitTorrent is the name of the company/organization behind it....

March 13, 2013

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Tom

Right, but they still should consider doing something like Comcast did with XFINITY.

March 13, 2013

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Nate

I think "killing off television" is more of a description of what Live is capable of, and might be used for, rather than a literal competitor to television. It's the internet that is killing television - and even considering that, we have to acknowledge the internet is killing *commercial* television. TV funded in different ways, where the programming is not inherently tied to the legacy broadcast system is able to thrive with the internet, which augments it rather than replaces it in any way. BBC, HBO, etc. And even THEN, it's not just the internet - it is digital technology. The DVR, ie. computer, is responsible for killing commercial TV more than anything.

The name change logic implies that one needs buy-in from incumbent mass media corporations, as if it were a service designed specifically for them, which wouldn't work unless they bought into it. Getting buy-in from the past to innovate is a recipe for failure. This is about the end of the financiers of media, not about their extension and dominance of new domains.

I agree with Randy. We will be able to shoot 4k and TV broadcasting will take decades to catch up. In the UK there is still very little HD television.

March 13, 2013

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bring it

March 13, 2013

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Natt

Television came early to My home (1950) as my father worked in the industry. I remember people talking over coffee in the evening about "pay T.V."-------it took a long time ;but, free T.V. is almost completely a thing of the past.-----Oh, by the way, My dad (R.M. Von Neida) purchased an F.M. Radio (before stereo) because there were no commercials at all-----A.M. Stations could have an F.M.------just cool Jazz 24/7------Boy Oh Boy have the times ben changed by whomever.Internet T.V. will be great "IF" the government does not step in an control it!! Good luck!

March 15, 2013

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Gary Von Neida

Wonder whats going to happen in the digital rights area... if your very successful you ought to be on the safe side with owning the rights to your content (music etc) OR ELSE... ;) to more viewers the more they will come for you...
But sounds great to be able to host high quality files online like this... streaming per se is now on youtube but quality is not that great... this p2p streaming service should be better... but probably only if you have enough viewers then? or how do I stream a 4K video to 2 viewers? So marketing and promoting your event will be crucial... looking forward to this development.

March 17, 2013

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Joe