BitTorrent hopes to speed commercial content streaming

Looking beyond peer to peer, BitTorrent DNA can distribute video and software downloads

BitTorrent wants to shake up the way content is streamed online by taking its method for downloading large files and applying it to multimedia streaming.

BitTorrent's claim to fame is a peer-to-peer software program widely used to share pirated music and video over the Web. That program downloads large files such as movies or television shows by atomizing each file into individual bits, allowing users to download them from multiple users, and then reassembling them once the download is complete. The company's new program, called BitTorrent DNA, delivers content streaming using the same model, which it says will improve quality and dramatically reduce lag for streams.

"The plan is to have BitTorrent DNA deliver video streams into browsers, much like YouTube," says Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent's president and cofounder. "BitTorrent DNA video experiences will be a lot faster, and will potentially have higher quality than other video streaming services."

According to BitTorrent CTO Eric Klinker, installing DNA only requires that software be loaded onto end user computers. Once the software is in place, it can download large files from all DNA users who have those files on their computers. Thus, the more people who have those files downloaded on their machines, the more sources a downloader has to choose from for video streaming.

Because BitTorrent DNA streams from files cached in multiple sources, the company says, it enables users to stream far more quickly and use much less bandwidth than ordinary video streams. BitTorrent hopes that DNA will appeal to businesses that want to lower the cost of high-quality content delivery.

BitTorrent also announced its first customer, Brightcove, will use it to distribute streaming video programs over the Internet. Brightcove distributes video over the Internet for companies including CBS, News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group, Viacom's MTV Networks and The New York Times.

Rob Enderle, the president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, says that BitTorrent DNA will be best used for streaming movies and television shows. He notes, however, that DNA will face limitations with streaming live content, such as videoconferencing, since it requires several users to download and cache content in order to work effectively. Despite this, he thinks it has the potential to drastically improve the quality of online video streaming.

"It'll provide a better experience all the way down the line," he says. "It really helps with the whole concept of Internet television. Once we can stream stuff on demand, why do we need TIVO or DVR?"

Mike McGuire, a research vice president at Gartner, shares Enderle's optimistic view of DNA's technological potential, but notes that BitTorrent still has to aggressively market its product and "make a reasonable price point argument" to show businesses that the technology is worth its investment.

Aram Sinnreich, a founder and managing partner at Radar Research, says that BitTorrent DNA could also help the company improve its image among content providers, which in the past viewed BitTorrent software as a prime tool for piracy. The company first began working with several content providers last year when it signed deals with several major studios to distribute their content legally through its online store. Sinnreich predicts that once more companies see how BitTorrent software can help them distribute content without becoming victims of piracy, more of them will come to see it as an asset.

"It's all about recognizing how small efficiencies can add up to large cost savings," he says. "Right now, it's one of the most clever solutions I've seen."

McGuire expresses a similar view, and says that smart companies will overcome any inhibitions about BitTorrent technology by learning how to use it for their benefit.

"When peer to peer first came out, some people thought it was evil," he says. "But no, it's only the application of the technology that can be harmful, not the technology itself. Smart people who work at enterprises understand there are potential efficiencies to be gained from distributing large files."

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