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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Is Hyperdistribution the Future of TV?

Mark Pesce, co-creator of Virtual Reality Modeling Language, has coined a new term to describe the peer-to-peer distribution of media content -- hyperdistribution. Specifically, he addresses the use of BitTorrent technology to distribute television programming, and how producers and broadcasters are eventually going to have to come to terms with this new distribution method.

Pesce asserts that television presents a special problem for content creators. Unlike music and movies, for which pay services can supplant pirate download sites, audiences do not expect to pay for TV, at least not on a per-program basis. Pesce believes they won't accept a pay-per-download business model. However, he also believes that hyperdistribution can still deliver advertiser-supported programming, allowing viewers to access free and legal hyperdistributed TV without ripping off the content creators. Furthermore, hyperdistribution will free producers of the need to conform to timeslots in 30-minute multiples.

Perhaps more unsettling to broadcasters is the possibility that audiences' "swarming" behaviors will supplant the need for networks as home bases for content. Noting the popularity of last summer's "This Land" Flash video from JibJab, Pesce believes that Internet discussion groups and old-fashioned word of mouth will become the primary methods for helping viewers find the programs they want.

Pesce proposes some new laws of television, perhaps the most instructive of which (particularly for content distributors) is that open and empowering technology does not necessarily spell economic doom. As an example, he cites Disney, which in the early '80s leveraged the then-new (and then-controversial) technology of home video to distribute its content catalog to a whole new audience. The new revenue channels Disney was able to create catapulted it from a failing studio to a media giant without peer.

In the US at least, hyperdistribution is nowhere close to entering the mainstream. Even if technical hurdles are overcome (namely the dearth of broadband Internet connections in American households), the powers-that-be are certain to launch all-out legal challenges and squabble over standards. The tipping point, Pesce notes, will come when smaller players use hyperdistribution to satisfy viewer demand while turning a profit. When that happens, the major broadcasters and content distributors will hop on the bandwagon, and it will be a whole new game.

RELATED: Ernest Miller elaborates on how TV channels and traditional programming could ultimately be made obsolete.

Source: Mindjack