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The BitTorrent Effect

January 6th, 2005 · No Comments

Wired writes about “Bram Cohen’s blazing-fast P2P software has turned the Internet into a universal TiVo.”

You could think of BitTorrent as Napster redux – another rumble in the endless copyright wars. But BitTorrent is something deeper and more subtle. It’s a technology that is changing the landscape of broadcast media.

“All hell’s about to break loose,” says Brad Burnham, a venture capitalist with Union Square Ventures in Manhattan, which studies the impact of new technology on traditional media. BitTorrent does not require the wires or airwaves that the cable and network giants have spent billions constructing and buying. And it pounds the final nail into the coffin of must-see, appointment television. BitTorrent transforms the Internet into the world’s largest TiVo.

One example of how the world has already changed: Gary Lerhaupt, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford, became fascinated with Outfoxed, the documentary critical of Fox News, and thought more people should see it. So he convinced the film’s producer to let him put a chunk of it on his Web site for free, as a 500-Mbyte torrent. Within two months, nearly 1,500 people downloaded it. That’s almost 750 gigs of traffic, a heck of a wallop. But to get the ball rolling, Lerhaupt’s site needed to serve up only 5 gigs. After that, the peers took over and hosted it themselves. His bill for that bandwidth? $4. There are drinks at Starbucks that cost more. “It’s amazing – I’m a movie distributor,” he says. “If I had my own content, I’d be a TV station.”

During the last century, movie and TV companies had to be massive to afford distribution. Those economies of scale aren’t needed anymore. Will the future of broadcasting need networks, or even channels?

“Blogs reduced the newspaper to the post. In TV, it’ll go from the network to the show,” says Jeff Jarvis, president of the Internet strategy company Advance.net and founder of Entertainment Weekly. (Advance.net is owned by Advance Magazine Group, which also owns Wired’s parent company, Cond Nast.) Burnham goes one step further. He thinks TV-viewing habits are becoming even more atomized. People won’t watch entire shows; they’ll just watch the parts they care about.

Tags: Software

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