MediaZone Taps Peers for Live Internet TV

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Internet-TV provider MediaZone has created a peer-to-peer distribution technology that lets content producers deliver live, 24-hour channels over the Internet, with China's state-run broadcasting company among the first to use it.

MediaZone, which aggregates sports and other programming and distributes it over the Internet, plans this week to launch Social TV, a service that combines the bandwidth savings of peer-to-peer streaming with community-based features like chat.

At launch, MediaZone partners — which include China Central Television (CCTV), Silver Lake Film Festival, Filmmakers Alliance and WatchItVegas.com — initially will offer free Internet channels. CCTV, for example, will make its two international channels, CCTV-4 in Chinese and CCTV-9 in English, available outside the country using the service.

The Social TV service uses a small ActiveX Web browser plug-in to relay live video streams in Windows Media format to Web viewers. The advantage, according to MediaZone CEO Michelle Wu, is that given a large enough group of viewers with adequate upstream bandwidth, the peer-to-peer service can reduce bandwidth needs dramatically.

“Our peer-to-peer streaming video technology allows very cost-effective delivery of long-form video,” she said. That allows programmers to offer free, ad-supported access to their broadband channels, said Wu.

MediaZone's Social TV consumes a fraction of the bandwidth used by such content-distribution providers as Akamai Technologies or Limelight Networks, said Wu, because viewers' PCs work as nodes to distribute the stream to other viewers on the Internet. Unlike file-oriented peer-to-peer media distribution methods, such as those used by BitTorrent or VeriSign's Kontiki, Social TV transmits live video streams.

Other companies developing peer-to-peer streaming video technology include Microsoft, which has conducted research projects in the area, and Minneapolis-based startup Swarmcast, which received $5 million in funding in November 2006. The Venice Project, backed by the founders of Skype, is developing a streaming on-demand TV service.

In MediaZone's approach, the initial peers receive a stream from a central server. Once enough peers are available to relay a stream reliably, they act as “seeds” to pass it on to other viewers in the network.

Redwood City, Calif.-based MediaZone is owned by the South African media company Naspers.

The peer-to-peer streaming technology has been under development in China for the past year and a half and is now launching in the U.S.

The service will initially use Microsoft's digital rights management protections for Windows Media, and can block access from any countries specified by a content owner.

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