BitTorrent on Tuesday announced at the Internet & Television Expo an application called “BitTorrent Live” that applies its distributed file-sharing technology to video streaming.
BitTorrent is able to speed up file downloads by storing pieces of a file on computers throughout the Net and reassembling them when a request is made for the file. BitTorrent Live does the same for streaming live video, the company said.
“The people here at BitTorrent have changed the way the Internet works, and more than once,” BitTorrent blogger Christian said in a Tuesday post. “We are about to do it again with our sights firmly set on making live video streaming actually work.”
Latency and Benjamins
BitTorrent Live targets two big problems with streaming live events over the Net: latency and cost.
Latency is the lag time between when something happens at a live event and when the viewer sees it. With major events, latency can be 30 seconds to a minute. If you’re using multiple platforms to participate in an event — for example, tweeting and streaming — it can be a real drag to read about something that happened before you saw it.
What’s more, streaming an event can be costly. Not only does it require expensive content delivery networks, which are used to push content to users, but costs rise as each new viewer is added to the broadcast.
“You can’t predict when something amazing will happen on a live broadcast that will get shared out through social networks and quickly multiply the number of viewers,” Erik Schwartz, vice president of media of BitTorrent Live, said earlier this year.
“That can cost a huge amount of money in overage charges,” he continued, “or even worse, it can cause your stream to fail right when things are getting good.”
Coming to Apple TV
“Powered by our proprietary and patented peer-to-peer live-streaming protocol, BitTorrent Live allows for large audiences to view live video with sub-10-second latency and without the need for an expensive CDN or preprovisioning,” Christian said in explaining how BitTorrent Live tackles the problems of latency and cost.
“With BitTorrent Live,” he added, “every viewer is also a broadcaster. This allows the video stream to remain strong and for the broadcast to be as scalable as traditional Over-the-Air TV.”
Apple TV is expected to receive BitTorrent Live this week. A June rollout is planned for iOS and Android versions of the app.
Initially, the app will have more than a dozen free channels. Premium and paid content will come later.
The free channels aren’t exactly household names. They include AWE, Fast & Fun and OpenNews TV.
BitTorrent Live could have a significant impact on the streaming scene, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “They’re reporting latency far below where you would typically see it for a multicast.”
“If this works the way they say it works, this would be incredibly disruptive,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“It would provide an affordable solution for someone who wanted to provide an over-the-top broadcast of an event,” Enderle added.
In order for BitTorrent Live to take off, however, it will need to attract content providers — providers that it has rubbed the wrong way in the past because the company’s file-sharing network has been used to distribute pirated software, movies and other copyrighted content.
“This is a feeble attempt to build a live-streaming service full of channels that no one cares about,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst with Technalysis Research.
Cable Is Big Loser
“The things that people want to watch live are not these specialty channels. They want to watch major, live sporting events. BitTorrent Live doesn’t have that, nor do they have any hope in the future of getting that,” O’Donnell told TechNewsWorld.
“Conceptually what they’re doing is interesting,” he added, “but you’ve got to have the live TV content to make it worthwhile, and they don’t.”
Whether BitTorrent Live takes off or not, it is yet another sign of the changing media landscape, noted technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan.
“I don’t know how big BitTorrent will get and how important it will be to the overall transformation of the television and entertainment space,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They’re just one of the players competing for a slice of the pie.”
“The industry losing its slice of the pie is traditional cable television,” Kagan said. “The segment winning a bigger slice is all the new competitors delivering television over IPTV and wireless networks.”