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The folks from the Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF) have just published a beta preview to Miro 2.0. The upcoming version of the video client is going to have a more streamlined interface that will make it possible to integrate streaming video sites like Hulu, and the software will offer some overall performance improvements.
One could wonder if that’s really enough to compete with iTunes or the recently revamped Vuze, but PCF’s director of business development, Jesse Patel, recently argued that the real competition for Miro are not other clients, but browsers. “The real challenge is to produce a better way of watching TV online through software,” he told me when we sat down last November at Newteevee Live. But that’s not the only challenge the Miro makers are facing. They’re also dealing with the difficult task of staying true to their open source and media reform ideals while staying afloat financially.
While Miro isn’t exactly as popular as iTunes, Patel says the client has a solid user base. The PCF’s update servers register about 600,000 active unique users every month, and there is an active core base that contributes translations, bug reports and other things to the open source project.
Those users will certainly be happy about the new version, which is a big improvement over previous Miro incarnations, if only for the fact that it actually runs quite smoothly. I even could get it to run without any major hiccups on my old, first generation Mac Mini, whereas all of the 1.x versions of Miro used to bring the machine to a grinding halt.
The cleaned-up interface is more functional, but users of previous versions will still find it familiar. Patel told me that the most notable difference is the easy integration of sites like Hulu or Joost. Users can add any site through a simple menu and then browse and play back Flash-based videos right within Miro.
The client still features site-specific searches for YouTube, Blip and other streaming providers, complete with the ability to download and play back Flash video files. However, there is no way to add new sites to Miro’s search yet, so you still have to search Hulu and Joost individually if you’re looking for TV shows.
Speaking of TV shows: The PCF has previously made a point of striking alliances with public broadcasters, but shunning commercial platforms with DRM restrictions. Patel told me that this this is not changing. Streams from Hulu are apparently OK, but don’t expect any Hollywood blockbuster downloads through the client anytime soon. “If we used DRM we could have amazing amounts of really high-quality content on Miro, and we would be able to sell it and make money on it,” he said. But DRM just isn’t compatible with the PCF’s mission.
So how does one promote independent media, but still pay one’s staff? The PCF is a nonprofit organization, and it has mostly relied on grants in the past. In fact, it just received $600,000 last fall from the Knight Foundation for creating a Miro-related video guide that focuses on local video makers in select cities.
But the group also wants to explore more commercial features. Some of the things that Miro might experiment with are sponsorship deals and video subscriptions for DRM-free indie movies. Even video ads are a possibility, but there are no immediate plans to introduce advertising. Patel told me that the nonprofit structure might make it harder to explore some commercial avenues, but it also helps because there’s nobody expecting a return on investment. At least not a monetary one. Said Patel: “We’re not (expected to achieve) profit, but media reform.”