Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Warner Bros. In2Movie Service To Use P2P

Something caught my eye as I read Neowin this morning: Warner Bros. is going to start offering movies and television shows for download (obviously at a cost).

But, that's not what caught my eye. The article was a little light on details, but it seems that Warner Bros. will use Peer-to-Peer (P2P) technology to distribute the content. Looking into my crystal ball, I can foresee this service failing, and here's why:

P2P distribution technology, like Gnutella or BitTorrent, depends on users uploading in addition to downloading. As a user, I don't mind providing the bandwidth to upload because I see that as a tax for being able to download content faster. But, this concept only works when the content is free to start with.

As soon as I have to pay for content, then I'm not interested in sharing my uplink. I expect the content provider to have a really big pipe so that I can download everything from that one source, and I don't want to wait forever for the content to arrive. I don't believe that I'm alone in thinking this way, either.

So, if WB is planning to just distribute their content using BitTorrent, then they're going to find a vast majority of downloaders who simply leech from the swarm (leeching is when someone downloads without providing any uploading at all, or who turns off the BitTorrent software after the download completes so that no further uploading occurs). The result will be the opposite of what BitTorrent was designed to do: instead of downloads getting faster as more machines participate in the swarm, they will get slower because more demand will be placed on fewer nodes of the network.

Of course, I could be interpreting this incorrectly. Look at what Pwop Productions is starting to do by establishing a network of BitTorrent seeds through their Ambassador program. This is the future of P2P distribution, in case you haven't been paying attention.

Carl, who truly believes that his content must be of great quality, and must be free to the listener, assembled an army of volunteers (this blogger included). BitTorrent clients on these machines subscribe to an early feed that allows them to access torrents hours before they are released to the general public. The goal is that by the time a DNR, Mondays, dnrTV, or Hanselminutes show goes live, that there is already a number of machines seeding the content.

This benefits Pwop in the fact that there are lower demands on their network bandwidth, and benefits the listener in that they are able to download the content faster.

So, any major studio, like Warner Bros., should look to the Pwop model as inspiration for setting up their own distribution network. They can set up a grid of P2P seeder nodes scattered throughout the world, thus eliminating the need for one big central pipe. However, unlike Pwop, the studios cannot count on the same type of upload capability from their downloaders.