Neokast: P2P Streaming for Everyone?

If it delivers as advertised, the forthcoming peer-to-peer video distribution network from the Chicago-based Neokast could shatter current illusions about what it takes to stream live video over the Internet, allowing anyone with a webcam and a Net link to broadcast live to “an unlimited number of viewers.”

But after just a quick demo and fly-by interview at the Spring 2007 VON show in San Jose, there’s not enough information to assess whether or not this is indeed the next great leap in net-based video.

Neokast, which claims to be the creation of a group of smart about-out-of-college guys, said among other claims in its handout materials at VON that “Neokast is the next generation of media broadcasting on the Internet,” and that “With Neokast there is no downloading or buffering time, and the stream can continue indefinitely without interruption!”

Looking just a little bit silly in their team outfit of first-job-interview dark suits, the Neokasters at VON didn’t offer much in the way of hard details about their invention, other than to say to trust them it will work. They are accepting sign-ups for beta testing, so maybe we will learn more when real people start poking around.

The legendary Bob Cringely took an in-depth look at Neokast in his column last week, and calls it a play on the old idea of multicasting. But even Cringely’s detailed questioning doesn’t provide all the answers about how Neokast will actually make it happen. We tried to pry a few more details out of Neokast Wednesday on the VON show floor.

Noah Clemons, Neokast’s chief information architect, said the streaming video will be supported by a network of peers who download Neokast software. We can’t quite understand how anyone could continuously stream video over this network, where it can also (theoretically) be archived or registered for pay-per-view streaming, without central servers or cached content. Would you have to leave your own computer on, all the time, to stream? Would the company’s “advanced peer-to-peer protocols” impact networks the same way BitTorrent does today?

We didn’t get clear answers from Clemons on a lot of the questions, which may have been more to blame on the available person-to-person bandwidth of a noisy, busy show floor than any crafty evasiveness on Clemons’ part. There will be both a free and a “premium” service, the latter offering things like payment services to earn Neokast revenues. Clemons did clearly state that Neokast users will have to register all streams with the network, and that Neokast will have copyright-protection schemes in place to kick off unauthorized usage. So for now, they’re at least safe from the Viacom legal team. Whether or not Neokast will become the next BitTorrent is a story yet to be told, but one we will continue to monitor. Or stream, as it may be.