BitTorrent has been working on its proprietary live-streaming technology for years, but today unveiled its first dedicated app. BitTorrent Live is scheduled to launch on Apple TV this week, before coming to iOS and Android sometime in June. The app will feature free content from more than a dozen small-scale channels, with BitTorrent promising that additional content (including paid and premium tiers) will follow.
apple TV this week; iOS and android apps due in June
The initial launch channels aren't big names by any means, but BitTorrent can at least say the app covers a broad range of content, including boxing and MMA (Fightbox), arthouse cinema (Filmbox Arthouse), live clubbing (Clubbing TV), and even one network "devoted to taking viewers on a journey of how wealth is achieved, used, and enjoyed" (AWE).
The important part of BitTorrent Live isn't the content, though, it's the technology. In the same way that torrents spread the data costs of large downloads among multiple users, BitTorrent's live-streaming tech turns every viewer into a broadcaster. The company claims that this will solve the problem of lag on live broadcasts, allowing for large audiences to "to view live video with sub 10-second latency and without the need for an expensive CDN." (That is, a content delivery network: a network of servers pushing out live content to viewers.)
The company cites an interview with Bob Bowman, an executive at MLB.com, which touches on the difficulty of streaming live events to large numbers of viewers. "To do 10 million concurrent streams in the US? No one's done it. No one's come close. You'd have to buy up every CDN." Bowman tells interviewer Walt Mossberg. "The most we've ever done in terms of concurrents is we've kissed two million concurrents [....] That's two major CDNs, you know, really chugging. And you don't have back up."
Bowman suggests that new technology like 5G will help solve this issue, but building the necessary infrastructure for these networks will take years. BitTorrent thinks that changing the underlying protocols is the quicker solution. It also says that unlike with current CDN-based live streams, organizers don't have to worry about scale.
BitTorrent claims its protocol is cheaper than current methods, with much less lag
"Current methods for online live broadcasting over the internet scale linearly with the size of the audience — that means that you have to pay more as additional viewers join your stream," wrote the company in a blog post last year. "Peer to peer online streaming returns to the model of traditional TV, where there is no incremental cost for growth in audience size."
But BitTorrent could have the perfect technological solution for live broadcasting and still find no traction. The company's app is unlikely to attract much interest as it currently stands, and unlike torrent technology for downloads (which became popular primarily as a way to share pirated content) BitTorrent Live will have to attract the interest of major broadcasters to prove its utility. Still, if the technology is as cheap and practical as BitTorrent suggests, it could yet find a place underpinning live streams of the future.