BitTorrent : the saviour of TV

Very little dies. Television didn’t kill Cinema, and Cinema didn’t kill Theatre.


Very little dies. Television didn’t kill Cinema, and Cinema didn’t kill Theatre. Newer technologies impact old ones but very little goes the way of the ostler or typewriter. If you are over 30 and have been using the internet for most of your life you think of it as somewhere you go to get information. Read Drudge, download iTunes, Google for services.

If you are under 20 and have used the internet all your life you think of it as somewhere you go to share. Write a blog, upload your skateboard accident to YouTube, sell as well as buy on eBay.

BitTorrent causes a massive fundamental cultural change in telecommunications. The ‘A’ in ADSL stands for ‘asymmetric’ and ADSL is designed for downloading more than it is for uploading because that’s the way people used it. Just like GPRS or HSDPA.

If you wanted to put your own TV show on the internet and have other people download it you needed a special, atypical, set-up. Or you needed to pay for backbone space on the internet and even then getting your show onto the backbone took time. And once it was there it cost you lots to distribute the programme. BitTorrent changes this because everyone who watches your program becomes a relay station for others to do the same. The more viewers you have the easier it becomes for them.

Making it easy to make television makes it easier to make bad television than good television. You still need to understand presenting, lighting, composition, scripting, storyboards and editing. BitTorrent has another affect on television. If people thought TiVo was bad for advertisements that’s nothing to BitTorrent. Once something has been broadcast it’s on thousands of hard drives. Those users edit out the adverts and then torrent the shows.

Advertising Agencies will have to become agile. Their adoption of new technology is horrendously slow, and tends to be led by those companies that are selling ‘off the page’ and can immediately see the benefits.

We are moving to a disinter mediation of the TV stations. How quickly and how successful it will be depends on the people with the money. It’s a step beyond product placement. As Simon Cowell sips from his Coca Cola on X-factor a box pops up which reads “save $5 on your next six pack of coke, click here”. And because people are no longer watching on receive only TVs but on PCs and mobile phones that are linked to the internet, it’s easy for the viewer to find out more or redeem the voucher.

The technology to embed links to a web page is part of the Mobile TV DVB-H specification. Each frame can have a web page associated with it. The content has to be marked up manually but the technology to ‘read’ a screen for logos exists. It has the huge advantage that existing content can be used. Ford could use it to link to the new Mustang when someone pirates a copy of Bullit. So long as Warner Bros. gets paid do they care if the file has been Peer to Peered and DivX’ed. Suddenly the words “sharing”, “P2P” and “Torrent” that scare the movie industry are wearing white hats, but it’s down to advertising to exploit it..

Simon Rockman

Simon Blogs about accessible mobile phones at