It’s the premiere episode of “Game of Thrones” season 7. Everyone in your living room shuffles around, giddly positioning themselves for the television event they’ve waited an entire year for. Not patiently, either. They’ve waited like children in a DMV. They’ve waited like a dog next to the door when you say “outside?”
At last, the lights are dimmed and the inevitable shushing of the final giggles marks the moment where it’s time to get serious. The first ominous keys strike as the episode begins. 503 Error. Service unavailable. What!?
As HBO Go crashed disappointing millions of fans, the geekiest among us couldn’t help thinking, “Why did this great tragedy happen and how can it be prevented?” Atomic Network, a streaming TV network for ‘techies, trekkies, geeks and gamers’ seeks to answer those questions and offer a solution.
Online video streaming can be extremely expensive to serve and difficult to scale.
It’s a challenge even for the biggest companies. This problem will be faced by an increasing amount of networks as they shift to streaming their content directly to their audience online rather than just delivering their shows and movies via cable TV. Streaming 4k video will only exacerbate the matter.
It’s ironic, then, that the answer to one of Hollywood’s greatest technological challenges lies within a technology it’s long considered an enemy; BitTorrent.
Networks can lower cost by tapping into the power of the crowd.
BitTorrent has been an extremely popular and controversial technology for the last 15 years. Though its infamy in show business has roots in its ability to enable the illegal sharing of copyrighted content, its peer-to-peer file sharing technology offers several major advantages over the traditional model of file delivery. By utilizing a BitTorrent based peer-to-peer model, Atomic Network aims to dramatically reduce cost and make its services far more scalable.
Almost every video streaming service uses the client-server model to deliver video. When you stream or download video, your computer is the client and you’re being transmitted the file from the server. This is the model the internet itself is based on, but there are problems with this model. For one, these servers have limited capacity, so the more users you have downloading the file, the smaller your slice of the bandwidth pie and the slower the file will download. Further, these servers represent a central point of failure. If there is far more demand for the content than the server can handle, it could crash, interrupting the experience of hundreds or thousands of clients. This is what happened to HBO GO for the last few premiere episodes of “Game of Thrones.”
The peer-to-peer model is more scalable and resilient.
With a peer-to-peer model, rather than having clients and servers, every client IS a server. When you stream or download video in a peer-to-peer model, you aren’t just downloading from one server but a group of other users who are viewing the content. Simultaneously, you are uploading the video or ‘seeding’ it to other viewers. As a result, the more users you have viewing and ‘seeding’ the content the faster the content will download. If HBO utilized a peer-to-peer model, the “Game of Thrones” premiere would have not only stayed online, but would have thrived and streamed faster with its enormous popularity.
It’s interesting that with the struggles technical struggles HBO has faced, the plot around the newest season of their hit show “Silicon Valley” revolves around the show’s fictional company “Pied Piper” attempting to build a decentralized, peer-to-peer internet.
While there are many projects in the real world striving to build such an internet, MaidSafe and IPFS for example, a video streaming service based on these principles is lower hanging fruit and is much closer to fruition.
Atomic Network will become the first network to actually implement BitTorrent based video streaming to deliver it’s shows and movies. With a team led by writer, producer, and entrepreneur Sky Conway and comprised of several original members of the Star Trek cast, Atomic Network is poised to turn heads when it demonstrates the efficacy of this new model.
It gives the fans the opportunity to support the content they love.
BitTorrent is made possible by hundreds of thousands people who go out of their way to upload content just because they love it so much and want others to be able to enjoy it as well. If that mentality can be harnessed by TV networks and studios like Atomic Network, it could be an incredibly powerful tool for community-building and fan participation.
Fans can even be rewarded for helping to stream video or being a ‘seeder’. Offering exclusive content, easter eggs, discounts or even rewarding fans with cryptocurrency, in the case of Atomic Network, could incentivise the audience and ensure there is always a surplus of seeders.
It’s easy to understand the backlash that BitTorrent caused in it’s rise to fame, but if the entertainment industry could look past the technology’s controversial origins, it will realize that this technology could represent the next step in it’s evolution.