The Golden Age of Streaming

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Comcast’s decision to cap monthy broadband usage at 250GB is being decried as the end of the Internet as we know it. Maybe so, but it can also be seen as the dawn of the Streaming Era. As the Olympics drew to a close with big numbers – 75.5 million streams (, 40 million (BBC), another 130 million from the European Broadcasting Union, and 100 million Chinese viewers – the networks were already moving on by serving the Democratic National Convention in HD. CBS offered an after-convention netcast with Katie Couric, and CNN promoted “full and complete” streaming coverage of all speeches.

The Comcast move seems more focused on the politics of the FCC decision to rule out Comcast’s filtering of P2P traffic. But BitTorrent and other such traffic is all about downloading, not streaming, and the advent of new look-ahead streaming capabilities in Silverlight suggest that streaming can accommodate DVR-like functionality that makes the value proposition of “owning” the data on a local drive much less important.

It used to be that having physical control of entertainment and other software was critical to the user experience. Record and film companies kept accelerating the quality levels of their products to stay ahead of the pirates and the growing ability of consumers to capture and archive content off the radio and television networks. But as broadband became more available as competition between telcos, cable, and satellite increased, sharing of MP3s and DVR time-shifting had an oddly counter-intuitive impact.

First, the Netflix strategy made renting movies a less onerous process, with no late fees and a large catalogue to choose from. When Blockbuster and Hollywood Video adopted similar MVP programs, the cable and satellite companies were forced to counter-attack with on-demand offerings that were even easier to acquire and in fact were spooled from servers rather than downloaded to home machines.

This, of course, is the same shift software has undergone from shrinkwrap to service, from Outlook to Gmail, Office to Google Apps, and from the hard drive to the cloud. In effect, productivity apps are now streamed to and the data from the user. With the data stored redundantly in the cloud, we are more comfortable with a streaming situation than with the former illusion that we “owned” our data locally.

Once the user has undergone this reworking of trust, devices such as the iPhone and the Slingbox have extended the notion of streaming to the car, the hotel room, to a friend’s house, anywhere. Podcasts are still an efficient way to transfer data via iTunes to the iPhone or iPod, but with 3G beginning to make its way into AT&T service areas, soon streaming will rival satellite and terrresterial radio on the go. And the Slingbox methodology of pulling HD from home to a laptop will be adopted by iPhone users for music via bluetooth to car systems.

The shift seems to be from ultimate quality to ultimate utility, to fit the data into the time available to consume it. Streaming content is far more efficient than downloading, since you don’t need to cache all the material you don’t get around to seeing. And the growth of social networks means more and more of us will start taking advantage of streaming devices to establish relationships with friends to “share” information outside of the reach of DRM.

Once the underground streaming economy reaches a critical mass, media companies will reach some form of accommodation. Whether it takes the form of advertising supported models or the emergence of viral talent going “direct” to consumers, the end result will be the Net-based delivery of high value content under user control. Comcast’s cap will be seen not as the start of a decline but rather the flowering of the Golden Age of Streaming.

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  • Jonathan

    um, you do realize that streaming still counts against the cap don’t you? I fail to see the connection. The move to streaming video is indeed a huge deal, but unfortunately as it becomes more ubiquitous we end up using more and more bandwidth. Bandwidth the broadband co’s in the US can’t handle.

  • HUH

    I fail to see the argument in this article. Streaming would use MORE bandwidth over time than downloading straight to your computer.

    Download once, view as many times as you want without affecting your cap.

    What this is going to do (if all other providers follow suite), will HURT the streaming industry (e.g. netflix) because people will easily hit the cap and be charged astronomical prices to go over it. (your arguments towards streaming would justify this view more)

  • Ted Stevens

    I’m not sure what the hell the point is here. As the commenter notes above, streaming from Netflix or Hulu still takes up bandwidth. Watching the Daily Show this morning, it took up about 200MB to stream it in from Hulu. While that’s less than the 350MB if I downloaded it via torrent, that’s still a considerable amount of Tube.

    How will streaming video over the Internet solve our national bandwidth problem?

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  • Phillip

    I agree with the other commenters. I fail to see how streaming changes a thing. It takes exactly the same amount of bandwidth to stream as to permanently store, assuming the same encoding. If I encode a movie at 1000kbps than my file will be size X, thus if you download or stream it to watch at an equivalent quality will take the same bandwidth to view once and more bandwidth to stream and watch more than once.

  • The Golden Age of Streaming (Steve Gillmor/TechCrunchIT)

    […] Gillmor / TechCrunchIT: The Golden Age of Streaming — Comcasts decision to cap monthy broadband usage at 250GB is being decried as the end of the […]

  • http://www, Chet Kuhn

    Those new Qwest DSL speeds with no cap are looking pretty attractive right now. I made my call to switch this morning. :-)

    Real competition within the cable industry may be a joke, but I still have at least ONE other option, and I’ll take my business and my money there without hesitation.l

  • Phil Wolff

    Golden and Streaming in the same sentence? likely to pull traffic expecting something different.

  • JimJim

    With linear tv programming becoming less relevant, cable will eventually just become the big dumb pipe that cable operators have so long feared. Digital video packages are slowly dying, and as Chet puts it, he will just find another provider that will doesnt have a bandwidth cap so he can stream his video content. It might take some time, but think about this… Could you have imagined your home without a land line 10 years ago. It didn’t seem likely. Now think about your home without cable. No cap broadband might be the telcos way back into the game.

    Give cable guys enough rope, they’ll just buy an AOL, I mean hang themselves.

  • John H

    Not to be mean, but do you understand the internet? Maybe I missed something but this gets a nomination for the most useless article on the Comcast Cap…

  • Modern Streamer

    Golden age? You mean like Golden Girls?

    Gillmore is a Microsoft Tool.

  • Alex

    Oh my god – this guy deserves a Loren Felman puppet. The whole article is pure crap as the guy seems to not understand the Internet at all.

  • khed

    This does not signal the end of peer-to-peer, and this does not signal the beginning of streaming. These are trends that are likely to be seen at some point, but as earlier commenters have pointed out, streaming requires more bandwidth not less. The trend toward streaming will happen because its more convenient for users (they don’t have to worry about backing up their local data, and their own personal media library is synonymous with all media ever created) and allows content producers more control over the distribution of their content (this is the difference between sharing a mp3 cd with a friend and sharing a link to a hulu video). Comcast’s silly policies may affect the speed at which this transition occurs (it will slow it down, not speed it up), but ultimately Comcast’s decisions will have little effect on the evolution of how the internet is used. The title of this post should have been “Comcast Speaks Up: Cable Broadband is Dead.”

  • ziptiyzap

    For you guys that don’t get it – P2P stands for peer-to-peer. When you download P2P software onto your machine, you become a part of a network. When you request a download, it comes from other peers. And when someone else requests a download – it comes from you! Yes, the P2P network is consuming YOUR bandwidth!

    Streaming, on the other hand, comes in two varieties – unicast and multicast. If you are getting a direct video or movie download from, say, Hulu – a dedicated server is streaming to you and only you (unicast). If you join a multicast, say for example the CNN WMP stream, then you are watching the same thing that everybody else is.

    Yes, streaming is the future. Internet television is the future. By the way, you can easily get the internet on your television with a $20 cable – just Google “Zipityzap.”

  • BJK

    Guys, streaming would likely have a net decline in bandwidth when comparing to BT, since there would be little upload, only download. If cached locally, that transfer only happens once.

  • BJK

    @ziptiyzap I undulged the spam and went to your site. You sure need to look over your cable recommendations and rename them. “RCA (component)” while showing red/white/yellow is COMPOSITE and STEREO AUDIO not COMPONENT VIDEO. Way to confuse consumers even more.

  • Modern Streamer

    The problem with streaming vs. P2P is that streaming puts a lot of stress on the host servers. It’s proven to be practically impossible to offer streaming on the scale of P2P, especially since P2P makes up 65% of broadband traffic and requires no advertising to support it.

  • Tony Z

    I would agree streaming takes less bandwidth. The streams are compressed data. Taking in a stream is vastly different than downloading a .mov file. Of course, this is dependent on the streams origin and how it is encoded. I also agree that you are downloading and not uploading, as you would be doing with Bit Torrent. If you’re sharing your content from your drive, your not only taking it down, but also pushing it up (if you choose to do so).

    It’s my opinion that a cap on bandwidth by Comcast is tantamount to controlling freedom of expression. There are many creators of content that sub to a company like Comcast and may upload or download their creations to an FTP or something like that. I’m going to guess that the majority who pay for broadband cover the minority who may, what Comcast believes, over use the pipes.

    I know that bandwidth has an actual cost to it and Comcast has to cover that cost. However, the arbitrary 250GB number per month can be onerous to some, while to others its not even an issue. Why and how they came up with that number, I’d be curious to know.

    At some point, we are no longer going to need cable in a wireless world, so it may even become a non-issue down the road. Today we scream bloody murder. Tomorrow, someone else solves the problem.

    Tony Z.

  • Alex

    The streaming vs p2p debate is bullshit, as streaming can also rely on a p2p technology. People trying to see a point in Steve Gillmor’s post are just as irrelevant as him. This post is pure bullshit.

  • BJK

    Alex, the P2P vs Streaming debate is not bullshit. Streaming can be very good, especially when content providers work with ISPs to start caching this content at their level so speeds are quicker and the more expensive bandwidth is conserved. I consider that win-win-win. Content providers get their content out there, ISPs get to minimize costs, customers get high speed, available content.

  • Alex

    BJK> Yes, if you are redefining the word “streaming” to make it means a lot more than what it means, any bullshit can start to make sense. I agree.

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