Canon has just announced their brand new prosumer digital camcorder, the XL2. Read the press release: Canon's Hotly Anticipated XL2 Three CCD Mini-DV Camcorder Sizzles this Summer. Why is this important? Why am I blogging about it? Very simply, this is yet more evidence of the democratization of content creation. The XL2 would have been a professional rig just a few years ago. Now it is at the top end of the consumer market and the capabilities will inevitably trickle down. Of course, the quality content will need some way to be distributed *cough*broadcatching*cough*.
With both 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios (film-like and TV-like, respectively), variable frame rates (again, to more closely emulate film or TV), interchangeable lens (the same as the XL1S had, including a new 20x optical zoom lens), and more, all wrapped around a 3 CCD system for maximum image, you know, fantasticness. [emphasis in original]And all for an expected market price of about $5,000. High production values content creation is becoming cheap, rapidly.
There's just so much to this camera, though, it's sort of hard to explain. Things like the ability to sync up the settings on two different cameras so that the film quality will remain identical make the XL2 the next logical choice for not only budding film-makers and home users who want the best, but increasingly, well, anyone. [emphasis added]
I would be remiss if I didn't point you to HD for Indies, a blog dedicated to "High Definition Video for Independent Filmmakers: A How To Guide for indies on the cheap." For example, check (no permalink available currently) the July 01 posting on "Tight Budget 720p Uncompressed HD Editing System Recommendation." You too can edit 720p uncompressed for $3368.
The American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York is an incredible museum and resource. It "is the only institution in the United States dedicated exclusively to the study of film, television, and digital media, and to examining their impact on American culture and society." In addition to the permanent collection of over 100,000 moving image artifacts, it has some fantastic temporary exhibits currently, such as a collection of Tim Burton's drawings from 12 of his movies. There is also an ongoing exhibit on videogames. In fact, admission to the museum provides you three tokens to play classic games including: Asteroids (1979), Frogger (1981), Ms. Pac-Man (1982), Space Invaders (1979), and Tron (1982). Additionally, the online exhibit Computer Space lets you download an emulator and the actual ROM for many of the games so that you can play them on your PC at home. You can download the original games! How cool is that?
Answer: very. Unfortunately, downloading the content from AMMI's latest exhibit is prohibited. Which is really a shame, because while the exhibit is excellent (really, really excellent), making the content freely downloadable could be very useful for our democracy. It's that important. Read on...
an innovative online exhibition presenting more than 250 television commercials from every presidential campaign year since 1952. Visitors to the Museum’s Website can watch nearly four hours of TV commercials. The site includes a searchable database and features commentary, historical background, election results, and navigation organized by both year and theme.This exhibit is really well-organized. Every commercial has a transcript. Brief commentary sets the commercials into context. You can look at commercials by type (Backfire, Biographical, Children, Commander in Chief, Documentary, Fear, and Real People) or by issue (Civil Rights, Corruption, Cost of Living, Taxes, War, and Welfare). There is also a section on campaigning via the Internet.
Great stuff. But, as I watched some of the commercials (Real and Windows Media) I couldn't help but think of the possibilities of being able to remix and annotate them. I imagined what many of the amateur commercial creators who participated in MoveOn.org's Bush in 30 Seconds contest could do with the material. Shouldn't the people be permitted to use these materials to make their own campaign commercials?
So, I tried to download the commercials, but couldn't do it without violating the DMCA. So I contacted AMMI and asked them about this and they were kind enough to answer.
David Schwartz, the Museum’s Chief Curator of Film and co-curator of the exhibit had this to say,
Some of the permission obtained to exhibit this material was contingent on the Museum's assurance that the material would not be downloadable, and would not be edited.What are the permission-granters afraid of? Why don't they want the people to have this material? Apparently is is tolerable to present these works in the safe, reserved arms of a museum exhibit, but heaven forbid that these works actually become part of the living, breathing fabric of democracy.
Unbelievable sums of money have been and will be spent on television campaign commercials. They are the heart and soul of the modern campaign. They are the main reason campaign contributions play such an important role in our democracy. Until now, the ability to create campaign commercials has been the preserve of highly paid election consultants and strictly controlled by the candidates and parties themselves. However, the internet and computing revolutions are changing this. As the MoveOn contest proved, amateurs are perfectly capable of creating compelling campaign advertising. Why shouldn't they have the chance? Why shouldn't these materials be free to quote from? Isn't this what democracy and free speech is about? Of course, it may be that the parties and candidates don't really believe in free speech.
But what about the copyright issues? David Schwartz again,
Most of the commercials were obtained from various presidential libraries, and are in the public domain. In some cases, the ads were provided by ad agencies and by campaign offices (including the DNC and RNC), and these entities retain the copyright. Ronald Reagan is the only president included in the exhibition who obtained copyright ownership of his ads. We obtained permission from his office for use of the ads.For the works in the public domain there is clearly no problem. In fact, I'm not sure why any of these commercials are copyrighted anyway. After all, I seem to recall that tax dollars paid for at least a portion of many of those ads. And even if there is copyright, the holders of those copyrights should be asked why they won't permit licensing under one of the Creative Commons licenses.
This is a great exhibit. It should be greater.
Robert Greenwald, an honored (and innovative) director and producer of films, has a new documentary coming out that critiqes Fox News, called OutFOXed. The New York Times Magazine has a lengthy article on many of the issues facing the making of this documentary, most prominently the copyright clearance issues (which are particularly difficult for films) (How to Make a Guerrilla Documentary).
Obviously, the documentary will feature many clips from Fox News, often showing them in a less than flattering light. Fox News famously sued over the title of Al Franken's book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The case was laughed out of court, but it shows how litigous Fox News is willing to be. So, Greenwald is rightfully afraid that he will be sued, despite the merits of his case. Fortunately, it seems that perhaps Fox News has learned its lesson (their lawsuit helped publicize Franken's book better than anything). According to the Washington Post (annoying reg. req.) Fox News may ignore this documentary (though the statement certainly isn't a promise not to sue) (Too Late to Comment?):
"People steal our footage all the time," says Dianne Brandi, Fox News's vice president for legal affairs. "We generally sort of look the other way."
Nevertheless, there have already been other significant copyright problems, according to the NY Times Magazine article:
Then there was the fact that several major news organizations were unexpectedly refusing to license their clips. (Such licensing is ordinarily pro forma.) CBS wouldn't sell Greenwald the clip of Richard Clarke's appearance on ''60 Minutes,'' explaining that it didn't want to be associated with a controversial documentary about Murdoch. WGBH, the Boston PBS station, wouldn't let Greenwald use excerpts from ''Frontline'' for fear of looking too ''political,'' it said.
An aside: Of course, why use copyright law if there are other means to prevent the making of these sorts of films. Take, for example, the process Greenwald used to make the film:
''Outfoxed'' was made in an unusually collaborative fashion. In January, Greenwald rigged up a dozen DVD recorders and programmed them to record Fox News 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for about six months.Fortunately, Greenwald didn't have to deal with the broadcast flag, which would make using such clips significantly more difficult (and expensive).
Another critical aspect to note about Greenwald's film is the innovative distribution methods he uses, bypassing traditional gatekeepers:
Last year, Greenwald followed up that effort with ''Uncovered,'' his critique of the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq, which featured interviews with former intelligence analysts, weapons inspectors and Foreign Service officers. Once the film wrapped, Greenwald turned the traditional distribution model on its head. Rather than taking the time-consuming route of entering film festivals or courting theater distributors, he sold the DVD of ''Uncovered'' through the Web sites of various left-liberal organizations: MoveOn, The Nation magazine, the Center for American Progress and the alternative-news Web sites AlterNet and BuzzFlash.Through such means he has sold tens of thousands of DVDs. This is no mean feat and it shows the power of alternative distribution. After all, what conventional distributor would be willing to publish such an obvious lawsuit target?
Another aside: The people behind the film recognize the potential for even more innovative distribution.
Jim Gilliam, a 26-year-old former dot-com executive and a producer of ''Outfoxed,'' is enthusiastic about the way Greenwald's projects meld grass-roots politics with the culture of the Internet. He predicts a future -- augured by events like MoveOn's competition for the best 30-second anti-Bush advertisement -- in which young political filmmakers will be as likely to wield a camera phone as a digital camera. ''It won't be long before people will be shooting and editing short documentaries that they'll stream from their blogs,'' he says.Yep. Sounds like broadcatching.
As the Times article describes, Greenwald’s style for distributing documentaries may be the beginning of something new — political criticism, using interviews and clips, making a strong political point, distributed through DVDs and political action groups. (See some other examples here). On what theory does he, and others, have the right to use such material without permission? On the free culture theory we call the First Amendment: Copyright law must, the Court told us in Eldred, embed “fair use”; “fair use” is informed by First Amendment values; the values of the First Amendment most relevant here are those expressed in New York Times v. Sullivan. As with news-gathering, critical political filmmaking needs a buffer zone of protection against the overreaching of the law. And if the potential of this medium — now liberated by digital technology — is to be realized, we need clear precedents that establish that critics have the freedom to criticize without having to hire a lawyer first. [links in original]Indeed. Lessig's right:
Watch the movie. Celebrate the freedom it represents. It is a particularly American freedom that we should celebrate and practice more often.
A couple of weeks ago Eric Harrison wrote a head-to-head comparison of Windows Media Center Edition and TiVo. (TiVo versus Media Center Edition PC's - finally!). TiVo won, partly because the original Windows machine had all sorts of defects, but mostly because TiVo is a more solid performer. Paul Robichaux's comparison goes into more depth about the MCE (Media Center Eye for the TiVo Guy).
Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg looks at Harrison's comparison and adds some thoughts of his own, as JR is working on a report on standalone DVRs (Tivo comparison to Windows Media Center):
First, the PC is more flexible. If I want to store and view my pictures, music and other video content, burn to DVD, copy to a portable media player and stream that content to other devices in my home, I can do that with the PC and not with the TiVo. The MCE EPG is also more flexible. Try and record the West Wing on TiVO, just the 7pm episodes shown on channel 44, not the other boradcasts. You can't do it. It's a snap on MCE. (why would you want to? to record a series according to airdates so you can watch the episodes in order). On the other hand, my TiVO never crashed, locked up, missed a scheduled record or any other annoying issue. Clearly the dedicated funcitonality makes for a more stable platform. Part of the MCE experience issue is that it's still a PC. You still need to exit to the shell to get some things done. You need to re-boot from time to time. If MCE is going to make inroads in the next year it needs to be able to shed the PC experience and live 24/7 as a consume electronics device.Here are my thoughts. I already have a TiVo. I already have a PC. Most of the people who are considering buying a TiVo already have a PC as well. If the TiVo could simply talk to the PC, then they (and I) could get the benefits of consumer electronics reliability and the flexibility of a PC without having to buy a whole new, rather expensive PC.
So why don't DVRs offer this flexibility? They get sued into oblivion: EFF Archives: Newmark v. Turner Broadcasting System. Need I mention that the IICA (née INDUCE Act) will make bringing such company-resource-draining lawsuits easier? Or that, in a little less than a year, the government will burden such capability with mandatory DRM: Digital Television Liberation Front?
Yesterday, MediaPost reported that for the first time since it has been tracked, the number of receivable television channels per household has stopped increasing and even decreased a bit (Universe Collapses: Well, TV's, Anyway):
Average Number Of TV Channels ReceivableTV executives are, of course, worried about this development and want Nielsen to look into reasons for the decline.
I think the reasons should turn out to be pretty obvious. The "channel" concept as currently used on television has enormous search and mental transaction costs. Think about it. Imagine if the internet had to be accessed through "channels." Couldn't be done. Heck, one of the main reasons RSS is taking off is because it provides much better access to numerous sources of information. I'd never be able to keep track of as many blogs as I do if I had to do click through each like a channel.
The article notes that:
Still others think we've already reached a "channel-less" era of television, brought on by digital video recorders, where viewers essentially record and watch programming from their hard drives detached of the channels that originally televised them.See, here's the thing. DVRs haven't had enough market penetration to make that big a difference in the numbers. These numbers have very little to do with DVRs, I think. What they do point out are the limits of the current television interface known as "channels." Even if there were no DVRs, I think channel reception would naturally peak out simply because people would find very little utility in dealing with the search costs of so many "channels."
More importantly, what this quote fails to capture (and television executives can't see) is that DVRs should ultimately lead to an increase in the number of programs available, as smaller markets can easily be served through broadcast at times when TiVo can capture the broadcast, but no one is physically watching at 3 in the morning. DVRs = more programs, fewer channels. The channel concept does go away, but that doesn't mean less content. It means more content more easily found.
Ultimately, of course, this all leads to the channel-less future I call "broadcatching."
Prof. Michael Froomkin had a neat little post last week about the use of highly-partisan movies to skirt campaign finance laws (Movies as a Campaign Finance Law End-Run). The basic idea is to make a partisan movie, such as Michael Moore's virulently anti-Bush film Farenheit 9/11, and then advertise the heck out of it prior to an election. The 30-sec trailers for the movie could be as effective as campaign commercials as anything the candidates and the campaigns "officially" run. As Froomkin notes, this will be a "loophole it will be next to impossible to close."
It is funny, you know. The advent of campaign finance laws have tracked closely with the advent of traditional broadcast mass media. The money is raised for massive television ad buys, not print ad buys or billboards or a whole bunch of other things. I don't think the Democrats lose sleep over the fact that the Republicans can out spend them with regard to Washington Times page buys. But what is the common solution to the television ad problem? All sorts of arcane, loophole-ridden, cynicism-increasing, lack of respect for law fomenting, First Amendment-threatening regulation of how money is to be raised and spent (basically for television advertisements).
I look at this and I'm baffled. If the problem is the need to raise lots of money to run an expensive television-ad based election campaign, maybe the problem isn't campaign finance but the durn fool way we've regulated our broadcast medium. Rather than see the problem as one of campaign finance, why don't we see the problem as one of television regulation? If the major networks weren't bottlenecks and gatekeepers for the most popular medium of all, I don't think we'd have 1/10 the problem with campaign ad buys (and the money raised) that we have now. Read on...
In a system of broadcatching, campaigns could release commercials and video playlists would incorporate the commercials based on desire, rather than exchange of money. If I saw a campaign commercial it would be because my trusted social network recommended it to me, not because somebody paid them to distribute it. Sure, politicians would pay to have their commercials associated with particular programming, but it would be a snap for someone else to add a playlist that included the countercommercial as well. In such a case it would be difficult to outspend the opposition. For every commercial they pay to place, the opposition can match with unpaid commercial placements. It would be a battle of the playlists, not a battle of buying network time.
If there were no longer channels or networks to speak of, if we watched the television smorgasboard we wanted from an essentially unlimited variety of sources, then each individual program would have more say over its editorial position with regard to commercials. No one can force the New York Times to run a political ad, let alone run a political ad at favorable rates, unlike television networks, which are required to run campaign advertising at favorable rates. The justification for such video regulation doesn't exist in a broadcatching world.
I imagine that we would have relatively politically neutral video playlists from groups like the League of Women Voters that would feature ads from both parties. Lots of organizations, some partisan, others not, would also promote their video playlists. The landscape would be much different and I don't think that massive television advertising budgets would give near the same advantage to well-financed politicians that they do now.
Reform television regulation, not campaign finance!
More importantly, Gonze breaks down the difference between "RSS" and "syndication" (RSS and weblogs tag team mano a mano vs. syndication and broadcatching). I've played fast and loose with using RSS for broadcatching, letting the herd spread a bit much. Gonze flanks the cattle back into line:
The reason for the awkwardness is that RSS is about content from the creator of the RSS feed, while playlists are about deep linking to resources not owned by the linker.
Diablog connects broadcatching with the spread of broadband in Europe (Broadcatching, the future of “broadband television”). The two early posts link to articles that demonstrate that traditional broadcasters still don't get it. For example, Strategy Analytics gives bogus advice to broadcasters (Broadcasters Beware: Broadband Is Stealing Your Viewers):
TV programmers and service providers can deal with this trend by continuing to emphasise iTV services and products like Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), which can offer viewers the same kind of interactivity and personalisation associated with the Internet.
Sean Carton, "Chief Experience Officer" of Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc., thinks broadcatching is the future of time shifting, only he calls it "Rich Media RSS" (Next-Generation RSS: Time-Shifted Streaming Media).
Nucleus 1.0 is released:
Nucleus will download a specified RSS file, and look for .torrent files that match any of the specified keywords. If a match is found it will queue up that file for download. After it has gone through the entire RSS file it will download each file 1 at a time. If no matches are found the program will just simply exit.
Buttress claims to be an "application to automatically download and run .torrent files from RSS feeds, without user input."
Finally, Doc Searls applies broadcatching to the radio medium - talking about metadata labeling, add-on services like Technorati, interface design (cell phones!) and FCC reform (Think of it as Radio Simply Sydicated). It would be great if NPR would consider such a thing, but to be honest, I've worked with public broadcasters before and they are sometimes more paranoid about loss of control than private broadcasters. For example, public television is one of the supporters of the broadcast flag. Anyway, when Doc speaks people listen. Jeff Jarvis on Doc's idea: Explode your radio. Poynter on the concept: RSS Radio.
[P]rogramming choice may be the ultimate value proposition.
This was actually a piece I had been planning to write for some time and never quite got around to and now it seems that Jon Udell has beaten me to it (Broadcatching: the RSS-ification of television news). Udell is considering the implications of Brett Singer's television news clip playlist (News Video-Daily), which I noted last week: Video Playlists. Lucas Gonze, one of the leaders of the playlist community, also has a couple of comments on the issue: Brett Singer's comment on his collection of news video clips and Jon Udell on Brett's video playlists. In fact, Gonze points out one of the more interesting implications of "broadcatch news": the lack of a need for "chattering monkeys inserting patter between clips."
As Udell notes, television remains a very popular and important medium. It is precisely because of its importance that I think broadcatching is a critical element in democratizing media, something I also noted earlier today on Copyfight (Commercials - Rip, Mix, Post on a Website). Read on...
Increasingly, people will be gathering their own video and putting it on the net. However, the main source will news video will likely remain the existing television channels. The democratizing element comes in when people will be able to easily link to and create playlists of the news story clips, much as bloggers link to text news stories today. Other tools, similar to Technorati and Google News will help people sort the video they view on their television via DVR. You may still watch 30 minutes of news video every night, but it will come from a variety of sources: Fox, ABC, CNN and whatever those you trust have put in your broadcatching queue.
Udell also points out that it has taken awhile for relatively simple DVRs to take off and this second order opportunity will probably be flying "under the radar for at least a few years while CBS et al. absorb the impact of TiVo." I completely agree, but I also don't think it is too soon for foward-thinking broadcasters to begin developing the tools and means of making this happen. Of course, most broadcasters are going to resist this mish-mash of their work. They want to retain control over their entire show, instead of chopping it up into separately digestible elements. Unfotunately for them this makes as much sense as newspapers forcing you to wade through every page in order to get to the articles you want on the interior pages of the paper.
Smart news programmers will begin to develop their shows so that elements within them can be easily linked to and RSS-ified. They will realize that the authority of their show will only grow if people are linking and sharing it. As Mary says, "You're nothing online if you're not linkable."
Nor will news shows remain on a once-a-day schedule, or every half-hour. Like online newspapers, which now operate on a 24/7 news cycle, television news will move quickly to produce and make short two-minute clips available as soon as they can. It's a different pace and news crews that adapt to it now will be ahead of their competition.
Oh yeah, and teasers are going to dead. I'm not going to stay up and watch a bunch of news I don't care about in order to find out what might be lurking in my breakfast cereal ... I'll let my RSS/BitTorrent feeds get the clip for me to watch at my convenience, not the local station's.
Tomorrow, the FCC and the Department of Homeland Security will be co-hosting a media forum: Federal Communications Commission and Department of Homeland Security to Host Media Forum Wednesday, June 2 [PDF]. The purpose is to "examine the relationship of media and government in times of emergencies." FCC Chairman Michael Powell had this blurb:
Media and government must be partners in preparing for emergencies. The public needs clear lines of communication of accurate and timely information. Only by working together can we ensure full readiness for when disaster strikes. During this forum we want to explore how this relationship can be strengthened at the local level.
The forum will address means of fostering coordination between local government and media before an emergency occurs, media awareness of service vulnerabilities, and plans for restoration of service to community, including the special needs of disability communities.
Of course, I doubt this forum will have anything innovative to add. The focus is on broadcasters and how best to use their platform. Yes, broadcasters are and remain important, but they aren't the only information distribution game in town anymore. Perhaps the best way to distribute information is to bypass the broadcasters all together, or use a separate channel. You want local? Have emergency RSS fron any entity that thinks it needs one. Let people subscribe to these emergency RSS feeds so that they show up on their television screen no matter what they are watching. I've written more on the concept here: RSSTV Emergency Broadcatching System. Problem with my idea, though, is that it reduces, as opposed to aggrandizes, the power of traditional media. The other problem with the concept is that is a forward-thinking innovative take on the difficulties of distributing emergency information.
Interestingly, given that the FCC desires to regulate as much distribution technology as possible, when I forwarded the concept to the FCC, I received this response:
Thank you for your interest in this issue but the FCC and its rules do not address the technologies that the covered entities might use.
So here’s some free advice for TiVo: create a version of your software that works on a regular PC and then either license it to manufacturers so they can put it on their PCs instead of Microsoft’s Media Center operating system or sell it directly to consumers so they can install it themselves (or do both).
That would be thinking outside the box and creating consumer value. So, I don't really expect a major company funded by the broadcasters to actually try it. Instead, TiVo will probably follow the blindered future noted by MediaPost (Life After TiVo, Experts Debate The Next Generation Of Broadband Enabled DVRs):
The benefit of the broadband connection [to the DVR] is that it can enable real-time lead generation, couch commerce, instant polling (without a cell phone), long- and short-form branded content, and any manner of viral Web promotions.
Lucas Gonze has an interesting post on broadcatching with video playlists (On the topic of broadcatching). He points to the Webjay video playlists of Brett Singer: Playlists by webjaybs. According to Lucas:
Since I don't have a television in Montreal, I watched the news last night via his [Brett's] compilation of BBC and NY1 clips. It was embryonic and crude, but also mind blowing.
According to a Reuters wirestory that was widely published, including on C|Net News, Sony will be incorporating its new "Cell" processor in both the next generation PlayStation and what they call a "network television" (Sony says 'Cell'-based TV ready by 2006).
The article lacks any detail about what, exactly, a "network television" is, but the image the words invoke is fascinating. I would imagine that one could rather easily broadcatch with a network television, for one.
Caveat: I think that using the XML button for too many things can lead to confusion, but I definitely agree with the sentiment.
WIRED has a very interesting article on the various websites that make it easier to track campaign finance in the political system (Following the Money Made Easier). A number of the best websites are cited, such as Fundrace, Political Money Line, and my favorite, Open Secrets.
Worrisome Privacy Issues
Increased transparency in funding is all to the good (especially for larger donors), but I feel a little strange being able to know which of my neighbors have given $100 to Bush or Edwards (no local Kerry fans, apparently). How long will this data be held? Will these websites discourage people from donating to candidates not favored by their neighbors? What effect will this have on our politics?
More Efficient Tracking Desired
Of course, I would love for these websites to become even more efficient. What about email alerts and RSS feeds? You could subscribe to a candidate feed and be notified when they have new donations above a certain limit. You could have geographic feeds and industry feeds. You could track particular donors, especially industries, across a variety of candidates. Bloggers could make excellent use of such feeds.
Fix the Problem of Money in Politics
We really need to reduce the importance of money in politics (it'll never go away entirely). The more we undermine mass media, the better I think. A vast amount of political money is spent on television advertising, if we can change that paradigm with something like broadcatching we would be better off.
Bonus IP issue: The logo for Fundrace is highly reminiscent of Nascar's.
Not all technological advancements that increase the ability of the average person to produce professional-quality video come in the form of software or silicon. Sometimes they come in the form of $14 worth of galvanized pipe, washers, nuts and a barbell weight.
Multimedia artist Johnny Chung Lee has developed the poor man's steadicam. What is a steadicam? According to the Steadicam FAQ, it "is a camera stabilization device that, in the hands of a skilled operator, combines the image steadiness of a dolly with the freedom of movement of a hand-held shot." Normally, the cheapest 3rd-party steadicams go for $500 and up. Lee's version costs about $14 in parts ($14 Steadicam). It might not have all the bells and whistles, but seems to do a pretty darn good job, considering the price.
Sometimes it is nice to note that not all cool hacks are digital.
Cinema Minima, the blog for independent films that are actually independent, has declared that "The salient issue facing movie makers is distribution" (Trendwatch: new ways to distribute movies). To that end, they will be paying close attention to developments along the broadcatching front.
Steve Gillmor, one of the first to recognize the potential of RSS+BitTorrent back in Dec '03, has penned an open letter to Microsoft's CEO, Steve Ballmer (Memo to Steve Ballmer). The letter makes the case for increased Microsoft support for RSS, including the broadcatching combination.
Read on for many more links.
Matt of Hit or Miss has stepped up to the RSSTV challenge and is someone else you can suggest shows for whose TiVo will automatically record them (Program my TiVo). Program Matt's TiVo here: Program Matt's TiVo Page.
Infoworld's Jon Udell praises the Webjay collaborative playlist system (Blogs + playlists = collaborative listening). Grumet also thinks webjay is very cool (I stumbled upon webjay.org). Broadcatching is going to make these playlists so much more functional, eventually.
Berkman Center Senior Fellow Jim Moore has a couple posts of interest. In the first, he notes that, "The big advances in standards come when we find simple scalable ways to tie together machines that matter into vast interactive networks." XML and RSS are example of this, and Moore claims that one of the next steps is to tie TiVos into these networks (RSS Video). His second post, though chronologically earlier, is an important note on the potential political importance of broadcatching (TV as the new game 2). TV is and will remain a critically important element in politics. However, broadcatching may be able to shift the traditional balance of power. I'll need to write more about this.
From ancient broadcatching days, December 2003, Matt Jones sang the praises of broadcatching and recommends it to the BBC (BitTorrent + RSS = Decentralised Tivo?). A brief trackback is from Submit Response Reading, in which broadcatching encourages the poster to "chuck out" their "broken telly" (Torrent TiVo).
Julie Leung has an interesting idea of IMing with friends and family while watching the same program at different locations (TV is torture). I can imagine it getting annoying really quickly, but there are interesting possibilities here for broadcatching.
Finally, Lisa Williams is inspired by RSSTV and broadcatching to imagine user-made commentaries for television, both real time and asynchronous (DIY MST3K). I've been a big fan of this idea for a long time, see LawMeme (The MST3K Syndrome - Coming Soon to a Home Near You?).
When I logged in this morning there was a BitTorrent window open and a copy of Free Culture on my hard drive. Simon put this Creatively Licensed work on LegalTorrents, and the Radio plugin did the rest. What a pleasant surprise! [links in original]
The Blogdigger Development Blog has some interesting updates on their integration of broadcatching. One obvious problem is that promiscuous use of broadcatching can lead to your system trying to download more media than makes sense (Radio and BitTorrent):
So for the second moring in a row, I logged on to my computer and noticed things were a tad sluggish. The culprit: the collection of around 25 BitTorrent sessions that had been initiated from subscribing to the Blogdigger torrents.xml feed! I killed most of the sessions, as they were for things that I was not interested in, but I did keep a few running (like the latest episode of Scrubs!).
Adam Curry notes that it would be great to get the audio version of Larry Lessig's new book, Free Culture, downloaded a chapter every morning (free culture audio boook). More interestingly, Curry points out how, since each chapter of the book is being read by different bloggers, RSS makes a lot of sense for aggregating the spacially diffuse files. He also points to his early writing on the topic of RSS+BitTorrent, RSS: A Cool Web Service, near the bottom of the post.
Digiwar considers some new uses for RSS, including broadcatching (RSS, more then headlines). One cool use of RSS he mentions is a concert notification system, which lets you know when a concert is announced and reminds 30 and 2 days before the concert. Why not add a broadcatching that sends you a copy of the concert the next day or so?
KnowProSE, doesn't have much to say, but his brief comment is an interesting take on the appeal of BitTorrent (All you wanted to know about BitTorrent and were afraid to ask).
As an old school IRCer, I stayed away from Napster, Kazaa and all those other things. But Bittorrent with RSS has a lot of potential, especially for expanding on existing uses.
Known as Video-to-Video, the idea is to let viewers click a button on their remote control to immediately watch a 3-minute video describing products and services that might appeal to them. The marketing clips are promoted through small icons that appear on the TV screen as viewers fast-forward past regular ads.
This is a perfect example of TiVo forgetting what made it successful in the first place. Remember those cool, early commercials for TiVo in which a couple of guys charged into a television network's offices and tossed a programming exec out the window? While the commercials might not have been terribly effective (many people still don't "get" TiVo), they did get to the heart of what makes TiVo successful: empowering viewers. With TiVo you no longer had to watch programs when and how the network execs (or advertisers) chose.
The problem with this new advertising system is that it is an attempt to get a limited amount of control back into the hands of the networks and advertisers. Consumers can have neat, new functionality, so long as that functionality suits the corporate interests. Sure, it would be nice to see commercials on TiVo for things tailored to my interests, but that doesn't give me enough control. I want links to content that isn't from the major advertisers. I do like checking out the extended previews for movies I'm interested in and the special preview of the new Ford GT had me drooling, but I also want to see links to some of the absurd stuff coming out of Japan.
Just as it is great to get The Simpsons on Sunday at 8pm, it is much better to watch The Simpsons whenever it is convenient. It may be great to get additional content for some of the commercials the networks want me to see, but it is better to get additional content that I've chosen to be receptive to. Why should I only get the commercials that major broadcasters or TiVo want me to watch?
These restrictions become more obvious as you see the reaction of TiVo's partners:
"TiVo's making money off ads that run over our air space--What's in it for ABC?," said Rick Mandler, ABC's general manager for enhanced television. "We're not going to pass those triggers through without a business relationship in place," he said.
This is precisely why we need to empower viewers. If viewers were truly empowered by this system, TiVo could simply ignore ABC. Once the programming is on TiVo's hard drive, it is no longer ABC's air space and ABC shouldn't have any say over the matter.
What we need is an open standards based system, like something built on RSS. To heck with ABC, people don't want ABC to be making the decisions about the sorts of enhanced content we can get. If ABC won't get out of the way, I'm sure other networks would be willing to take advantage by giving viewers what they want. And if no networks take advantage, then some internet startup will.
If TiVo dies, it will be at least partly due to the fact that they were willing to empower viewers only so much and no more. Having increased viewer expectations substantially, TiVo now wants to throttle such empowerment. Of course, they are doing it in a highly unimaginative way.
The long-term vision for TV advertising invokes a concept known as "telescoping," in which the lines between advertising and programming may blur beyond recognition.
For example, if a viewer is watching "The Apprentice" and likes the new BMW a young executive is driving, he could click on the car with the remote to get an informational video on the car and schedule a test drive with a dealer. He could then go back to watching the show at the exact point where he left off.
Yawn. Ahem. Allow me to clarify. YAWN.
I've been hearing this vision of television "interactivity" from brain dead marketing drones for-seemingly-ever. Yeah, sometimes extended commercials are cool, but if your imagination ends there, pathetic. It is sort of like imagining email and the only use you can think of is opt-in spam. I've got some interesting ideas, such as annotated shows (I'd watch B:tVS with a Buffy fan feed), but my imagination is also limited. Open the standards, let people come up with clever uses. I doubt IM was imagined when the IP protocol was developed. Chances are, many of the bottom up ideas for enhanced television could be commercialized eventually, and not one would have been imagined by a marketroid.
There has been a number of other commentaries on this article:
Techdirt provides brief history and analysis (TiVo Still Trying Creative Approaches For Advertising).
If we end up with a future such as is described, maybe we will wistfully long for the 20th century, and relatively well-defined lines between advertising and content.
Everyday it seems that there is something cool and neat in the RSS/BitTorrent/Broadcatching realm. Today is no exception. For example, Brian Clark, proprietor of the excellent Outside the System, suggests two business models for broadcatching.
Additionally, the music hacktivists behind Downhill Battle have launched Banned Music, a website dedicated to distributing unauthorized sampled music mixes such as the infamous Grey Album (About BannedMusic). Without discussing the merits of their concept (see here, here, here, and here for my take on related issues), they have come up with an interesting technology. Since many people haven't yet installed a BitTorrent client, Banned Music wraps their initiating .torrent files in a Nullsoft scriptable installer so that people automatically install the necessary software when they attempt to download the music (A New BitTorrent Downloader). The potential for this approach with regard to broadcatching is apparent.
Read on for all the latest broadcatching news ...
Counter-Intuitive Broadcatching Business Model
Brian Clark's Outside the System has a fascinating write-up on an alternative business model enabled by broadcatching (The Valley Cost Model: Broadcatching and Net Television). Writing from experience (cybercasting the Sundance Film Festival among other things), Clark notes that the costs of delivery for broadcatch are inverse to the demand, unlike traditional cybercast where delivery costs increase with demand. As Clark says, "The new mantra is: the higher the demand, the lower the cost.":
the idea that develops from this is one that is familiar to the Web: new content is free, and archival content costs. In this case, the relatively good gatekeeping of torrent files at the server level -- whether as authentication (seperate from a transaction) or a transaction (using something like BitPass) or even depublishing (no longer available) -- provides that potential....
As a model, that might mean you can afford to offer your "newest episode" for free for a limited period of time -- that period of time when your bandwidth costs are the lowest because peer swarming is the most efficient. At that point, the "other revenues" you can bring in might be sufficient since you spared the majority of the bandwidth cost. This even provides an added incentive to adopt the strange new tools needed to partipate in "torrenting with RSS feeds" (as it helps to ensure that you get your copy during the free period.)
This is just a taste, Clark goes into much more (interesting) detail. In particular, he looks at a possible ethos of such a system:
This is part of what makes the "new is free" model of the valley cost model so interesting for independents -- it reinforces the value of the most ardent fans and subscribers by giving them the content as close to free as the business model can allow, encouraging them to recruit new participants among the "first consumers" in much the way early fax machine owners pushed the adoption of faxes -- because that adoption adds value (in broadcatching's case, by lowering costs) to everyone in the network.
Read the whole thing.
Broadcatching and Public TV
Broadcast stations’ volunteering to go dark sends a clear signal. Over-the-air transmissions are becoming useless, not worth the cost of firing up the transmitter.
Now Hazlett is primarily interested in freeing up the spectrum to use for other purposes, which is about as far as I go in agreeing with Hazlett here. Nevertheless, my second thought was why not broadcatching for public television stations (other than the fact that public TV is frequently more mercenary than commercial broadcasters)? Honestly, if the bandwidth costs can be shared or shouldered by the viewers, why shouldn't public TV make their content available to the public via broadcatching? Frankly, innovation-minded sponsors should require such distribution in return for their cash. Hello, Intel, IBM, and others.
Broadcatching and Porn - The Initial Killer App
Brian Clark suggested via email the killer app for early commercial adapters of the broadcatching paradigm: pornography. This is actually quite a good idea - seriously. Not that I would know about this personally or anything, but many pornography websites provide subscribers with periodically updated content in the form of bandwidth-intensive video. Heck, bandwidth costs are probably a major expense for pornographers and broadcatching would likely significantly increase their profit margins.
If there is one thing that can be said about pornographers it is that they are much quicker to exploit technological advances. Thus, pornography makes an excellent testbed for refining the technology as well as potential business models.
Ross Karchner provides a couple of Venn Diagrams for RSS/BitTorrent/TiVo (Disruptive++). In addition to the nifty diagrams he says, "There has never been a more efficient path for video from the Internet to your TV."
[Broadcatching] means the Joss Whedons of the world will no longer have to pitch their shows to “Pointy-Haired Bosses” at networks (who air them out of order and then cancel them prematurely for not finding an audience). Instead, creative types can pitch directly to audiences.
And see his recent comment on this blog.
The only real difference is that whereas clients poll the server to find out if an RSS feed has been updated, file servers send out pings to clients over the konspire network when new files are ready.
There's probably a good case for each of these systems, at particular levels of scale and channel popularity.
He's right. Too bad konspire appears to be defunct.
Ubercyberprof Larry Lessig pointed to some "mash" multimedia from the Republicans (RNC Introduces John Kerry: International Man of Mystery). The Republicans are going to email 400,000 copies of the video to "Team Leaders" across the country. Broadcatching would make so much more sense ... and make the Republicans look technologically cool to boot.
On Saturday, Andrew Grumet announced the release of RssReader 0.4d (RssReader 0.4d). In Andrew's words, "RssReader is TiVo-resident software that displays the contents of an RSS feed on your television." Of course, who the heck really wants to read RSS feeds on television? Sounds like one of those dotcom-era WebTV-like monstrosities. Instead, Andrew notes that "More interestingly, RssReader can schedule recordings from syndication feeds containing RSSTV extensions. This means you can subscribe your TiVo to a community-evolved ToDo list, such as the feed generated by Program My TiVo!" Absolutely, and something I think has amazing potential (RSS for TV, Music).
However, I also think that there is not only a desire for at least some RssReader functionality on television, but important reasons to make it happen. Indeed, perhaps a grant from Homeland Security to Grumet would be in order.
Imagine an RSS feed that would scroll at the bottom of your television display while you watched any other channel, a news ticker if you will. It would be just like the scrolling feeds on the news and financial networks, but would be overlayed on top of whatever you are currently watching. Most importantly, the content would come from an RSS feed.
Emergency Broadcatching System
When I lived on the East Coast, the television was a major source for breaking emergency local news such as school closings, traffic conditions and weather alerts. Turn on the local morning news after a snow storm and there would be a scroll of the business and school closings and delays. Major accidents on I-95 would initiate traffic tickers and you would also see listings of various counties under blizzard alert or where snow emergencies had been declared.
There are a couple of problems with this system. First, you have to be watching a live, local station. What about those gentle souls who like to start their morning with a relaxing gardening show on Home and Garden TV while they sip a nice cup of herbal tea? Thanks to TiVo, what about those early-risers who want to watch David Letterman's top ten from the night before in the morning just before heading to the home office?
Second, these scrolls are not necessarily the most efficient way of getting information to the audience. The alphabetical listings of businesses and schools seem to get longer and longer every year. Currently, you have to wait like 10 minutes for the darn thing to scroll through the entire listing in New Haven (and Yale never closes anyway). And you know something? I couldn't have cared less about the storm alerts in Windham County; I was in New Haven County, darn it.
Seriously, wouldn't it make a lot more sense to have an RSS feed for such emergency announcements? I want my employer or my school district to let me know when I should come in late or not come at all, and I want to know whether or not I'm watching a live, local news show. As TiVo (and broadcatching) become more popular it becomes less and less likely that people will be watching live broadcasts or the major networks. If you are the state or county government and need to let everyone know that there is a snow emergency or get other information out to citizens, who have dozens or hundreds of television channels to choose from, you can't simply hope that your citizens are watching the local ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS or FOX affiliate. Heck, if for some reason the television broadcast is out (terrorists attack transmitters, for example), you might still be able to get information to people through their televisions.
Cable companies could probably do something like this at government request, but not everyone wants to be constantly bombarded with this information on all channels. Okay, I know my school is closed today and now I just want to watch Spongebob Squarepants in peace. I'm not sure what capability satellite companies would have to do this on non-local channels. In any case, people may want information from sources other than the government and I doubt cable or satellite companies will run tickers for them.
People should be able to subscribe to particular feeds for their specific needs and you should be able to turn feeds on and off. There should also probably be a flag that would could be set to permit interruptions (automatically making the feed visible on the screen) and allow you to turn the feed off after you've got the information (only to reappear if there is an update, for example).
Other RSS Applications
Of course, once this system is in place, there would likely be a number of businesses that could be created to take advantage of such scrolls. Obvious applications include stock tickers and sports scores. Why not keep up with the stocks you follow while watching The Simpsons instead of CNNfn? Watch your favorite basketball game and keep closer tabs on the other teams you are interested in, rather than all the other scores and other sports the station's tickers usually have. News junkies can have news tickers running even while watching other entertainment.
Personalization would be great. Who wouldn't want to wake up in the morning with a personalized ticker that would include local weather and local traffic? In Southern California, wouldn't it be great if you could subscribe to the 5 Freeway/Orange County feed, or the 605 & 10 Freeways Los Angeles County feeds? Watch a national news show, but get a local news ticker? News could be even more specific. For us Copyfight junkies, why not Michael Geist's Internet Law News as an RSS feed you could read while watching Good Morning America? Sure, there wouldn't be a lot of content that could be sent in such a format, but it would alert you to stories you should probably check out later (or sooner, as the case may be).
If your feed is good enough, you might be able to get a minimum of advertising into the feed, or draw people to your website. I think the first news companies that jump on making this happen will make quite the splash. How embarrasing would it be for NBC News to know that that those watching the Today Show are getting a CNN news and weather RSS feed scrolling at the bottom of their screen?
Making RSSTV, RSS + BitTorrent and Broadcatching Real
Of course, once such a system is built out, it would be very natural and easy to add RSSTV ability to the mix. Once you can subscribe to an RSS news ticker feed, how much more difficult would it be to subscribe to "channel" feeds that tell your TiVo to record particular programs?
After that, the next obvious step is RSS + BitTorrent broadcatching. Heck, Homeland Security might want to have such a capability built into a "Emergency Broadcatching System." For example, it might be necessary to quickly disseminate multimedia that the local TiVo stores and records whether or not the television is receiving (or television stations are broadcasting). You never know when such a capability might come in handy.
Of course, once you have broadcatching built into every TiVo, ReplayTV and whatever it is that the Dish Network uses, whole new possibilities open up...
realkosh, a self-described "aussie music fan," thinks the broadcatching concept is "excellent" (Promotional music should be free). He also has some interesting things to say comparing music to peanuts:
When was the last time you bought a peanut? Peanuts are something you just get for free. People buy peanuts to give to other people for free. I'm sure there are hundreds of people out there who buy more peanuts for other people than for themselves. Peanuts are just there when you go to your local pub. When you go to a party. Peanut night clubs where the peanut people go.
I like the analogy, but for the record will note that I do buy peanut butter.
Continue reading for many more links...
John Robb has a couple of posts on the subject. In the first he references a report he wrote in 1996 (Personal Broadcast Networks). In the second he successfully experiments with the technology and offers some suggestions (Andrew's BitTorrent Test).
Lucas Gonze reports progress on the development of a portable playlist (Radio TWF. :)). You can monitor the working group's progress here: Portable Playlist Wiki. Last week, Gonze also reported on a new Webjay feature: cannibalization, which allows users to copy another's playlists and add them into their own playlists (A New Webjay Feature: Cannibalization). This an excellent example of collaborative filtering in action. Not unexpectedly, a couple of day's later, The Tofu Hut, a playlist creator expresses mixed feelings about this cannibalization feature (Tofuhut sez). On the one hand, people who get the cannibalized list may miss some of the nuance and info that is part of Tofuhut's list. On the other hand, more people are exposed to very cool music. Tofu Hut's final position comes down nicely in favor of sharing: "Ego loses: the more the merrier is our motto."
IT Conversations has a great interview with Andrew Grumet discussing the technologies he is creating, including broadcatching, of course (Andrew Grumet - March 22, 2004). IT Conversations' RSS feeds are enclosures enabled! How long before they add broadcatching capability?
Steve Kirks enjoyed Andrew's interview - noting that it was great for the morning commute (Listened to Andrew's interview). Wouldn't it be great if your car could broadcatch news stories overnight to listen to on the morning commute. That would be a killer app, I'm thinking.
I'm not really sure whether this has any application to broadcatching, but it seems interesting and something to think about. Joe Hall reports on a new RSS template which allows blog comments to be part of the feed (Full text RSS w/ comments).
Thanks to all the recent publicity, Simon Carless reports on his ffwd blog that LegalTorrents, a site for legitimate music torrent files that is experimenting with broadcatching, has given away an additional 300gb of music (broadcatching in the dark fatman ides?). 300gb! I guess broadcatching works.
Outside the System has an interesting analysis of the possibility of micropayments combined with broadcatching (BitTorrent + BitPass: Ethos & Practicalities). Most interestingly, the author goes into some detail regarding the ethos of the concept, what one might also call the social norms.
Now, I'm not a big fan of micropayments, but I think there might well be a market for certain Big Media Objects (BMOs) if the payment isn't too small. For example, the author imagines films being made available through this method for $2-3. I could certainly see this sort of payment making sense for a series, such as the awesome Red vs. Blue, where you buy an entire season for, say, $5-20. Of course, a subscription model for all-you-can eat content *cough*music*cough* might be a very good model as well.
The best part of the piece though is the analysis of the ethos of BitTorrent and payments:
Does this mean that there is a common ground between independents and the BitTorrent community that allows for the introduction of transactions into the equation? There very might well be, and there seems to be little technical barrier in experimenting and seeing firsthand. It might even be a common ground that traditional media companies and the artists they distribute don't/can't/won't share, making this an emerging system ripe for independent adoption over corporate adoption. There are also tantalizing questions I still have about how this microtransaction model could interact with the tracker also running on that webserver -- the potential to allow fans to favor those "in the club" versus "outside the club" at the peering level, which could reinforce the idea that the independent media creator and their Internet fans are all in this together.
This is something that I have been thinking a great deal about and I think that there is something quite interesting here. I believe that a well-designed market using broadcatching would encourage cooperation between creators and consumers, turning distribution into a collaborative effort. Sure, corporations could play this game, but independents could be on an almost equal footing, both would have consumers as their partners. I'm still thinking about the possibilities here, but I think they may be one of the most significant aspects of broadcatching. Broadcatching could be much more than what the Hollywood Liberation Army calls "the holy grail of a profitable business model for independent movie-makers on the web" (BitTorrent, BitPass & Outside the System).
Unlimited Freedom has some interesting comments about the whole broadcatching concept (BitTorrent and Broadcatching). Most of his post concerns what he sees as various drawbacks of the BitTorrent protocol. While he makes some good points, overall I don't think they really undermine the broadcatching paradigm.
BT differs from other P2P systems in the algorithm that it uses to distribute data. That's what makes it work so well for large files. But there's no reason P2P networks couldn't be enhanced to use that algorithm. If they did so, they would be SUPERIOR to BT for almost every purpose.
No longer would you have to find a .torrent file host to download data. No longer would someone have to do something special and act as a seeder - they could just put the data file into their P2P shared directory and it would be available to the world. No longer would you have to beg people to keep their BT clients (instances of which are specific to the file being downloaded) running after the download finishes, scolding them about being "leechers" if they don't upload at least as much as they downloaded.
Actually, some P2P programs already implement versions of swarm download protocols. However, that doesn't mean they are necessarily superior to BitTorrent. In particular, the advantage of broadcatching is that you have RSS feeds letting people know when fresh content is available. Consequently, you are more likely to have people hitting the .torrent file shortly thereafter, which makes the whole swarm download thing work better. With other forms of P2P, even if you get an RSS notification of fresh content, you'll have to wait for that content to diffuse through the P2P network. Even for very popular files this might take hours or days. With broadcatching, because of the centralization of the seeding server, content diffuses as quickly as the RSS feed.
There is also a question of search horizon for large media objects with normal P2P. The most popular files would be available in the local P2P network, but less popular files would be more difficult to find. Centralized seeding servers mean that the search horizon is virtually infinite. Moreover, you might not get much swarm download benefit for less popular files with normal P2P, but a centralized seeding service would aggregate even widely dispersed interest in less popular files.
The question of leechers is an issue, but since broadcatching would be mostly automated (update RSS, check for new files, initiate BitTorrent for new files), chances are the defaults could be set to let the BitTorrent application run fairly regularly in the background.
Undoubtedly, there are improvements that can be made to the protocols, especially with regard to usability for the average consumer. Those advances will come with time.
Slashdot has actually covered the BitTorrent & RSS concept before (RSS & BT Together?), but the latest is probably the most interesting as the concept begins to sink in (RSS And BitTorrent, Together At Last). Below are a couple of interesting comments:
People keep trying to make BitTorrent something it isn't. And really, we should be fighting its corporate adoption in any form, as it's simply an attempt to shift server bandwidth costs to the client. ISPs eat that right now, but we're going to metered access if this keeps up.
Which is effectively getting us to pay for website access/services, but instead of giving the money to the content creators we'll be giving it to ISPs instead and paying in bandwidth besides. So this is a bad idea.
The way I figure it, with this bittorrent-RSS combination and a slight modification of torrent watching sites like animesuki [animesuki.com] we will essentially have a fansubbed anime online tivo at our disposal. Actually, you could have probably done that even without RSS, though it does simplify matters. The only limitations are our bandwidth and hard drives. Which actually are pretty limiting these days, especially with p2p being frequently capped.
Alex Ben Block of TelevisionWeek has an interesting article on television in the era of TiVo (Push Comes to Pull). He clearly recognizes that television is switching from a form of "push" media to "pull" media:
From the dawn of modern broadcasting until today, television has been a push technology. That means a network aggregates content and then markets it. It in essence "pushes" programming through a pipeline to the consumer, who then chooses where to spend time and money.
....Instead of programs being pushed to consumers through scheduling, advertising and promotion, the new order is to have programs "pulled" out when the consumer is ready.
Block's analysis is lacking, however, in what "pull" media really means. For example, though he acknowledges that consumers will "pull" the media they desire, he still believes that distributors will retain the most clout:
Another problem is how to make it easy for consumers to sort through thousands of program offerings. It seems clear that at least in the early years, there will be no single method. There will be video-on-demand sold one show at a time, and subscription packages that offer unlimited VOD selections. There will be "free" VOD, which will include teasers for paid shows, extended commercials and brand builders like a gardening show from the Home & Garden channel.
No mention whatsoever of consumer-based collaborative filtering. Personally, I record for later viewing what my friends, family and trusted reviewers recommend. Push your VOD all you want - it won't be terribly important to me, unless recommended to me by people I trust. Moreover, unless something is truly compelling, I'm going to skip the ala carte menu and go for an all you can eat option.
He keeps talking "pull" but I keep hearing "push":
That is where metadata becomes important. It is a crucial source of intelligence for marketers in what is called the "last mile display," the final step before the consumer makes a choice. It becomes the code that determines how and where the program info is displayed (by title, brand, genre, affinity to other programs), the pricing, the spin of the synopsis (toward specific groups or interests), and what is displayed on the program guide.
If television truly becomes "pull" what are the marketers doing there puching pricing, spin, etc.? Where are my fellow consumers providing their views so I can make an informed decision?
What also of allowing consumer-created content into this network of "pull"? No mention whatsoever. In time, television's pull is going to be severely limited if much of the innovative video content available on the web isn't integrated nicely into the distribution of standard broadcasting fare.
Interesting view of the future of television, but give me a broadcatching feed anyday.
via JD Lasica
A demo publishing system launched Friday by a popular programmer and blogger merges two of this season's hottest tech fads -- RSS news syndication and BitTorrent file sharing -- to create a cheap publishing system for what its author calls "big media objects." The hybrid system is meant to eliminate both the publisher's need for fat bandwidth, and the consumer's need to wait through a grueling download.
The author of the WIRED article, Paul Boutin writes on his blog that "Those of you who remember Microsoft Active Channels and Netscape Whatever it Was Called, take note" (RSS + BitTorrent = ?). There are definitely similarities between broadcatching and MS Active Channels, but the differences are more significant. Broadcatching gets the whole channel concept right.
The most important difference is that an Active Channel provider has to provide all the bandwidth for the content they are sending. For large media objects this can quickly become rather expensive, relegating music or video channels to those who can afford substantial bandwidth (such as large media companies). In comparison, BitTorrent is specifically designed to share bandwidth costs for making large media objects available. RSS announcement of the availability increases the liklihood of more simultaneous users, thus decreasing the bandwidth costs of the seeder substantially. This means that anyone's content can be broadcatched, not just those of major media companies.
The main problem for Active Channels, however, was that there were few tools for ordinary folk to use to create their own channel. Sure, anyone could create a channel, but there was no blog software that made it easy to publish channels automatically. Consequently, Active Channels were dominated by the major media companies, who didn't necessarily use any standard format for sending content to users nor did they necessarily take user needs into account (such as not sending so many ads). One user feature that was definitely lacking was the concept of an aggregator. Switching between channels was more akin to clicking on a bookmark than looking at a list of feeds (as in a news aggregator) to see what has been updated. Generally, Active Channels meant that bookmarked webpages could have more annoying "interactive! (tm)" content.
In related news, Grumet has written up more about his implementation of broadcatching here: Experimenting with BitTorrent and RSS 2.0. In his description of the initial implementation, he has a very clear depiction of why this is darn neat:
What makes this interesting
First, RSS and BitTorrent complement each other naturally. RSS was designed to report freshly available content, which is exactly where BitTorrent shines. RSS 2.0 enclosures were designed to automate the download process that BitTorrent optimizes.
Second, combining the two should reduce the barrier to entry for small broadcasters. While not a new idea, video blogging has always borne a bandwidth cost. Combining BitTorrent's cost savings with widely available RSS emitting tools should, for example, make it possible for a small group of motivated people across the world to create their own news channel.
Simon Carless of Slashdot has a short article on the O'Reilly Network touting his work with Andrew Grumet on making broadcatching real by making RSS+BitTorrent feeds available at LegalTorrents (RSS and BitTorrent, Sitting in a Tree...). He has some valuable notes for others interested in joining the revolution.
Map the Way has this to say (Combining RSS and BitTorrent What Andrew Grumet has done!):
With modern production tools, the biggest problem for amateur and professional moviemakers is no longer producing video, but delivering it to the intended audience.
[Is it] a coincidence that the morning after I ordered a TV tuner for our iMac that my RSS daily update revealed a cross-blog conversation about RSS, bittorrent, and PVRs combining to create a nice web of user contributed video feeds[?]
Steve Gillmor, one of the earliest proponents of RSS+BitTorrent (BitTorrent and RSS Create Disruptive Revolution) expresses his surprise that RSS aggregators is as widely adopted within Microsoft as it is (about 15%) (Your Winnings, Sir). As usual, he has some perceptive things to say about the capabilities of RSS:
This [ubiquity of small consumable, searchable XHTML fragments] runs directly counter to Microsoft's preservation of Word document formats by European and New Zealand patents. It explains why there's still no InfoPath freely redistributable runtime--you gotta buy a ticket for enterprise workflow and form routing--and why Microsoft doesn't want to seed a poor-man's BizTalk server around RSS alerts. And let's not forget RSS/BitTorrent enclosures, which offer a DRM-free standard for peer-to-peer content exchange and publishing years before Longhorn locks down those ports.
For more information on Broadcatching, see also:
BitTorrent + RSS = The New Broadcast
Broadcatching - Not Broadcasting
Broadcatching - The Early Days
RSS + BitTorrent Announcement Soon?
BitTorrent, RSS and Broadcatching, Catching On
First Broadcatching App Available! (And Related News)
RSS, BitTorrent and Broadcatching for Courts
The Shifted Librarian, an RSS maven if ever there was one, has a short post on the use of broadcatching for library archives (RSS Feeds for Internet Archive Collections). This reminded me of a concept that I worked on several years ago ... a distributed database of legal information, decisions, journals, etc.
The basic idea was that every law library in the country would have locally stashed copies of every court decision. Court decisions would have been published into a network of massively redundant distributed databases with nodes at every law library. The system was actually a bit complex (but cool, using Jini and stuff). The Shifted Librarian's post reminded me of this concept and I thought, "why not use broadcatching to send full decisions (or articles) to everyone who wanted copies of court decisions (or law journals)?"
RSS is already used by some of the smarter courts to keep lawyers, clerks and assorted legal professionals current on court decisions, rules changes and related matters. The highly innovative Rory Perry, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, was the first to recognize this potential and has been providing RSS feeds for his court since May 2002 (Syndication and Weblogs: Publish and Distribute Your Court Information to the Web).
The feeds that Rory provides are great, but they don't include the full decisions - only summaries. You could use RSS enclosures, but providing full decisions to hundreds or thousands of recipients might tax bandwidth. BitTorrent to the rescue, of course. Why shouldn't every law library, law firm or other interested party broadcatch copies of every court decision published?
Of course, this only solves the problem of distribution. For law to truly be free, you'll need open standards for court decisions and nearly complete databases among other things, but this could be a major step forward. The potential uses for this technology continue to grow.
For more information on Broadcatching, see also:
BitTorrent + RSS = The New Broadcast
Broadcatching - Not Broadcasting
Broadcatching - The Early Days
RSS + BitTorrent Announcement Soon?
BitTorrent, RSS and Broadcatching, Catching On
First Broadcatching App Available! (And Related News)
Techdirt discusses how the mainstream press doesn't really seem to understand BitTorrent and is missing out on how much potential the system has (Distributed File Sharing Systems Learning From BitTorrent).
Broadband Reports also sees broadcatching as a potential disruptive technology (RSS & Bit Torrent: Content distribution gets interesting):
While illegal ideas abound, such as the instant download of every South Park episode the second it hits the net, the idea lends itself to a great number of ideas that could turn traditional distribution models on their heads, giving smaller operations a new opportunity for content distribution.
Andrew Grumet, who has been the leader in developing BitTorrent + RSS technology, has announced the arrival of the "an initial version of a RSS+BitTorrent integration tool for Radio Userland's news aggregator" (Announcement: RSS+BitTorrent Integrator for Radio Userland). Visit the project website here: Getting started with BitTorrent + RSS in Radio [BETA]. Grumet promises to write more about the idea in the coming days and asks for bug reports, comments and etc., here.
Damn the luck! I'm not a Radio Userland user - just might have to become one.
In related news, David Shipp writes about Chris Pirillo's IT Conversations interview (Chris Pirillo: March 1, 2004) in which Chris discusses the concept of BitTorrent + RSS (Future Web). Shipp summarizes thus:
Chris goes on to talk about the fusion of RSS and BitTorrent. This is where things get interesting and controversial. BitTorrent is an excellent technology for P2P downloads, and one of it’s emergent properties is that newly available files become widely available through BitTorrent far quicker than on traditional P2P networks. The disadvantage is that users have to trawl the web for BitTorrent pointer files that direct them to the downloads. He suggests that RSS can provide the delivery mechanism for these BitTorrent links, so for example, users can be presented with links to all the new episodes of their favourite TV series. Chris steps away from the legalities of the issue, and rightly so, but highlights the concept that RSS + BitTorrent is essentially a TiVo (or Sky+ for my fellow British).
Lucas Gonze is working on what I consider another element of broadcatching, RSS + Playlist Format, which he is calling RSS + Time (Analysis of RSS+Time as a playlist format). Exactly. Wouldn't it be great if one could receive a playlist from a trusted source in RSS format? The playlist would automatically play the songs already available on your system and launch a BitTorrent download of those not available.
C|Net News reports on the public unveiling of Red Swoosh, a new P2P entrant which has adopted BitTorrent-like technology for distribution of large files for commercial companies (Legal P2P networks gaining ground):
In part, that's why the company's CEO is now reaching out to the broad community of people using BitTorrent, an underground file-trading application using similar technology that has exploded in popularity among people distributing or downloading video and software programs.
Red Swoosh CEO Travis Kalanick said he wants to tap that energy. He's offering free use of Red Swoosh's content distribution services to noncommercial filmmakers, game developers or other publishers.
"I don't want to fight BitTorrent," Kalanick said. "I want to have a relationship with that community. That's not just about cutting a deal; you have give to that community."
Interesting. I'll have to give a try (I hope they don't use spyware). Wonder when they will adopt broadcatching?
For more information on Broadcatching, see also:
BitTorrent + RSS = The New Broadcast
Broadcatching - Not Broadcasting
Broadcatching - The Early Days
RSS + BitTorrent Announcement Soon?
BitTorrent, RSS and Broadcatching, Catching On
Bad pun, I know. So sue me.
Today I've come across a couple of posts relating to the revolutionary idea of Broadcatching, that is, using RSS and BitTorrent as a new distribution channel.
These margins and the edges of cost and value are a hamper on the real blossoming of video distribution on the Web, and can only be aggregated so far out of the way. P2P swarming technology is the only current viable route to break that stalemate by spreading at least part of the costs away from your own bandwidth pipe, but under a system like BitTorrent that's only really useful if there are a lot of people with fully download copies to swarm from (so you have a classic tipping point model of efficiency.) Promotion preceeds adoption preceeds efficiency.
The brilliance of an RSS approach, though, is that it builds in at least two important features that BitTorrent alone doesn't address. First, it provides a method of propogation through editorial filters -- a successful editor picking new BitTorrent works could help create an instant rush to the tipping point, in the process decreasing the cost of bandwidth on each copy. Second, it turns BitTorrent into a subscription system, one where your system automatically collects new content of a large size overnight (for example.)
Read the post for a concrete example of how expensive traditional internet distribution is and how broadcatching can alleviate this problem.
The film used as an example, because the author of the post executive produced it, is Nothing So Strange , which documents the aftermath of the assassination of Microsoft's chairman Bill Gates on December 2, 1999. Bonus cool factor: Bill Gates Assassination Film Goes "Open Source," Releases "Evidence" DVD:
"Nothing So Strange" will be released under a license that allows all of the "source" footage of the movie to be used without restriction, in personal or commercial projects, but keeps the actual film as created by the filmmaker under copyright. "You have free access to all the parts of the movie," said Flemming. "But you can't just copy our version of it--you have to make your own original work with the various parts."
PS: Murphy-willing Andrew Grumet will have something exciting to announce that connects RSS with another nominee, in the same category: BitTorrent. We're very excited about combining syndication with BMO's. It would be cool to make the announcement on the day of the award ceremony [WIRED Rave Awards], March 15.
PPS: BMO stands for Big Media Object.
Andrew Grumet is blogging about the practical steps towards making BitTorrent and RSS work together and some of the issues involved (BitTorrent + RSS, step 1). One of the interesting problems of development is getting the client software to behave properly with regard to this new concept:
BT has a nice command line interface, btw. We need to feed it appropriate --responsefile and --saveas arguments. An open question, at least on Windows, is dealing with client software that spawns windows who don't know how to close themselves. Ideally we'd have a client that didn't spawn a window and that accepted a parameter that told it how long to continue running after completion of the download, to help other downloaders.
This is important, but I think it is a bigger problem than this. Ultimately, for the new broadcatch to be successful, the client will also have to integrate closely with the playback software (your DivX software, MP3 player, etc.). A proper user interface is going to be critical. TiVo would be a great place to start, but it is designed around the traditional broadcast paradigm and would need some serious changes to handle this concept.
BitTorrent + RSS will be revolutionary, but there is a lot of work to get from the concept to user-friendly implementation. For example, when the internet was in the early days, everyone was excited about the prospect of everyone making their own homepages. Great idea, poor implementation, as traditional webpages were too difficult to maintain and there was no RSS to make following changes easy. Today, blogs are a much better implementation of the homepage concept. Today, we aren't even at the homepage stage of BitTorrent + RSS.
After dinner, walking back to my car, Andrew Grumet told me that he planned to integrate BitTorrent with RSS. A namespace, a couple of Radio callbacks, and it should work. I'm in awe.
The RSS Winterfest was a good start, but it's difficult to over-emphasize the value of this type of conversation taking place in-person, face-to-face. In addition, how great would it be to include an "RSS Hackfest" (led by Andrew Grumet) to get us BitTorrent + RSS, authentication, better customization, metadata, and more?!
Yesterday I wrote about the incredible potential of combining RSS with BitTorrent for video (or any broadcast media for that matter) (BitTorrent + RSS = The New Broadcast).
Had I done a little more digging before I posted, however, I would have found a couple of other really great posts on the issue from a couple of months ago. Great minds come up with similar titles, as I note a post with an almost identical title from PVR Blog (BitTorrent + RSS = TiVo). However, I think the potential here outstrips even the disruption capabilities of TiVo. That led me to Scott Raymond's excellent post on the subject from last December (Broadcatching with BitTorrent). I especially liked (because it seems so apt) the use of the term "broadcatching" to describe this new method of distribution.
Such a system would be an excellent basis for a subscription-based service. Hint (Thoughts on the EFF P2P Solution White Paper) hint.
I've touted Andrew Grumet's work before (Program My TiVo! and RSS For TV, Music) and once again I have to recommend paying attention to what he is up to. See his post, Skirting the edges of the new media universe:
Chris Pirillo feeds a new addiction. If I understand correctly, the idea is that the RSS feeds give you a list of fresh downloads in your newsreader. Click on what you want, and shortly thereafter the video is on your hard drive. Maybe we aren't too far from giving Dowbrigade StrongBad in his Video Aggregator. We'd need an automated way to launch BitTorrent when new items arrive in the feed. I don't know, maybe people are doing this already. We'd also need specialized feeds so that we wouldn't have to download everything.
Read the whole thing.
I really think there is something interesting here. Isn't RSS + BitTorrent an ideal means to distribute periodic video content? Subscribing to a particular series' RSS feed would be like setting up a Season Pass on your TiVo. As episodes are released, no matter the time, your system would automatically begin a BitTorrent download. Video RSS feeds for every taste would be available. You're a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar? Get the SMG RSS feed and you won't miss a single video appearance of her buffy-ness promoting Scooby Doo 2.
Who will be the first video network to adopt this technology?