You’re watching Game of Thrones on Sunday night on HBO Go – or trying to anyway. The stream sputters, the audio drops out, it freezes for a few seconds, before the app ultimately crashes. Wait seven days, rinse, and repeat.
That’s streaming video today, and the same thing holds true across every popular video event, whether it’s the SuperBowl or an Apple event or the Red Wedding. And this problem is only getting worse – think about the Olympics and the World Cup. Think about cricket, for gods sake.
“Last year there was a huge game between India and Pakistan, and 1 billion people watched it on television,” Hadar Weiss, Co-Founder and CEO of Peer5, told Digital Trends. “We’re still a ways away from the promise of online video. And technology needs to change to address that huge demand.”
Weiss knows a bit about streaming video. His company aims to solve its delivery problem through peer-to-peer technology, the same stuff that brought you Napster and Kazaa more than a decade ago, and brought the music industry to its knees. The argument for peer-to-peer streaming in video is simple. Picture the current world of video streaming as a freeway, with a fixed number of lanes. When no one else is out driving around, you can fly from Palo Alto North to San Francisco proper in minutes. When the highway gets congested, traffic slows down, and everyone suffers. The fixed number of lanes defines the maximum amount of capacity.
With peer-to-peer, every viewer becomes a potential server of content – that highway grows wider with every car that drives up an on-ramp, like a freeway that magically adds lanes when traffic builds.
Peer5 has essentially built the world’s largest content delivery network without deploying a single server.
For what it’s worth, phone networks have the same problem, because the architects of the wireless systems didn’t build the networks thinking that every single subscriber might be on the phone at once. But during a disaster, that’s what happens, and the networks becomes inundated and collapse.
Weiss and his team have spent four years building their technology, and thanks to a few key changes over the last year, they’re finally bringing their tech to market. This morning, Peer5 announced a deal with DailyMotion, the second largest video site on the Internet.
“To grow our audience and exceed our current 300 million viewers, we need to think beyond traditional HTTP-based CDN services,” said Pierre-Yves Kerembellec, Head of Architecture at Dailymotion. Peer5’s peer-to-peer solution solves his company’s three biggest live streaming challenges — capacity, quality, and cost-efficiency, he added.
For Weiss, measuring success was easy. First, it shouldn’t mess the system up. Like at all.
“They wanted to make sure that it was at least as good as they were without it. That was the number one requirement: To not harm user experience,” he told us. So DailyMotion tested slowly, over the course of six months. First they turned the technology on for live video sports streams and esports at games.dailymotion.com. Esports are a massive draw, especially in Asia, but represent a unique challenge for video streamers.
A traditional network architecture relies upon content delivery networks (CDNs) such as Akamai, Level3, and Amazon. Netflix has built its own unique one just to server up all of those episodes of Stranger Things and House of Cards. CDNs rely on actual servers nearish to the end user (they call them edge servers.) There are many in North America, and tons in Western Europe, but in India, Malaysia, Thailand, and so on, they aren’t as many – and it takes a year or so to build a datacenter in a foreign country. With peer-to-peer, everyone watching a video suddenly becomes a server. (This epic animation on the company’s site depicts a real-time view of all of those servers; dots streaming up into the sky depict high concentrations of local traffic.)
“If they have an esports event that’s popular in Malaysia, suddenly you have thousands of nodes in those locations, and they simply help each other,” Weiss explained. Today, DailyMotion announced a deal to roll the service out across all of its content, a clear sign of belief in the technology.
One of the big factors that also makes now a good time for peer-to-peer video is the rise of HTML5. Google has announced plans to drop support for Flash video in December. “Today, more than 90 percent of Flash on the web loads behind the scenes to support things like page analytics. This kind of Flash slows you down, and starting this September, Chrome 53 will begin to block it,” wrote Anthony LaForge, curator of Flash in Chrome for Google.
Peer5 is built on WebRTC, a real-time communication protocol from Google that’s part of HTML5, meaning support for Peer5’s technology is built into every version of Chrome, Opera, Edge, Firefox, and more. Apple’s building it into Safari. Google Hangouts is based on it.
The traditional means of delivering video may face serious obstacles in the future. Think about VR and 4K, which require substantially more bandwidth than an ordinary video stream.
“Our technology is essentially built just for those cases,” Weiss told Digital Trends. And what about Game of Thrones? Or the enormous social media company that recently livestreamed its first ever NFL game?
“HBO, Twitter, and other companies are approaching. They’re definitely engaged. It’s something they’re going to look into this year,” he said.
“HBO is going to be interesting.”