INTX 2016: BitTorrent Launches a Virtual MVPD

Taps P2P platform to deliver live multichannel service that will initially be free
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BitTorrent is diving deeper into the world of legitimate video services with a new live multichannel TV service that is being delivered over-the-top using its peer-to-peer platform and will initially feature content from programing partners such as AWE, One World Sports, and Newsmax.

Though the plan is eventually to offer a mix of subscription pay TV tiers, ad-supported offerings and PPV premium tiers as it notches more distribution deals with programmers, the new service, called BitTorrent Live, will be available for free and offer a lineup of “channels” from more than a dozen sources.

Early on, that free tier of linear programming will include AWE (formerly known as WealthTV), Clubbing TV, FAST&FUN, Fightbox, Filmbox Arthouse, Heroes TV, Newsmax, NUsicTV, OANN, One World Sports, OpenNews TV, Pursuit Channel, and TWiT.

BitTorrent Live, which builds on the company’s BitTorrent Bundle service and expansion into original content, said its use of P2P technology will enable the service to deliver OTT services at scale, Erik Schwartz, vice president of media at BitTorrent, said.

“What we’re launching…is functionally a virtual MVPD,” he said.

Though consumers are gravitating to on-demand models, “there’s still a very important chunk of television that has to be linear and it really has to be live,” Schwartz said. "What BitTorrent Live is really focused on is being the live companion for somebody who is consuming most of their most of their television via VOD from sources like Amazon and Netflix and Hulu. We think it solves a lot of the problems that people who want to be cord-cutters are running into.”

He believes BitTorrent’s P2P approach will sidestep some of the scaling issues that more traditional live streaming services have faced during highly-watched “tent-pole” events. It’s also designed to support latencies that one would expect to get from direct satellite broadcast TV – something that’s important for people who are watching a live sporting event unfold, Schwartz added, noting that BitTorrent Live’s latency will be in the neighborhood of five to six seconds.

“It scales like old fashioned broadcast,” he said of BitTorrent Live, which, the company said, is being deployed without a traditional content delivery network or the need to pre-provision bandwidth and capacity.

As for formats, BitTorrent Live’s app is poised to debut on the Apple TV, and will look to branch the service to more platforms such as iOS and Android and Web browsers.

Cable operators have historically been sensitive to BitTorrent’s P2P protocol because of the impact it can have on upstream capacity, though it’s become less of an issue amid the use of channel bonding techniques that beef up that part of the pipe.

BitTorrent traffic represented 28.6% of upstream application bandwidth on North American fixed access networks, and accounted for less than 4.4% of total traffic during peak periods, according to a Sandvine report issued in December 2015. That compares to Netflix’s aggregate share of 34.7% , YouTube’s 16.88%, and HTTP’s 6.05%.