For all too many I know, it doesn’t exist unless it’s mentioned in Wired. Hopefully this will peak their attention since some software engineer talking excitedly about what’s coming down the pike isn’t as effective (errr…).
…Like many geeks in the ’90s, Cohen coded for a parade of dotcoms that went bust without a product ever seeing daylight. He decided his next project would be something he wrote for himself in his own way, and gave away free. “You get so tired of having your work die,” he says. “I just wanted to make something that people would actually use.”
…You could think of BitTorrent as Napster redux – another rumble in the endless copyright wars. But BitTorrent is something deeper and more subtle. It’s a technology that is changing the landscape of broadcast media.
“All hell’s about to break loose,” says Brad Burnham, a venture capitalist with Union Square Ventures in Manhattan, which studies the impact of new technology on traditional media. BitTorrent does not require the wires or airwaves that the cable and network giants have spent billions constructing and buying. And it pounds the final nail into the coffin of must-see, appointment television. BitTorrent transforms the Internet into the world’s largest TiVo.
One example of how the world has already changed: Gary Lerhaupt, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford, became fascinated with Outfoxed, the documentary critical of Fox News, and thought more people should see it. So he convinced the film’s producer to let him put a chunk of it on his Web site for free, as a 500-Mbyte torrent. Within two months, nearly 1,500 people downloaded it. That’s almost 750 gigs of traffic, a heck of a wallop. But to get the ball rolling, Lerhaupt’s site needed to serve up only 5 gigs. After that, the peers took over and hosted it themselves. His bill for that bandwidth? $4. There are drinks at Starbucks that cost more. “It’s amazing – I’m a movie distributor,” he says. “If I had my own content, I’d be a TV station.”
During the last century, movie and TV companies had to be massive to afford distribution. Those economies of scale aren’t needed anymore. Will the future of broadcasting need networks, or even channels?
“Blogs reduced the newspaper to the post. In TV, it’ll go from the network to the show,” says Jeff Jarvis, president of the Internet strategy company Advance.net and founder of Entertainment Weekly. (Advance.net is owned by Advance Magazine Group, which also owns Wired’s parent company, Cond? Nast.) Burnham goes one step further. He thinks TV-viewing habits are becoming even more atomized. People won’t watch entire shows; they’ll just watch the parts they care about.
Evidence that Burnham’s prediction is coming true came a few weeks before the US presidential election in November, when Jon Stewart – host of Comedy Central’s irreverent The Daily Show – made a now-famous appearance on CNN’s Crossfire. Stewart attacked the hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, calling them political puppets. “What you do is partisan hackery,” he said, just before he called Carlson “a dick.” Amusing enough, but what happened next was more remarkable. Delighted fans immediately ripped the segment and posted it online as a torrent. Word of Stewart’s smackdown spread rapidly through the blogs, and within a day at least 4,000 servers were hosting the clip. One host reported having, at any given time, more than a hundred peers swapping and downloading the file. No one knows exactly how many people got the clip through BitTorrent, but this kind of traffic on the very first day suggests a number in the hundreds of thousands – and probably much higher. Another 2.3 million people streamed it from iFilm.com over the next few weeks. By contrast, CNN’s audience for Crossfire was only 867,000. Three times as many people saw Stewart’s appearance online as on CNN itself.
…Cohen knows the havoc he has wrought. In November, he spoke at a Los Angeles awards show and conference organized by Billboard, the weekly paper of the music business. After hobnobbing with “content people” from the record and movie industries, he realized that “the content people have no clue. I mean, no clue. The cost of bandwidth is going down to nothing. And the size of hard drives is getting so big, and they’re so cheap, that pretty soon you’ll have every song you own on one hard drive. The content distribution industry is going to evaporate.” Cohen said as much at the conference’s panel discussion on file-sharing. The audience sat in a stunned silence, their mouths agape at Cohen’s audacity.
Wired: The BitTorrent Effect: 01/04
You’ll definately want to read this profile of BitTorrent and it’s creator.