File-swap TV comes into focus

Public TV stations and independent video bloggers are boosting efforts to create peer-to-peer Internet television networks.

Jeff Clarke, president of San Francisco's KQED Public Broadcasting, is a fan of Internet file swapping.

For the last several months, Clarke's television and radio stations have been putting content online using a four-month-old peer-to-peer service called the Open Media Network, which gives public broadcasters an affordable way to distribute high-quality versions of their work on the Net.

For now, KQED is doing this with only a few programs--documentaries about San Francisco history or a local park, among others--but more content is on the way. KQED has long experimented with putting video and audio on its Web sites, and the peer-to-peer service now makes it much more affordable to distribute its TV programming online, Clarke said.


What's new:
TV programmers are starting to make use of file-swapping tools to overcome bandwidth issues and put video online.

Bottom line:
Peer-to-peer technologies are making it more practical to distribute video on the Net, broadening the reach for both TV stations and ordinary folk.

More stories on file swapping and video

"Public broadcasting has always been about citizenship and having universal access to what we do," Clarke said. "This is using 21st century technology to do that."

Clarke's KQED is at the leading edge of the mix of TV programmers trying to reach people online--a process that's just beginning to do for video what blogs have done for print media, and podcasting has done for radio. By putting professional programming a mouse click away from independently produced content, these tools are democratizing media in still-unpredictable ways.

As with those other tools and media, the changes are being driven in large part by new distribution techniques that let traditional media companies reach people online, and allow ordinary folks to distribute their own content cheaply.

The distribution hurdles have been higher for video than for other mediums. Even short video files, lasting just a few minutes, can be many times larger than an average MP3 music file, and a 30-minute broadcast of good quality video can take hours to download, even on a broadband connection. The bandwidth needed to send that amount of data is also expensive, making straight video downloads impractical for many small companies or individuals.

Peer-to-peer technologies have made that more practical. With these tools, once a computer downloads a file (or a piece of a file, with some software programs), that computer then can start uploading it to others. Thus, every viewer can potentially help distribute part or all of a file to others, sharing the bandwidth burden among a large number of people instead of forcing the original programmer to pay the full cost.

Commercial companies including Kontiki and Red Swoosh already offer inexpensive ways to distribute large files such as video or computer games using their own proprietary file-swapping tools. Independent

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