Legal P2P For Fall TV? Fat Chance.

Remember the days when TV networks were afraid of P2P? Before Joost and Babelgum, when BitTorrent was considered evil and P2P streaming was only being done by piraters out of China?

A lot has changed since then. Joost has become the hip kid on the block and in turn, made P2P sexy again. Traditional content delivery networks like Akamai (AKAM) are starting to embrace P2P. Traditional broadcasters like the BBC are launching P2P-powered media players to deliver their content (and save some dough in the process). And file-sharing companies like BitTorrent and Azureus have begun to sell TV shows through their platforms.

Does that mean that the TV world is wholeheartedly embracing P2P? Not so fast. The reality is that most networks are still somewhat wary of distributed content delivery. Take the fall TV season that is starting this week: Heroes, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy won’t be available on any legal P2P platform, despite all the hype around Joost and its competitors.


Speaking of Joost: The company got some headlines earlier this year when it signed a deal with CBS, but the partnership with the network is suspiciously low profile. It’s almost like CBS (CBS) wants to test the waters without getting its feet wet. The Joost web site doesn’t even list the CBS channel, and the only way to find hit shows like CSI on Joost is to search for them. CBS does provide its latest installments of the crime drama on the P2P platform, along with shows like NCIS, Big Brother and Numb3rs. Joost also has some older content from Viacom (VIA.B), but the other big networks are completely absent, and it wasn’t able to provide any details about upcoming shows.

Industry insiders are arguing that some of the bigger networks have so far avoided Joost because of security concerns. Broadcasters seem to feel safer with traditional download stores. BitTorrent.com will feature new episodes from Fox and FX shows like Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Prison Break this fall. But again, shows from other big networks are conspicuously absent from the lineup.

Finally, there are some Showtime shows on Vuze.com, but that’s about it. The UK obviously has the BBC with its iPlayer, but in the U.S. it actually looks like the industry is moving away from P2P solutions. AOL used to distribute most of its TV content through its Hi-Q platform, which like the iPlayer is powered by VeriSign’s (VRSN) Kontiki P2P technology. Don’t expect Kontiki to carry the new CBS shows that will come to AOL.com later this month, though. AOL recently hooked up with Hulu and as a result will just use whatever Flash video player its new partners are providing.

So what are most of the networks relying on, if not P2P? Studios like the CW, ABC and Univision are using browser-based players from companies like Move Networks and Maven Networks to optimize their streaming experience. There is no P2P involved in the process –- at least not yet. Maven VP of Product Development Todd Boes told me that their platform is CDN-agnostic and that Maven expects to support P2P once it becomes more reliable for on-demand streaming.

I guess Heroes fans might have to wait until season three to get their show delivered via P2P. If they want to get it legally, that is.

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