Friday, March 21
Thursday, March 20
However, beyond proving that there's tremendous demand for Flash support on the iPhone I believe these political ramblings are irrelevant.
While Adobe and Apple have had their differences in the past I think this is a purely a technical issue not a political one.
Apple does not have an alternative that competes with Flash.
There is no conflict of interest.
Flash has an install base of over 90% of all computers1 and it is now the norm on websites for both advertising and video playback. As such Flash is an integral part of the Internet experience.
Finally, as mentioned, if the amount of news and blog posts about Adobe / Apple politics is any indicator there is clearly tremendous demand from iPhone fans and developers.
And why shouldn't iPhone owners expect Flash support on their iPhones? Wasn't it Apple who stated in one of the original iPhone ads:
"This is not a watered down version of the Internet, or the mobile version of the Internet, or the 'kinda sorta looks like the Internet', Internet. It's just the Internet on your phone."
So the demand, the interest, and the benefit are there for all parties including iPhone fans, iPhone developers, Adobe and Apple. What then is the problem?
Here's my stab at the issues:
- Potential hardware dependencies in Flash such as video codec support may mean many of the most popular Flash applications may simply not work well or at all on the current iPhone hardware.
- Limitations in processing power on the iPhone may lead to inconsistent or poor experiences with Flash applications in general
- Processor requirements of flash may well severely drain and reduce battery life.
- AT&T's wireless network is extremely limited, thus extraneous Flash applications in web pages such as advertisements might diminish the whole iPhone Internet experience.
Off hand I can think of one simple solution that may mitigate many of these limitations.
In order to prevent advertisements and other Flash applications from needlessly using up processor cycles, draining the battery and wasting precious wireless data bandwidth the iPhone interface could simply require an extra click before a Flash application begins to load in a web page.
Anyone who's a fan of the FireFox Flashblock extension will understand what I mean. Flash applications are merely represented in the page by a Flash button and will not load / play unless first clicked upon.
This simple UI enhancement would solve the problem of needlessly wasting limited bandwidth and processor cycle by allowing users to ignore all Flash applications except those which they specifically choose to load.
Alternatively in order to avoid taxing AT&T's network Apple could block flash usage while on AT&T's network all together, but don't think this will be necessary.
Wednesday, March 19
According to Michael Geist the CBC is going to use bittorrent to distribute the program "Canada's Next Great Prime Minister" which airs this Sunday the 23rd.
Pardon me I spoke to soon. Upon reading up on the CBC's "Next Prime Minister" show, I see now it's an ambitious ongoing show, not just a single special as I had prematurely assumed. This release of an ongoing show is a very ambitious start for the CBC as it will give viewers a chance to establish regular viewing habits week after week. By the end of the series the CBC should have a really good idea if they can establish a regular audience for Internet based TV viewing.
While I haven't heard of anything from the Participatory Culture Foundation I certainly hope the two are working on a specialized distribution of the Miro open source TV platform for the CBC, as this would not only be tremendously beneficial to both parties, but I believe it may be essential to the success of the CBC's trial. (hint hint ;)
My guess is sometime in the next six months either the BBC and PBS will be the next to embrace BitTorrent distribution on limited programing. Once again I must point out that the model of distribution that the Participatory Culture Foundation has attempted to promote with Miro is exactly what I believe to be the winning model and that a partnership with the CBC would be a logical step on forging alliances with either the BBC or PBS.
As to my supposed success in predicting the popularization of BitTorrent by public TV providers it doesn't take a genius to spot this trend. It is one I and other video bloggers have been promoting since as far back as 2004 and it's one the Participatory Culture Foundation has been working on since at least 2006.
P2P technology is the only distribution technology that can effectively scale to meet the demands of timely full length and high definition TV programing on the Internet. It is an inevitable part of the future of media distribution on the Internet especially as Internet distributed video gets more timely and gains the attention of large global audiences.
Add to this the fact that public radio and television stations such as NPR, the CBC and BBC were some of the first to embrace audio and video podcasting and you have to deduce that sooner or later they would be among the first to start dabbling in BitTorrent TV distribution as well. In fact I have to point out that I'm still amazed that NPR has over 500 podcasts.
With this embrace of podcasting by public radio and TV it was only a question was timing, and with Norweigen Broadcasting taking the lead January of this year other public broadcasters were likely to soon follow.
If the trend continues then sometime possibly before the end of 2008 we may well see a commercial TV network dabble in BitTorrent distribution as well.
Speaking of commercial TV networks there is a very interesting counter point with the launch last week of Hulu.com. Hulu.com is a very centralized, "page centric", albeit fairly sociable attempt at offering full TV and movie screenings to users. So far in my limited experience with it it seems to be holding up (scaling) well to the traffic. However I don't believe demand has been overwhelming do to Hulu's the very inconsistent offerings.
To be specific even though there are some great TV and Movie offerings that I think the early adopter / high tech crowd would be interested in (i.e. Battlestar Galactica, Serenity) these offerings often have very inconsistent episodic offerings. It would seem that instead of building viewing habits (an audience) Hulu.com and it's partners are "expiring" older episodes in what I can only guess is some misguided attempt to "tease" fans into purchasing further options. However this just leaves would be fans just as befuddled as the TV scheduling experience, perhaps more so.
In short, they have failed to fix the major problem. Hulu.com does not even solve the basic problem that Tivo has solved in letting your return to old episodes you may have missed or might want to see again.
If a user has missed an episode there is once again no alternative source for the fan to find these episodes but turning to the bittorrent grey/black markets. Hulu.com should be this catch all, not continue to perpetuate this problem of TV scheduling.
Hulu should be offering back episodes so a fan can catch up with an episode they may have missed, or would be fans can preview early episodes to determine if a show is something they're interested in. This does not undermine TV viewership or DVD sales of a show. In fact it supports them.
Hulu.com is not, nor is it likely to be an *alternative* to TV. Hulu.com's role in this future should be a *supporting role*. I know of no one who would rather watch their favorite TV show on a computer rather then live on TV or via DVD with no commercial interruptions.
As long as content creators struggle to understand this new medium fans will keep returning to p2p grey markets as that catch all solution.
It is all about building viewer habits, and as long as media companies fail to provide solutions on which fans can form good habits with good quality alternatives to cable or satellite fans of shows will build habits around p2p grey markets and it will be increasingly costly to lure them from those habits. This is particularly true of younger generations whom are growing up in this age of digital media prohibitions where all they have known is getting their media from the local speakeasy (p2p nets) because there has been know other digital option.
To continue with this metaphor... once the prohibition is removed, and work is done to rebuild trust and remove the taboo of digital media consumption.. when these goods come back to an open and sociable market the people will return to the digital sidewalk cafe's of the future and business will be brisk... but it must be natural, and open. No one is likely to return to this market with an attendant watching over them like a hawk, eavesdropping on their conversation and constantly reminding them of the time.
Respect, balance and trust must be restored to the digital marketplace and given how badly generations feel it has been betrayed it is not likely they will easily return. It's going to be costly.
We need to drag media and digital culture back out onto the open Internet where it can benefit everyone and be a part of a naturally sociable vibrant and bountiful marketplace. This digital prohibition has gone on to long. This last week was the ten year aniversary of the mp3 player. TEN YEARS and only this year have the major labels finally started selling mp3's.
If you failed to respond to your customers for ten years where would your business be?
Wednesday, March 12
More: Digg discussions, Wikipedia
Since I just posted about the advantages of peer based media distribution I find Hulu worth noting. It will be an interesting test of a centralized distribution for popular mainstream TV shows. Despite the fact that it's a huge improvement over past IPTV services it displays many of the shortcomings I speak of in previous posts. Some of these issues include:
1) Now that it's out of a limited private beta can it scale to meet demanad?
2) There is no subscription mechanism (i.e. RSS) or standardized interface (i.e. Miro) for subscribing to Hulu content as well as content from other distributors. In the long term can we really expect people to go around and visit 8 or 18 different websites in the future to catch up on their favorite weekly TV shows?
3) The Hulu interface is not conducive to important social aspects of the web that would encourage it's use... i.e. linking to shows, embedding shows in a web page, or even linking to a particular segment of a show for reference in discussion. These social aspects are the life blood of all websites, particularly where video is concerned (i.e. youtube) since more truditional search mechanisms don't work well on non-textual content such as video.
4) While a huge improvement over previous mainstream media attempts to bring tv shows to the web the general UI is still very cumberome by traditional TV standards. There is to much clicking, to many destractions, it has a non-standardized UI and has overly intrusive / even obnoxious advertising.
5) Hulu is not available worldwide. It is only available in the US. Meanwhile the market is increasingly global.
While I expect Hulu to have some degree of success until many of these aspects improve I would not expect to see a downturn in the peer based black/grey markets for mainstream media.
My points are as follows.
People can already cut out the ads with now common solutions like TIVO, and people can and do already cut out the advertisements and redistribute TV shows via bittorrent. No amount of DRM is going to stop this. Period. The promises of DRM are a myth. It only takes one person to crack the DRM... and the very fact that you can hear and see TV means it is fundamentally re-recordable and copyable with little to no loss of quality.
Secondly, If there is an "official" peer based release, a legal, legit and secure alternative that offers a sufficiently user friendly experience (i.e. not to excessive of advertising or to cumbersome an interface) this greatly diminishes the demand and interest in grey market or black market alternatives.
Thirdly, Advertising is already evolving away from 30 second interstitials into integrated product placements, overlays and sponsorships which are not as easily removed or skipped. I always use the example of the NFL game: Advertising and sponsorship is seamlessly integrated into every aspect of the experience... both on the actual field, in the stadium, on the uniforms and equipment, even the stadium name, as well as overlaid with scoring and stats on the screen. The advertising model is increasingly independent of the proverbial 30-second spot.
Finally, These above points brought up by readers are not even the primary issue.
The primary issue is as such: centralized distribution systems are increasingly cost prohibitive and do not scale well at all for the mass market.
The infrastructure and inherent cost in distributing media from a centralized point or non peer based CDN (content distribution network) such as Akami or other is tremendous. In fact with more popular and mainstream content where there may be real-time demand for HD quality video upwards of 400,000 this distribution model completely short circuits.
Timeliness is an important factor both to the media (ie. news and content) and the experience (ie. skipping video). Peer based distribution such as bittorrent therefore become not just a logical alternative but in some cases a necessity.
Peer based systems are not just the most efficient means to scale distribution with demand, they are fundamentally the only way when dealing with economics of scale in an increasingly global market.
Protecting this future is yet another reason why protecting net neutrality is so important to the future of the internet. Peer based mechanisms are a fundamental and important part of the internet. Not just with media but in all aspects of social networking and communications of which media in the form of VOIP, video sharing, podcasting and such are increasingly the killer applications of the network. In short communications are fundamentally peer based. All that's changing is we're making them media rich with video, VOIP, podcasting, and blog-like mechanisms.
The following is a recent post from the Miro blog providing further details about the Norwgian Public Broacasting's use of bittorrent to distribute programing.
Norwegian Public Broadcaster, NRK, recently made waves with the success of their pilot project where they put one of their full series online, in HD, without restrictive DRM, over bittorrent.
The initiative has been a huge success on every front — viewers love the super high-resolution picture and most people have reported incredibly short download times (given the file sizes). Furthermore, viewers have been downloading the episodes en-masse (around 80,000 times in the past 3 weeks). To top it all off, NRK hasn’t broken the bank to deliver the goods; in fact, they haven’t even broken a sweat.
To-date, NRK has paid a total of $350 for storage and delivery of the entire series. This information was disclosed to me by project manager Eirik Solheim; he also estimated that the bandwidth bill would have been roughly $8,000, had NRK chosen a more traditional delivery method.
Eirik shared the secret sauce behind the project:
All the HD video files were stored and delivered using Amazon’s S3 data service, which has optional bittorrent capabilities. NRK syndicated the .torrent episodes over an RSS feed, which allowed the program to work something like a podcast.
NRK recommends that people use Miro to subscribe: it’s the easiest way for folks to use BitTorrent and it fits their public-interest mission. The estimate that a high percentage of their downloaders (50% or more) are using Miro.
The ease of use is very important, because it encourages more people to participate in watching and sharing the shows. Technically, the cost to the producer for distributing to a handful of viewers, say 300, is basically the same as doing so for 1,000,000 people. This is because after a point, distribution is handled by the viewers themselves; as the number of viewers rises, the work that NRK does stays constant.
All in all, the pilot has been a major success, and is blazing a trail to wider adoption of bittorrent delivery for NRK programs. We’ll definitely post here when we get more details.