On Saturday, I took a look at last year’s P2P news. Today I’ll extrapolate from some of those trends to look at what they might mean for the next year. The common thread that jumps out is that the medium of distributing content in general, and video content in particular, has undergone a fundamental shift, from scheduled, one-to-many to distributed, on-demand. And if legitimate services don’t figure out how to significantly improve the user experience, unauthorized means will continue to thrive.
Hi-Def Blowback: What’s taking high-definition so long to saturate the marketplace now that the hardware prices have finally begun to fall to reasonable levels? Crippleware. Simply put, from HDMI to software DRM to the lack of HD content made available because of piracy fears, mainstream consumers enter a Dantean circle of incompatibility hell. HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will become the focus of consumer ire; Apple could put together a simple, functional solution and thereby set some standards; networks will leverage this to perpetuate one-way HD transmission — but unauthorized distribution will still offer the best user experience.
Ad-supported P2P: Corporate networks that distribute files via P2P should continue to spring up, though will likely flounder due to limited catalogs and content restrictions. Why take up bandwidth downloading ads and DRM’d content from an incomplete selection? A more interesting case would be for an existing Internet radio network to leverage nascent P2P streaming technology in order to cut bandwidth costs, thereby increasing profits from their current revenue streams.
“Traffic shaping” and Encryption: ISP efforts to minimize the amount of P2P traffic will continue, driving more and more P2P users (legitimate or otherwise) to implement packet encryption. Developers of software and protocols will likely respond by making it significantly easier, if not transparent, to do so. ISP efforts will likely focus on better packet prioritization algorithms and more blunt measures against heavy users generally.
Legitimate Distribution via Torrents: The competitive advantage that distributing large files over P2P networks has not gone unnoticed by content developers. Especially for small to medium businesses, the opportunity to reduce bandwidth expense will be too good to pass up. The download of boutique games, independent video and music and software trial versions over P2P networks will actually be encouraged by their rights holders.
More Bulk Lawsuits: With news that the German music industry will be employing the RIAA’s tactic of suing a small percentage of unauthorized file traders on a regular basis, look for the prosecution and defense of small-scale, non-commercial copyright abusers to become a profitable sector of the legal field. Neither the record companies nor the general public will be happy with the results either way, but law firms will certainly have an interest in the situation being perpetuated.
The Great BitTorrent Compromise: I don’t know which side will have to cede the most, but between BitTorrent and their content partners, something has to give if BitTorrent is going to become the go-to portal for online video. Either Bram and team will be succesful in convincing the studios to improve the experience, or BitTorrent’s growth will be dictated by the acceptance of the studios’ terms by their user base. In the meantime, look for content providers to continue failing miserably at developing their own distribution solutions.
Automated Content Policing: A number of new products that promise to spider online catalogs and flag copyrighted content will become vogue for both the discovery of infringing uses and for reporting content and context to refine ad targetting. Google’s deployment of their solution on YouTube should serve to indicate if such systems are currently realistic on a large scale. More aggressive policing could include more honeypots, client-side indexing by trojans and even malicious viruses.
Convergence: Ultimately, P2P will finally enable video content to divorce itself from being identified wholly with the television set. The sheer number and variety of devices that can play content combined with the many means of acquiring the content will ultimately change our language and behavior. The primary mediator of the experience will be software, from inexpensive tools to manage and time-shift media input across multiple inputs to the holy grail of convergence, a universal communication tool. Television’s last chance may be HDTV broadcast, but even that ship may have sailed already thanks to unauthorized, P2P-enabled distribution.