One of the constant annoyances voiced with the on-demand download services such as iPlayer and 4oD is the inclusion of Digital Rights Management which means the download has a limited lifetime and restrictions on what devices it will play on. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has offered its viewers a show via the BitTorrent system that has no Digital Rights Management (DRM) attached. Michael Geist who writes a technology law column for the Toronto Star covers this news in his blog.
The lack of DRM allows consumers to transcode material and copy it to any device they wish from their mobile phone, to games console or portable MP4 player. The end result can mean a much higher audience than would otherwise occur. The use of peer to peer technology to distribute video content does allow the publisher to reduce its costs substantially, since it only needs to seed the material for a short while after which time people will be downloading it from the myriad of other people who have already downloaded the show. Overall though the price of transmission does not really decrease it simply moves it around to the broadband provider and consumer.
One alternate method is to multicast content to a number of cache devices spread through the internet. This model has been used for some years with Akamai being one of the big names. The UK broadband model as it moves to an IP centric network may well be able to exploit this sort of technology. Potentially, video servers could be located at the ISP, in the core network or right down at the exchange level, journalists and broadband providers in the UK will have seen this demonstrated by BT Wholesale as part of what is potentially possible as the BT network core is upgraded under 21CN.
Distributed video servers is how the HomeChoice service (now Tiscali TV) works, with a server for every three exchanges. The question is will broadband providers or wholesalers install expensive kit so we can all get our video fix faster/cheaper? For it to happen on a national scale it would need the content production industry to embrace the system. The chances of one party underwriting the costs are very small. As always the technology and what it can do outstrips what the accounting department is willing to spend, though would spending many millions be worth it to just watch more soaps?