The third leverages the network entirely, focusing on a way to solve the distribution problem posed by very large video files. Robert Cringely wrote a series of articles earlier this year talking about various ways to distribute video on the Internet, with a specific focus on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. This is from a column in Feburary:
The poster child for television 2.0, it seems to me, is a company like Grid Networks, which might be a new name to you. Like Bit Torrent, Grid has built a peer-to-peer distribution system. Like Mike Homer’s Kontiki, Grid has married Digital Rights Management and a business model of sorts to its Torrent-like distribution system. But unlike most of the others, Grid (no, I am not an investor but thanks for asking) most approximates what my Mom thinks of as TV.
Kontiki has been around for a long time, and are definitely first mover in the market. They adopted a subscription model (RSS+P2P=Video), but for that the videos have to be downloaded in entirety, and there really is no “browse, click, watch” functionality in their system (at least yet). It is certainly better than waiting 2 days for NetFlix at the mail box, but it’s just not quite user friendly enough in my opinion.
Grid’s system, on the other hand, accomplishes two things from the end-user perspective: it is point, click and watch; and it is very very high quality. Using p2p, they can afford to send 1.5Mbps – 2Mbps video over their network because it costs the same as sending 150Kbps-200Kbps video.
BitTorrent remains the solution most synonymous with peer-to-peer video distribution. This is what Fortune wrote last October: The 30-year-old [Bram] Cohen’s invention BitTorrent is the next generation. It makes it simple to download massive, bandwidth intensive files (everything from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to the latest episode of Desperate Housewives in high def to a file containing 400 Amazing Spider-Man comic books). BitTorrent is so popular that it now accounts for at least 20% of the entire volume of the Internet. And it’s attracted over 45 million users. For high schoolers and college students, using BitTorrent is as natural as wielding a cell phone.
An articled in Wired discussed the origins and technology behind BitTorrent:
The problem with P2P file-sharing networks like Kazaa, he reasoned, is that uploading and downloading do not happen at equal speeds. Broadband providers allow their users to download at superfast rates, but let them upload only very slowly, creating a bottleneck: If two peers try to swap a compressed copy of Meet the Fokkers – say, 700 megs – the recipient will receive at a speedy 1.5 megs a second, but the sender will be uploading at maybe one-tenth of that rate. Thus, one-to-one swapping online is inherently inefficient. It’s fine for MP3s but doesn’t work for huge files.
Cohen realized that chopping up a file and handing out the pieces to several uploaders would really speed things up. He sketched out a protocol: To download that copy of Meet the Fokkers, a user’s computer sniffs around for others online who have pieces of the movie. Then it downloads a chunk from several of them simultaneously. Many hands make light work, so the file arrives dozens of times faster than normal.
Paradoxically, BitTorrent’s architecture means that the more popular the file is the faster it downloads – because more people are pitching in. Better yet, it’s a virtuous cycle. Users download and share at the same time; as soon as someone receives even a single piece of Fokkers, his computer immediately begins offering it to others. The more files you’re willing to share, the faster any individual torrent downloads to your computer. This prevents people from leeching, a classic P2P problem in which too many people download files and refuse to upload, creating a drain on the system.
Tomorrow: Business Models
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