Wednesday, March 12

HDTV Series Mass-Distributed for Price of an iPhone

Some people took exception to my recent(ish) post about DRM-less peer based distribution being the future of IPTV. Their primary issues being that "people can skip the ads" and/or "cut out the ads and redistribute ad-less shows".

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.

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