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Bram Cohen on the Future of BitTorrent

What’s next for BitTorrent, a company that initially tried to establish a peer-to-peer-based download store for mainstream Hollywood, then aimed to help publishers distribute bits more effectively? BitTorrent co-founder and chief scientist Bram Cohen explained today at GigaOM’s NewTeeVee Live conference that the company hopes to help content creators reach its sprawling user base (80 million active users per month) and, within a matter of months, release its long-awaited P2P solution for live streaming.

BitTorrent is about sending around large, previously created files, said Cohen. “Live streaming is about watching content as quickly as possible after it’s created.” He said he’s “shooting for around 5 second latency from when the content goes out to when it’s actually displayed on people’s machines.

Asked by NewTeeVee’s Janko Roettger’s just whose problems BitTorrent is trying to solve with its live streaming product, Cohen noted that companies like UStream and “spend a lot of money on bandwidth,” and P2P could offer a more affordable alternative. “Even if you do have the money,” Cohen added, “it’s a real problem from an engineering standpoint to set up a real live solution. I have some very unorthodox techniques that I’ve come up with in order to take the latencies down.” Plus he said, from the perspective of system administrators, “It’s much easier to use my P2P solution than a hosted solution.”

Use cases for BitTorrent’s P2P live streaming solution, according to Cohen, include sports and news events, webinars, and programming that lets people “follow what celebrities are doing in close to real time. There’s also demand for a better solution to stream “sports-like events, like Quake tournaments,” he said, referring to the video game series.

At this point, said Cohen, the bulk of BitTorrent’s revenue comes from “direct consumer relationships, and a small proportion comes from licensing.” Going forward, he added, the company plans to “put a lot more emphasis” and “bring a lot more value to consumer electronics manufacturers.”

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3 Responses to “Bram Cohen on the Future of BitTorrent”

  1. I think Cohen is delusional. P2P isn’t a technology anyone is interested in paying for! Octashape was way ahead of Bram, selling Live P2P solutions 3 years ago and it’s still a tiny company. Adobe put their technology in every Flash player out there voila… there’s no traffic, no revenue.

    On the other hand, Bram’s software company was pretty much dead until it bought utorrent and stuck toolbars in it. This company is a front for piracy and their Hollywood deals kept them out of court. Pretty clever. This other business is a joke.

  2. Hi,

    As a company, it’s dispapointing to see the lack of traction the company has yet to achieve, that might be down simply to the personnel and connections to the wider media eco-system – understandable considering the companies roots.

    However, most people should know that BitTorrent succeeded so much because it uses the same distribution design as the Internet, which wasn’t built for the web as it is often used today, and definately not for server-to-user tunneling or intensive broadcast, let alone live, video.

    I’d bet more than on others, that the brain that came up with BITTorrent can resolve a efficient design for live p2p video, though it’s still a challenging task. Not least in a market where it can cost just cents to push a Gb of content, and the further considerations of ISP-capping.

    What I’d urge them to do, once the technicals are finalised, is deep penetration via affiliates and hardware OEM’s; inclusion in an 80 million user client wouldn’t be a bad start.

    Kind regards,

    Shakir Razak

  3. This interview could have been taken at the end of 2008 – the BitTorrent content store had all but failed and BT DNA was soon to follow, Bram was working on live-streaming, and the main source of revenue was toolbar installs as bundled with the rebranded uTorrent client under the “BitTorrent” name. Exactly the same as today…

    Not sure why he dodges the “how do you guys make money” question like he does — it’s not like is ashamed of their toolbar business…