BitTorrent Recruits Testers for Live Video Platform
BitTorrent fans know the company has been working on a solution for live video for some time now. At the recent Streaming Media East conference in New York City, it moved a little closer to launch. Tim Leehane, who works in the marketing department for BitTorrent, was on-hand to show off the beta version of BitTorrent Live.
"Our founder Bram Cohen, who invented the original BitTorrent protocol, decided several years ago that live streaming was the next big challenge to really break down that could be solved by using similar principals of peer-to-peer," explained Leehane in a red carpet interview. "He designed from the ground up a brand new streaming protocol for live broadcast. And now it’s working. It’s working fantastic, so we’re here to show people."
The advantage of serving live video with the BitTorrent platform is that it costs much less than on-demand solutions. At the conference, Leehane was hoping to interest small businesses in trying out the beta version.
"I think it does solve a real problem out there right now. If you’ve got deep pockets, you can afford to stream to as many people as you want. But if you don’t, there’s really no way that democratizes life streaming," Leehane said. "Where you don’t have a lot of cash, so you can only reach a small audience. But when we start using technologies like peer-to-peer, it really scales beautifully. It really democratizes the process and anybody can stream to millions of viewers."
To view the full red carpet interview, watch the video below.
Troy: Hi, this is Troy Dreier, the senior associate editor for StreamingMedia.com coming to you from the red carpet at Streaming Media East 2013. Joining me here is Tim Leehane and you’re with marketing for BitTorrent.
Tim: That’s correct.
Troy: And you have a booth at the show and you’re showing something that I know it’s been in development for a long time. You tell me it’s here and it’s peer-to-peer live using BitTorrent.
Tim: Exactly. Yeah, our founder Bram Cohen who invented the original BitTorrent protocol decided several years ago that live streaming was the next big challenge to really break down that could be solved by using similar principals of peer to peer. And so he designed from the ground up a brand new streaming protocol for live broadcast. And now it’s working. It’s working fantastic, so we’re here to show people.
Troy: Now this has been in development for years. I know it’s been a special pet concern of Bram’s. What were the obstacles that had to be overcome and why is it finally here?
Tim: I mean, so Bram could tell you a lot more about the real obstacles that he faced. But I know for sure, I mean, live streaming is really complex. You have lots of timing issues and lots of other stuff going on with a live event. And to do that even linearly is a challenge let alone breaking it up into bits to use in a peer to peer environment. So there was a lot of new stuff that he needed to invent in order to make it work really well in a way that people expect to work.
Troy: And why is now the time?
Tim: Oh ‘cause it’s ready and it’s working. And I think it does solve a real problem out there right now. If you’ve got deep pockets, you can afford to stream to as many people as you want. But if you don’t, there’s really no way that democratizes life streaming. Where you don’t have a lot of cash, so you can only reach a small audience. But when we start using technologies like peer to peer, it really scales beautifully. It really democratizes the process and anybody can stream to millions of viewers.
Troy: And I understand that one of the hurdles that had to be overcome was getting the latency down for live, so that it really felt live. What is the latency now?
Tim: The latency it really averages around five seconds or so regardless of how big the audience gets. And Bram’s done some real magic stuff under the hood to make that work out the way that it does. But we’ve proven that even with large audiences the latency stays really low.
Troy: And does it have to have a big user base? Do you have to have a lot of peers? Does it have to be a big entertainment company doing this with a lot of peers to bounce the live signal off of or could small companies benefit from this?
Tim: Everybody can benefit from it. Essentially the way that it works is that once you get 10 to 20 people viewing the stream then it sort of caps out as the most bandwidth that you need off of your source. After that the peer to peer network takes over and it can get as big as you need it to get. Tens of thousands of users, hundreds of thousands, depending on how many people you have watching it.
Troy: So 10 to 20 users is enough that..
Tim: To see the whole thing.
Troy: ..that even a small company could benefit from this.
Troy: And I imagine we’re talking big cost savings.
Tim: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, if you’re using a traditional method for linear broadcasting, you have to buy bandwidth for every person who comes onto your broadcast and it just gets bigger in pretty much a linear fashion. In this case, once you’re up to 10 to 20 viewers, it kind of caps the amount of bandwidth that you need. And so it keeps the cost really contained.
Troy: Do people need a special player to view this?
Tim: Right now we’re using- in our reference design we’re just using a standard flash player that’s embedded in the web page to play it back. And it does require installing of a plug-in that does the peer to peer component.
Troy: So that’s all the viewer needs is this one plug-in?
Troy: Okay. And is there a mobile for this..
Tim: Not yet, but it’s definitely in our plans because we know everybody wants to watch this stuff on mobile. But we will work on making a library available for people to integrate this into their own mobile apps.
Troy: Now is this in beta now or is launched fully?
Tim: It’s in beta, so right now we’re in a closed beta. So it’s by invitation only. And that’s why we’re here because we think the best people to try it out are right here at Streaming Media.
Troy: So when will this really launch?
Tim: That’s a good question. We’re really looking for the right people to come by and try it out and help us take this thing to market. We’re hoping no more than three to six months away.
Troy: It seems like it’s been in beta for a while. Is that true or is that just my perception?
Tim: I don’t know if it was officially called beta, but it’s been in development for quite some time. And like we talked about earlier, there’s a lot of challenges there to overcome.
Troy: Maybe it was in alpha for a while.
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Troy: So you’re looking for a partner now. What kind of partner is going to help you test or build or what do you need to do?
Tim: I mean, I think ultimately we’d like someone who has the potential for large audiences, but not necessarily the capital to go out and get them really easily by buying bandwidth and so on. And I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that would grow bigger if they could. And maybe cost has been a bit of barrier, but their potential audience could be much larger and that’s the kind of people that we like to work. Whether you’re an integrator where you provide services to those types of broadcasters or you’re one of those broadcasters yourself, those are the kind of people we want to work with.
Troy: Are there any entertainment companies now that people can experience this? You said it’s in closed beta. Can people try it?
Tim: I mean right now we do have a test site up and running at Live.BitTorrent.com where we are streaming some test streams. And so you can go up there and you can see some of them that are active. In fact, we have one active from our booth right now on the Streaming Media Show Floor.
Troy: And how many people are watching our Show Floor right now?
Tim: I don’t know. Last time I checked, we had a few hundred that have been watching since we’ve started since the beginning of the day today. But I don’t know what the current audience numbers are.
Troy: So give us that URL again.
Tim: It’s Live.BitTorrent.com.
Troy: And you always have some live stream going there that people can experience it?
Troy: What else are you streaming?
Tim: There’s a couple of tests like we have a traffic cam out the window and we’ve got some other beta testers who are broadcasting on our site. We also broadcast a loop of videos from the internet archive and things like that that people can try out.
Troy: Now is Bram Cohen himself still working on this?
Troy: Still his baby?
Tim: Still his baby.
Troy: Well, if he’s working on it then I know that it is going to happen. It’s eventually going to launch as a full product.
Troy: If anybody can do it.
Troy: Well, okay. Thank you very much for joining us.
Tim: Thank you.
Troy: And we’re going to watch the development of this.
Tim: Yeah, great.
Troy: Coming to you from Streaming Media East this is Troy Dreier.
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