Europe’s P2P-Next Consortium Revolutionizing Internet TV

February 20, 2008

The popularity of internet video continues to grow, with Google’s YouTube accounting for a whopping 10% of all internet traffic.  Internet service providers are struggling to provide the necessary bandwidth to support our incessant video viewing and downloading, and some ISP’s such as Comcast are even looking at controlling traffic by interfering with file sharing or limiting downloads.  ABI Research figures it will cost service providers $24 billion by 2012 just to keep up with the bandwidth demands brought on by the advent of digital media.  But while American internet service providers anger customers by placing limits on their internet usage, a European Union-funded P2P research project called P2P-Next is looking to revolutionize the delivery of online video.  In Europe anyway.

Video delivery has been a serious problem for ISP’s the past couple of years, especially when it comes to streaming actual television content.  The infrastructure of the internet is not set up to enable simultaneous streaming to hundreds or even thousands of homes at one time.  One potential  solution to the problem is multicasting, where a data stream such as a television episode is distributed to a series of local servers which then re-stream the content to local users.  Currently though, most IP routers don’t support multicasting nor is their a financial incentive for ISP’s to use it.  P2P-Next realizes that internet TV requires new business models to succeed and has pinpointed P2P platforms as the most cost-effective and efficient way to broadcast television content to viewers.

The idea of using P2P as the means of distributing internet television content on the internet has caught on in Europe, with the European Union funding P2P-Next with a 19 million Euro grant to develop a next-generation P2P content delivery platform over the next 4 years.  The project is a collaboration of 21 different institutions from 12 different countries and will eventually result in an open-source P2P platform that will deliver internet TV to any device.  Given that linear broadcasting and the traditional home theater is giving way to more mobility and interaction, P2P-Next will integrate social networking features into the platform, allowing users to create communities built around their favorite content for example.

P2P file-sharer Tribler, the biggest partner in the massive endeavor, says that no central servers will be need to support the distribution platform which will feature BitTorrent backwards compatibility.  Within the year, P2P playlists will be available that will function as RSS feeds do for text data currently, Wiki-style moderation will have users make sure only the best content is available from the platform and a reputation system that can have spammers permanently removed from the service.

How P2P-Next will address the issue of bandwidth glut is unclear although the consortium says this will be a technical issue they address as they develop their revolutionary new business model.  And it seems their timing is right as P2P blog TorrentFreak reports that at any one time 50% of BitTorrent downloads are popular television show episodes.  Popular shows such as “Lost” see up to 10 million downloads for each episode, approaching the number of actual viewers that tune in via their living rooms.

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