Peer-to-peer, sports a winning combo

Peer-to-peer networking, once the bane of large media companies as the likes of Napster made content owners shudder with dread over the thought of file sharing ripping a massive hole their business plans, is suddenly being seen in a whole new light.

Big media is viewing legitimate, authorized file sharing as a good thing. Why? Because by letting users do the file sharing a company can reduce the size of its file-sharing infrastructure and, in turn, costs.

That’s one of the reasons Kontiki, a provider of peer-to-peer (or P2P) technology has signed deals with the BBC and AOL.com. And now it has reached a deal with UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB whereby Kontiki will help the company distribute on-demand sports highlights and movies via broadband.

“A year ago all of our customers were nervous about being the first one to deploy a P2P system,” says Scott Sahadi, Kontiki VP of Marketing. “But now a whole group of companies are afraid of being left out.”

The service, known as Sky by Broadband, is the largest public deployment of Kontiki’s technology to date. BSkyB has 8 million subscribers and, effectively, they’ll all be capable of sharing content with each other.

“We’ve found that if you give consumers an ecosystem and a software application that is easy to use they’ll eat up content and also be wiling to pay for it,” says Sahadi.

UK BskyB customers will be able to access football, cricket, rugby, tennis highlights as well as Sky TV shows.

As for the technology itself, highlights will only be playable by UK-based Sky subscribers. The highlights will also disappear after a month.

Sahadi says the sports industry has already proven itself to be an attractive online community, with companies like MLB.com in the U.S. and the demand for online cricket in the UK dwarfing requests for movie content. “If you go into any pub in London when Manchester United is playing football it’s a sold out show,” he says.

He believes sports recaps and highlights available on demand will be attractive to people in the U.S. who are interested in consuming content when traveling. And executive, for example, could tap into a WiFi hot spot in an airport, download some highlights, and then watch them on the flight.

Kontiki has two approaches to its technology. One is to build a walled garden so that when a customer clicks on a link for a clip they access one of Kontiki’s servers. The other is deploying Kontiki servers and systems into the client’s system. BSkyB will use the latter, with the video clip first being encoded with metadata, then the addition of digital rights management technology, and then a URL being placed within Sky’s electronic programming guide. The link can also have a GIF or JPEG graphic.

“The whole trick is to make it simple to ingest the content and simple to get it into the public,” says Sahadi. “Our networking kernel does all of the blocking and tackling, and that’s the secret sauce as it reports on the use of a file and provides security.”