Recently up here in the Pacific Northwest, we experienced the Great Wind Storm of 2006. Many people experienced serious problems like no electricity for a week or more. We "only" lost cable TV and our Internet access since it is provided via our cable service. iTunes and BitTorrent to the rescue!
Now, I'm not a huge TV watcher, but there are certain things that I specifically record such as the new Battlestar Galactica and the new Doctor Who (both shown on SciFi.) Needless to say, the Great Wind Storm put paid to both of these, but to add insult to injury, they were the season finales (actually in the case of Doctor Who it was Part 1 of the season finale but still...)
What to do? Xbox Live Marketplace to the rescue I thought, given that a special BSG summary in HD was made available for free download before the latest season. Sadly, SciFi isn't on the list of content providers and there are no BSGs for download through Marketplace. iTunes came to the rescue and that was $1.99 well spent for the missing episode.
The story was grimmer for Doctor Who. See, recently the Beeb (BBC) announced that it will partner with Azureus to make some of its programming available through Azureus' Zuneo site. Azureus is a popular Java-based BitTorrent client and their Zuneo site is a cross between iTunes and YouTube for both audio and video and will presumably serve as a marketplace for both commercial and non-commercial content. Unfortunately for me, the BBC relationship hasn't yet produced anything tangible and from the announcement, it is unclear if it will provide any of the new programmes.
So what did I do? Googled for "Doctor Who torrent" obviously!
But now for the important bit of this musing: P2P of which BitTorrent is an example is an excellent way to distribute large files like errr... video and for that matter software (like Linux). It is a hell of a lot better than setting up a great big server farm in multiple somewheres and having to add capacity when people discover how great your offering is (like the Vista beta test). And when it comes down to it, all that's really being solved by BitTorrent is the problem of getting bits from one place to another. In and of itself, It has nothing to do with encryption or DRM. So why the problems?
- BitTorrent isn't proprietary - anyone can use it. This isn't bad. Just like HTTP isn't a proprietary protocol it means that it can be ubiquitous and if people can make money out of something else like the content rather than the protocol.
- BitTorrent is used for sharing Bad Things like warez. Yeah, and so was/is uucp, Usenet, email, ftp, BBSes, etc, etc. Cars carry good people, bad people, medicines, illegal drugs, guns, you name it. Get over it.
- P2P makes up over 30% of Internet traffic. And I thought we had a surplus of bandwidth (not that you'd ever think so looking at my connection) owing to the great fibre race of the late 90s.
- BitTorrent is for exchanging pirated movies and TV shows. That's because there's very little legal content The technology is there to share content that people want and willingly pay for if iTunes is any example, so what do you expect? This is where sensible DRM can come in together with mechanisms to ensure that the content has not been tampered with since being released by its IP owner.
- ISPs don't like people at home running servers and for the BitTorrent model to work, it needs to serve up data as well as download it. Which is why my ISP blocks incoming port 80. I'm guessing this is ostensibly because of fears that bots and worms will run rampant on their networks and infect their other subscribers, the Internet at large and the the rest of the universe. More likely though is the desire to charge people who want to run servers real money to do so. Read your ISP's T&Cs. Mine bans me from running a server (email, ftp, web, etc.), enabling others to access the network (WiFi access point), or networking more than 5 devices to their network.
I'm sure I've missed some. Are any of these insurmountable? I really don't think so but in some cases they do require a change in thinking. But if the industry really wants people to consume rich media over the web (and not some crappy resolution Flash video on YouTube), then it needs to follow the lead of the BBC. If it is the difference between spending 30 minutes downloading a torrent or 8+ hours downloading from a single server, I'm just not going to do it and I'm not holding my breath for fibre to the home either.
So come on content owners, get with the programme: figure out a fair, equitable and open DRM scheme (which isn't called FairPlay by the way), embrace the de facto standard that is BitTorrent and let consumers pay you once, twice, three times or more for content!