April 17, 2006

Growing Pains of the (Video) Web

I'm seeing more and more articles about Network costs and possible Internet tiering - ranging from P2P costs and BitTorrent (courtesy of slashdot) to the "free ride" the "New Media" conglomerates of the Internet are getting on other people's backbones.

In general, the Internet has thrived on a settlement-free model across the interconnected nodes of the 'Net (remember why they called it the "Web"?), and I'm generally an egalitarian, meritocratic technologist kind of fellow, so may the best products and services win - an Internet where content and application providers pay to access consumers seems like a barrier to scale and success. That is, I think a rising tide lifts all boats, so let's not open the drain :)

That said, I also think these discussions are not just the result of "old media" greedily eyeing the profit structures of companies like e-Bay, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, etc and wanted a piece of the pie. One of the ugly truths of the Internet is that we (royal Internet "We") really don't how to scale it (yet) cost effectively (read: pay for and maintain the cost structure for high quality media delivery through advertising alone).

Robert Cringley (of PBS fame)
discusses this quite a bit, in terms of technology implications - we're not even close to Broadcast TV at scale, for prime-time numbers, and falling further behind as HDTV and the like catch hold. Cable pipes are shared (traditional cable works because its essentially a multicast model), and DSL pipes don't/won't hit the scale required. Peer to Peer technologies (P2P) are a promising answer, but there's a lot of work there to pay off the Long Tail for high quality rich media content and applications, especially when you consider streaming, and not just delivery.

Of course, this also leads me to wonder (no point here - just thinking aloud):

(a) Why do most videos I watch on my laptop look like Quicktime demos from 1993?
Conversely, when I buy or download a "DVD" quality video, it takes forever - I can get it from my Cable Company's On-demand service in real-time... and is being a better TV really where this ends? Which then makes me think....

(b) its not clear to me that the Internet is ultimately a content medium - only, or even primarily. Perhaps this trend towards tiering is the first thrashings of separating "tools" from "distrubution" (or something) - or maybe we're running headlong into "economy of scale" meets "economy of specialization".

The good news is, its all just getting started - heck, we're only up to
2.0. Everybody knows it won't be any good until version 3.

79 comments:

Trekker said...

One word: Fiber-To-The-Home

BTW, have you checked out In2TV? The episodes of Babylon 5 I watched were pretty good quality.

Sree Kotay said...

Trekker, yes, but its a FILE peer-to-peer system, so I couldn't watch while I downloaded as I could with iTunes (which was just a straight download) - though In2TV was higher quality, with better selection of stuff, for sure.

Looks like the Web might catch up with DVDs just in time for HD to eclipse it...

Trekker said...

Just read the Cringley article ... umm..so yeah we're not even close...FTTH won't help if the internet backbones don't have the capacity. But FTTH is not happening tomorrow ... its a good couple of decades out...IMHO

EirikTheYounger said...

I would love a chance to look at your laptop and see if we can fix you streaming video experiance ;)
Seriously though. I think that we have seen incredeble strides in what can be done with video over IP. You all are correct that its not easy to deliver high quality video to ones computer, right now. Bandwidth costs for quality video are still higer than the infrastructure can support at the same scale as TV. (Closed loop IPTV solutions aside.)
But here is what excites me. As more and more network gets laid out. The codecs get better and better. So hopefuly as we have more space to shove bits around, the videos you are watching will get smaller in size (bitrate).
What interstes me even more is where else can we go with streaming media. As the user is divorced from having to be on a computer with a copper cable pluged in to an IP network, where else can we watch video. The Ipod and PSP are leading the way. But the UMPCs are starting to change it even more.
Next watching video on your cell phone (if we could get a screen bigger than your Ipod.)

Sree Kotay said...

:) Yeah, I agree that codecs are getting better - the problem is that our appetite for consumptions scales at comparable rates. 17+ inch screens are common, and eve laptops are turning widescreen. And with Media Center PCs powering 40in, 50in, and bigger displays, HD-DVD, HD-TV... the Internet is NOT keeping up...

I was being a little flip with "Quicktime from '93" comment - all I meant was: still not as good as TV - and TV quality's not even a moving target!

Perhaps though (as you point out) small screens will offset the stalemate.

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