The Next P2P Revolution – Napster for Television

Date Published: 14 December 2005

The Next P2P Revolution – Napster for Television

This is a bit off-topic from my usual .NET stuff, so I apologize. Recently Clemens showed me an application he’d written that allowed me to watch and control his television from Windows Media Player on my PC. The quality was great and I could change the channels myself by simply clicking on logos for the various networks — no need to channel surf. Clicking on each network also loaded up the current and upcoming scheduled programming. Reading his post about how he did it, I can see he’s leveraging SnapStream (more).

The SlingBox from Sling Media does something similar, using a hardware solution. It, too, allows remote access to your personal television complete with control over the remote/tuner. You can, apparently, even use it to control your Tivo while you’re on the other side of the world (or watch shows previously recorded on your Tivo). This gadget has been named one of the top inventions of 2005 by several different magazines.

Looking at these two technologies, I see a software and a hardware solution to distribution of television content over the Internet. Combined with Tivo, this technology also allows on-demand access to programming regardless of when it actually ran. I predict that in the very near future we will see a P2P service take advantage of this technology and allow users to search for, subscribe to, and consume television programming in real-time from sources all over the Internet. At the moment, any one source in a typical home with a typical broadband connection can only support 1 or 2 concurrent users, but considering how many hours of the week a household television goes un-watched, there’s plenty of excess capacity for external users even if each can only support one external viewer. Broadband access is becoming more and more common, and Internet bandwidth worldwide is continuing to grow, such that support for such bandwidth-hogging activities as streaming television is available today.

What would be interesting would be if the media companies, cable companies, and television networks get out in front of this and make it work for them instead of trying to keep the inevitable from happening via endless lawsuits. Many cable companies offer on-demand cable today, for instance. Why not extend this beyond cable subscribers to general Internet users in a way that makes it easy to sign up and use the service while still allowing the owners of the content to make money from it. Sites like iTunes are proving that media distribution on the Internet can work — it would be refreshing to see the ‘old media’ companies get into the 21st century and support P2P television programming and find a way to make it work within their business models rather than suing anybody that dares to step into this arena. It’s going to happen, I think, in the next year or two. It’ll be interesting to see who makes it happen and how the networks and cable companies react.

Steve Smith

About Ardalis

Software Architect

Steve is an experienced software architect and trainer, focusing on code quality and Domain-Driven Design with .NET.