Thoughts on BitTorrent distribution for a public broadcaster

A while after we did our successful experiment with BitTorrent distribution for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation I was interviewed by the German news web site www.tagesschau.de

The article is in German, but my original conversation with Mr. Wulf Rohwedder is in english. Because it reveals some of my thoughts about this project I decided to share it here:

– Peer to peer networks have a bit of an ambigious reputation, especially due to the use for pirated footage and othe rillegal content. Has there been any reservations or resistance against the project?

– Less resistance than the project initially feared. But we thought through the issues and planned the responses because we feared that other media would start screaming “the NRK use illegal pirate technology to distribute content”. So we made it very clear in the initial blog post announcing the project that BitTorrent is not by any means illegal. It is a very robust and powerful way to distribute content. So robust and powerful that it unfortunately has been the preferred distribution method for pirates.

After the announcement we can conclude that the problem of BitTorrent being the pirate’s preferred distribution method was highly overrated. No real questions about this have been raised. Seems like most journalists understand that the technology is by no means illegal.

– Will you expand the experiment to other productions?
– The experience and reactions after one week are extremely positive. It is likely that we’ll try to clear the rights for this kind of distribution of more content. But first we want to evaluate our current experiment in more detail.

– Do you fear any setbacks for the classical ways of distribution like broadcast and DVD sales?
– At this point our experience with multi platform distribution has been that success on one platform leads to success on other platforms. But BitTorrent distribution is one of our experiments trying to focus on future possibilities. In the long run traditional broadcast and DVD sales of content like this will decline anyway. It is important for us to start experimenting with new distribution methods. We don’t want to do like the music industry. Running around thinking that people will keep driving down to a record store when they can have the content delivered with the push of a button at home.

And if that wasn’t enough. BitTorrent distribution is environmentally friendly. Driving trucks full of DVDs around the country is not.

– By offering DRM-free versions of your products in a non proprietary standard you are pretty much giving up control over it – do you fear any misuse?
– If you want control of your content you need to lock it down in a vault and never show it to anyone. We gave up control of our content the day we started broadcasting. For years our most popular content have been available on BitTorrent and on sites like YouTube anyway. DRM doesn’t work. The only way to control your content is to be the best provider of it. If people want it on YouTube then you should publish it on YouTube or in a system that give the same experience. If people want it on BitTorrent then you should provide that. If you do it right people will come to your official publish point and you’ll end up with more control.

In other words, the possibility of misuse has always been there. By publishing our content the way people want it we gain control of the quality and the presentation.

– How do you settle the question of third party rights?
– That is the most difficult part and the main reason for not publishing all our productions like this. Music rights, actors, artists, format owners etc. Fortunately the managers of this particular series was very forward thinking when they started working on it two years ago. They did a very detailed contract with Lars Monsen (the hiker, main character and photographer) and avoided third party sponsors. They had all the music composed and bought completely free.

To solve this in the future we need to be better at negotiating rights when starting new projects. And we need to keep working on renegotiation of our existing content to be able to publish more from our archives.

If you have any additional information about the project we would be interested to get them, too.
– We’re a license funded public broadcaster. We need to reach the broadest possible audience with our content. Because of that we can do experiments like these without having to worry about advertising revenues. And the reactions so far have been extremely positive. Currently there are 321 comments on the blog post announcing the project. All of them positive. Comments like “Now I’m paying my license fee with joy”, “Finally a TV channel that gets it!”, “Note to BBC: This is how it should be done” and so on.

So far we’re closing in on 90 000 downloads of the torrent files. The peer-to-peer ratio on the downloads have been close to 95%. Yes, meaning that using BitTorrent saves the license fee payers 95% of the distribution cost. And giving them download times of 3-5 minutes on a 30 minute TV show in full quality.

Link to the English article about the project.

The discussion on digg.com.

And the original Norwegian blog post announcing the project.

Thoughts on BitTorrent distribution for a public broadcaster

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) makes popular series available DRM-free via BitTorrent

I know many of you are still waiting for some conclusions after my recent visit to DLD in Munich. But I’ve been busy making stuff available on BitTorrent:

As one of many ways to reach people with our content we have decided to do an experiment and make one of our most popular television series available through BitTorrent.This technology makes it possible for us to make our content available in a very high quality without having to invest in large server farms and expensive bandwidth.

The very popular series called “Nordkalotten 365″ has been aired on traditional TV in Norway. Over 900 000 of Norway’s 4,6 million watched the show in average, and the marketshare was close to 50%! “Nordkalotten 365″ is now made available for download. In this series the experienced hiker Lars Monsen has traveled alone through the north of Scandinavia for one year. The first episode is already published and the next episodes will be made available as they are encoded.

Read the rest of the story on NRKbeta.

We are suggesting that people use Miro to download the content because it contains both the torrent client and the playback codec. But you can use whatever bittorrent client you want.

Now help us by digging this story!

The story has been running on all major news sites in Norway, and recently we made the front page of BoingBoing.

And yes, a report from DLD is on its way.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) makes popular series available DRM-free via BitTorrent

High Definition Seasons

http://flash.revver.com/player/1.0/player.swf?mediaId=99642&affiliateId=3443

I am doing some tests with BitTorrent distribution through Amazon S3. The file I just made available is the high definition version of my seasons time lapse. It’s H.264 and no sound.

You find the torrent here: Seasons720.torrent
Please comment on how it works.

I am working on a new version of the video as well. That one includes professional quality optics. 10 megapixel resolution and HDR on all images. Unfortunalety you’ll have to wait about one year before it is finished. Here’s a quick preview so far. A tiny bit of autumn.

Same forest. New camera…

High Definition Seasons

The ultimate geek house

Lab in delft
Okay. It’s a lab. Not a house. But while visiting the excellent people at the Tribler project over at the university of Delft in Holland this building caught my attention. Mostly because of the architecture. Looks pretty cool. And when you consider the utterly geeky stuff they do in there it gets even better:

* Eutectic freeze crystallisation
* Ionic liquids
* Scale prevention
* Scale removal by ultrasound
* Protein precipitation
* Protein drying
* Supercritical dyeing
* Supercritical textile dry cleaning
* Supercritical metal extraction
* Capture of particulate matter
* Carbon dioxide sequestration
* Foaming of plastics
* Cannabis isolation
* In line purification
* Extractive crystallisation

At least one of the activities listed is something that I think is quite special for a Dutch university. More details here. If you add the fact that some of the students live in condos like the ones in the image below you would expect cool stuff to come out of this university.

Student Condo

So, have a look at Tribler. A BitTorrent client that you will see more of in the future. They have some pretty interesting features coming up.

The ultimate geek house

All the TV you would ever want – on the internet

Traditional broadcasting has a huge advantage compared to internet streaming. The fact that you don’t have to care about how many people turn on their TV sets. When they start broadcasting the superbowl or popular content like the eurovision song contest in Europe more than 100 million people turn on and look at it. And still it’s no problem. That doesn’t overload the broadcasting systems.

With regular internet streaming that’s a problem. The load on your servers will increase with the amount of people tuning in to watch the stream. That system is completely useless if you want to serve 100 million people. That’s why the network operators are working on a system called multicast. A system that will allow more broadcast like streaming. Problem is that you need to replace a lot of hardware in the network to enable multicast. The transition to a multicast enabeled network takes time.

Acually, too much time. At least for the clever programmers out there that want high quality streaming now! They want a system that won’t break the server if it gets popular.

And it’s here already. It has been here for a while. Welcome peer-to-peer streaming. Simplified: Napster, Kazaa, BitTorrent and eMule, but for streaming instead of download. A system that gets stronger and gives you better quality as more and more people tune in. The more popular a stream is, the better it will be.

The most user friendly right now

As mentioned, it has been here for a while. But it has only been available for quite advanced users. For the last couple of months I have been playing around with a solution that is pretty user friendly and straight forward. Time to write something about it. TVUPlayer is an application that will give you a long list of TV channels that you can watch on your computer, or media center. It’s not 100% remote control friendly yet, and I haven’t seen a Windows Media Center Edition plugin but I guess it’s just a question of time before you’ll see frontends for peer-to-peer streaming in the different media center solutions out there. Here you can read a full review of TVUPlayer: TVUPlayer Review | Get potentially any TV Channel over the internet for free

TVUPlayer

And because TVUPlayer works so well I decided to install it on my Media Center Box and have a look at it on my 37 inch LCD. It is not at all as good as a proper digital broadcast, but not too bad. Absolutely an alternative if I want to reach some channels that my cable provider lack or a specific event that I want to follow but don’t want to pay for months of some kind of package.

To illustrate I fired up my Canon S2 IS and shot a quick video. You can watch it here, or download the WMV version. As you can see in the video, changing channels is not like zapping. It’s like waiting for 15 – 30 seconds…

http://flash.revver.com/player/1.0/player.swf

A couple of others

Another software that also is pretty user friendly and completely free is TVAnts. Mostly sports and mostly chinese. In general, this scene is dominated by sports and that seems reasonable. Sports is content that is best when it is enjoyed live. Personally I don’t care about sports, so I find TVUPlayer more interesting.

And if you find this interesting you should check out PPLive, PPStream, Sopcast, PPMate, Feidan and TvKoo as well. Here is a great page with download links and descriptions: Streamingstar. Over at AsiaPlate they have some good tutorials for setting up PPLive, PPStream, TVant, Sopcast, PCast, MySee, TVU and TvKoo.

TVAnts

The professional solutions

There are several companies that specialize in solutions to help content producers make peer-to-peer enhanced live streams. If you want to know more you can check out Octoshape, RawFlow and Abacast and Onion Networks.

Other interesting projects

Cybersky-IPTV is a product that was stopped, but are now back again. I haven’t had success when trying it, but it is under development and especially interesting because they cooperate with a media center solution called TVOON Media center. And, if you want to start broadcasting a peer-to-peer stream yourself Cybersky could be a good place to start. More on Cybersky: Peer-to-Peer Internet Television: Cybersky-TV

TVOON

And of course I have to mention the venice project. The guys behind KaaZaa and Skype are working on a peer-to-peer streaming solution…

Norwegian channels

And because 25% of my readers are Norwegian you might be interested in TvNoo. It only supports Internet Explorer and you might need to download a small file and upgrade your windows media player.

More recources

TVFree.org
Peercast
Afreeca

Paid and Subscription based services:
TV for us
Live online soccer
Free football
Footy live

Download of content

Subscribing and downloading of content is also evolving. Still better quality and no dropped frames because of network trouble. And for high definition content download is still the way to go. Check out Democracy Player and Videora. And of course the traditional BitTorrent clients. Azureus and BitComet are two good ones.

Thanks to Lars Frelsøy for valuable advice and huge amounts of info for this article!

All the TV you would ever want – on the internet

What if Sony had…

Sony BMG

While writing my little story about three of my MP3 players I thought of something. What if Sony was the company that made the Diamond Rio? Sony has done a lot of mistakes lately. Two of the worst has to be:

1. Sony owned the market for portable players for two decades. The Walkman in the 80s and the Discman in the 90s. Then, because of a very stupid deal with some very stupid content owners everything went wrong. From the fact that they where way too late into the market of MP3-players. The fact that their first Mp3-player actually did not support the MP3-format…

2. Then they started to infect their customers with evil software full of vulnerabilities. Evil and absolutely useless software.

That last trick is amazing. They have not stopped one single song from entering the filesharing networks. But they have managed to make their customers, their artists, the dealers and just about everyone very very angry.

In general these two horrible mistakes has both been done because Sony’s content division has been afraid of loosing money to filesharing and piracy.

Now they are struggeling. Would they struggle today if they took the market of MP3-players, streamlined communication from their players with the Playstation, made a music shop for the Playstation and just kept producing good content instead of infecting their loyal customers with evil software that don’t stop any pirates?

(Cool Sony CD image courtesy of Collapsibletank)

What if Sony had…

P2P and TV distribution

Dan Glickman Bram Cohen

Now this is a classic picture. Dan Glickman, chairman of the MPAA, and Bram Cohen, creator of BitTorrent. One grey haired man looking suspiciously into the camera. One legendary programmer looking satisfied and thoughtful out of the picture.

The fact that Mr. Cohen’s technology is on its way into serious use in the media industry is good news. BitTorrent has already changed the industry. But, the real fun hasn’t even started. Software like Videora that lets you subscribe to media content and easily convert it to your portable devices will acellerate use of both illegal downloads and possibly also very interesting legal services and huge amounts of interesting indie- and long tail content. For the long tail content the DTV project is especially interesting. With their Broadcast Machine they make it easier for people to distribute as well as consume media.

A story on how a TV show originally was rejected and found its way back to production thanks to file sharing is also interesting. Channels like NerdTV and use of Creative Commons instead of copyright could also help bring interesting content back to the television screen. The BBC already use BitTorrent technology in their iMP application.

These are interesting times. Maybe Bob the Millionaire can download Lost in HD legally in the future? Dan Glickman and Bram Cohen: go-go-go!

P2P and TV distribution