P2P Video Sharing

Peer-to-peer, or P2P distribution has come a long way since the infamous Napster service popularized illegal music sharing.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of handing your finished video to a friend. Normally for us, that video would be a DVD. But what if you could hand over a simple video file instead? And what if each time you did, it became easier and easier for more people to watch your video? It sounds pretty fine, and that’s what peer-to-peer distribution is all about.

P2P has changed its ways since the Napster distribution methods. Not only has P2P become a low-cost solution to distribute video, but it’s also poised to be a viable way to collaborate with other video producers.

A P2P History

Lucky for us, many more Americans have high-speed Internet now than they did when early P2P networks were formed. Napster, the first P2P network, appeared in 1999 to a steadily growing web audience. Napster and its creator, Shawn Fanning, quickly found itself at the center of major lawsuits over copyright infringement as millions of people used the service to share their MP3 music files. After being banned on college campuses throughout the US, Napster ultimately was forced to shut down. Rising from the ashes was Bram Cohen’s BitTorrent program in 2004. This peer-powered program was set up to be more efficient than Napster, and served as the basis for how large files are shared on P2P networks today. BitTorrent has registered tens of millions of users to date. Similar to Napster, some users decide to use BitTorrent to illegally share music and movies, even though much of BitTorrent’s activity is legal. From MP3s to HD video, Peer-to-Peer networks have grown to serve multiple audiences at once.

The P2P Advantage

Peer-to-Peer distribution requires many users in order to work efficiently. They all must also use computers with an Internet connection too; the faster the connection, the better. Regular computer networks rely on a central computer (the server) to send out video to all the viewers’ computers. This is a “hub-and-spoke” design. The server is the “hub” in the middle and viewers are the spokes which all have to connect to the “hub”. It’s vastly different from a P2P network. The “hub-and-spoke” may work for sharing Word documents, but it turns into a slow bottleneck when large files are sent back and forth.

But wait! Prepare to lean back and smile. Uploading your video to a P2P network makes video fly. At first you act as the “server” for a short time, but only until your viewers download your video. At that point, each new viewer acts as their own server as well. Your viewers are like a little distribution army, each helping speed up the distribution of your video. Instead of having one copy of your video available in a single location, your video on the P2P network is now accessible from many servers. A new viewer will download your video with lightning speed because he or she will actually be downloading bits of your video from many places at once. Less bottlenecking, less waiting for large video files.

How To Upload Your Video

Okay, if you have a video and you’re ready to start the P2P process, read on. First, find that video file that you’ve dutifully saved on your computer. With an Internet connection, you have access to multiple P2P programs to utilize. We’ll pick Vuze (formerly Azureus), a popular P2P program which uses BitTorrent. Opening Vuze, a video file can be altered for sharing. This new file is called a Torrent (it sounds fast, doesn’t it?). Next, select an online host such as Mininova. Select your video file or a whole folder of video files to turn into Torrents. One feature that is essential to the speed of P2P networks is seeding. Make sure to enable seeding in your program of choice. Seeding not only allows you to immediately start distributing your video, but it also allows each and everyone who accepts your video to distribute it also. Very Cool. Here’s a hint: Once your video is available for download, contact your buddies with the fastest Internet connection to assist you. Ask them to download your video using the Torrent you created. This allows your distribution to speed up even more, as your friends seed your video to new viewers. Lastly, you can opt to have your video listed in an online directory. The same Mininova service offers a directory where you can choose categories like Action, Indie Film and Western for maximum visibility.

Collaboration Made Easy

Peer distribution doesn’t have to include complete, polished videos. Some video producers are opting to upload their raw media to P2P networks. This way, others are asked to join in on the production process. Arin Crumley of the From Here to Awesome project started by uploading all of his unique video media along with his Final Cut Pro project file. Asking his friends (and fans) to download everything and edit their own video allowed more people to share in the creative experience. Since Arin only uploaded media that he owned, his participants didn’t have to worry about copyright issues. In this case, P2P distribution helped the video producer to complete an unfinished project.

With so many choices to distribute your video, P2P networks may only be one part of your video distribution strategy. You may fulfill different audiences by offering some video content that streams on YouTube alongside your video torrent. Sending full-quality video files using P2P is also much quicker than sending them using a single server. Although P2P still has some way to go before it becomes the de-facto choice for HD video distribution, it is essentially a good way to get your video to the masses. Currently, web developers are working on making P2P even more cost effective, calling it P4P. This newest approach will offer shared video regionally as well as internationally, because downloading a video all the way from Japan costs more if you live in another part of the world. Why not download locally? Look for P4P to add sparks to the peer-to-peer distribution of HD video.

Contributing editor Andrew Burke is an independent producer and has worked in all areas of video production on three continents.

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