Bram Cohen on the Future of BitTorrent

What’s next for BitTorrent, a company that initially tried to establish a peer-to-peer-based download store for mainstream Hollywood, then aimed to help publishers distribute bits more effectively? BitTorrent co-founder and chief scientist Bram Cohen explained today at GigaOM’s NewTeeVee Live conference that the company hopes to help content creators reach its sprawling user base (80 million active users per month) and, within a matter of months, release its long-awaited P2P solution for live streaming.

BitTorrent is about sending around large, previously created files, said Cohen. “Live streaming is about watching content as quickly as possible after it’s created.” He said he’s “shooting for around 5 second latency from when the content goes out to when it’s actually displayed on people’s machines.

Asked by NewTeeVee’s Janko Roettger’s just whose problems BitTorrent is trying to solve with its live streaming product, Cohen noted that companies like UStream and “spend a lot of money on bandwidth,” and P2P could offer a more affordable alternative. “Even if you do have the money,” Cohen added, “it’s a real problem from an engineering standpoint to set up a real live solution. I have some very unorthodox techniques that I’ve come up with in order to take the latencies down.” Plus he said, from the perspective of system administrators, “It’s much easier to use my P2P solution than a hosted solution.”

Use cases for BitTorrent’s P2P live streaming solution, according to Cohen, include sports and news events, webinars, and programming that lets people “follow what celebrities are doing in close to real time. There’s also demand for a better solution to stream “sports-like events, like Quake tournaments,” he said, referring to the video game series.

At this point, said Cohen, the bulk of BitTorrent’s revenue comes from “direct consumer relationships, and a small proportion comes from licensing.” Going forward, he added, the company plans to “put a lot more emphasis” and “bring a lot more value to consumer electronics manufacturers.”

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