Netscape pioneers Mike Homer and Marc Andreessen are back on the start-up scene, launching a TiVo-like online network for distributing and viewing public TV, radio and grassroots media.
The free service, called the Open Media Network, is aimed initially at letting traditional public broadcasters and independent filmmakers distribute their work on the Net. But it will also allow ordinary computer users to publish their files.
Part TiVo, part BitTorrent file swapping, the network puts publishers' content into a peer-to-peer distribution network that could help lower bandwidth costs substantially. The service then creates a TV-like program directory that potential viewers can use to find and subscribe to automatic downloads of individual shows.
In the process, it's also serving as an advertisement for Homer's main company, content distribution service Kontiki, which provides the network's technology.
"We're trying to create a free consumer service that would allow the viewing of public service content on the Internet," said Homer, who is chairman of the Open Media Foundation, which is backing the project, as well as Kontiki's chairman. "Right now there is no easy way for consumers to (publish and view) these things. It has not been a consumer phenomenon, it's been an early adopter phenomenon."
The Open Media Network is one of several tools that have recently emerged aimed at letting people publish or find large files online, while organizing content into a familiar TV-like format.
Podcasting has allowed radio stations and ordinary people to publish or subscribe to downloadable audio shows for months.
Peer-to-peer activists Downhill Battle recently released software called "BlogTorrent," aimed at helping people to post large files on their blogs or Web sites using the BitTorrent technology to help distribute files. A Canadian student has developed a program called Videora that lets people find and subscribe to video content online, including television shows.
Homer's new venture is being launched under the auspices of a nonprofit called the Open Media Foundation, which also counts Andreessen on its board of advisers. The foundation is licensing Kontiki's technology as an ordinary customer, Homer said.
Unlike the anarchic character of most peer-to-peer services, it will be centrally managed using Kontiki's technology, so that any copyright works being distributed without permission can be removed from the system.
It will support the delivery of content wrapped in digital-rights management and add a payment system so publishers can charge for their work. The foundation will take a small cut of transactions to pay for its operations.
For now, the service is free both for publishers and potential viewers. Early content available through the service will include shows from WYNC public radio in New York, Witness.org human rights-focused video alerts and independent films from Cinequest, among others.
A Kontiki rival, Red Swoosh, has also previously offered to let noncommercial Web publishers take advantage of its peer-to-peer-based content-delivery services for free.