BitTorrent Live: Cheap, Real-Time P2P Video Streaming That Will Kill TV

Television is going the way of the dinosaur, and the deadly comet is called BitTorrent Live. Today, Bram Cohen, the author of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer sharing protocol, demoed his latest creation at the SF MusicTech Summit.

BitTorrent Live lets any content owner or publisher stream video to millions of people at good quality and with just a few seconds of latency…for free or cheap. Sports, news events, simulcast TV shows, education, video conferencing, or uncensored war zone broadcasts — this technology will power the future of video.

“My goal is to kill off television” Cohen said during the SF MusicTech demo session I hosted. Afterwards he explained to me in rhyme, “Television’s physical infrastructure is inevitably going to go away, but TV as a mode of content consumption is here to stay.” Essentially, people love what they see on television, but want it accessible from the web.

The shift to online streaming has been stalled, though, because of the cost of set up, bandwidth, and servers compared to television infrastructure like cable wires and satellites that are already bought and paid for.

With BitTorrent Live, soon it won’t just be The White House and the Super Bowl streaming their content. Netflix and Hulu could potentially use BitTorrent Live to reduce their costs. Established streaming vendors like Ustream and Livestream who charge per viewer and have limits should be afraid too. This disruptive P2P tech could open live streaming to publishers of any scale, such as independent artists, educators, and journalists.

BitTorrent Live sidesteps the infrastructure cost by having viewers stream the content to each other like they’d torrent a download instead of pulling video from a central source. Cohen tells me he’s spent 3 years hacking on BitTorrent Live, “It’s a difficult engineering problem, and I’ve figured it out.” Now the protocol can offload 99% of the data transfer to users and achieve just a 5-second delay even with millions of viewers.

That’s fast enough to support interactive elements like chat and Twitter feeds. The only catch is that viewing BitTorrent Live content requires a one-time download, and after that is just works quietly through your browser.

Cohen tells me those not looking to profit from their streams will be able to utilize BitTorrent Live at no cost, “It fits the DNA of what BitTorrent is about because it’s open and free.” Meanwhile, those showing ads will pay a cheap licensing fee rather than the “millions of dollars” they pay now.

An SDK to work with the proprietary protocol is in the works.BitTorrent is now asking content publishers to contact them at to help test their tech. Cohen says he’s already been approached by TV studios who want BitTorrent Live to bring their shows online cheaply.

“Sending content over the airwaves excels…if you want space aliens to watch your content.” If you want to cheaply reach humans across the globe, summon BitTorrent Live.

[Image Credit: The hilarious Perry Bible Fellowship]