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Streaming Television on the Blockchain

Companies like Netflix disrupted cable television by making it cheap and easy to stream TV shows online. Now, streaming TV itself is being disrupted by the blockchain. Startups are leveraging blockchain technology to solve the pitfalls of traditional video streaming.

The Challenges of Streaming TV

Video streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube have become massively popular over the past decade — so much so that a fair number of customers have discarded traditional television entirely, in part because online streaming is an attractive replacement.

The reasons why are clear: Online streaming platforms are inexpensive or free. They’re also convenient because they can be accessed from anywhere where users have an internet connection. You don’t have to be at home to watch TV when you have Netflix.

But today’s mainstream video streaming platforms are not perfect. They suffer from several significant disadvantages from the perspectives of both content producers and viewers:

  • Cost inefficiency. With a platform like Netflix, you pay the same amount whether you watch a few hours of TV each month or hundreds. This is inefficient from a cost standpoint for users.
  • Disempowered content producers. On a platform like Netflix or YouTube, content producers may not retain ownership of the content that streams across the platform. They also lose out on revenue because the platform takes a significant share. In the case of platforms that rely heavily on user-generated content, like YouTube, most content producers make virtually no money.
  • Overhead and startup cost. Content producers and users who are unhappy with their existing streaming TV options are not usually in a position to create an alternative platform. Building a traditional streaming TV solution from scratch is a very expensive and technically complex endeavor. It requires significant investment in centralized servers that can host content, the development of a sophisticated software framework and more.
  • Privacy. If you publish video content on a streaming platform, your ability to protect your identity is limited. You can publish under a pseudonym, of course, but that doesn’t mean other users can’t trace you. And the company that controls the platform (such as YouTube) knows a lot of identifying information about you because it forces you to create an account, can track your location and so on. The platforms also track viewers in order to serve them ads.

In short, cost, control over content and privacy all function in less-than-ideal ways on the streaming TV platforms that have developed over the past decade.

Blockchain Solutions for Streaming TV

A number of startups are leveraging blockchain technology to address the challenges outlined above. Examples include:

  • Stream. This streaming content platform automatically pays content producers in cryptocurrency, using Ethereum as its backbone. Viewers can also tip content producers. The idea is to incentivize and reward excellent content. And by orchestrating payments through the blockchain, the platform is able to offer minimal transaction fees and freedom from lock-in.
  • Viewly. This project describes itself as a “decentralized YouTube.” Its model is similar to that of Stream, described above. Viewers pay content producers in cryptocurrency. Content producers can also earn income through sponsorship deals, subscription services and private channels.
  • Livepeer. The Livepeer open-source project is building a media server that can deliver streaming video, as well as a protocol to connect Livepeer nodes together. Users pay for broadcasting using a platform token and they can earn tokens by serving the network through work such as transcoding video on their computers. Livepeer’s goal is to build a totally decentralized streaming content platform.
  • Flixxo. This blockchain-based content sharing network relies on peer-to-peer video sharing via the BitTorrent protocol, rather than traditional streaming, but it still offers a way for content producers to distribute videos and for viewers to access them. By removing the need for a centralized video server, Flixxo lowers the cost and overhead of delivering content. Viewers pay for what they watch using Flixxo tokens.

These are just some examples of blockchain startups that are pioneering a new way of streaming video content without the centralized, non-private structures of traditional TV streaming. These platforms are new and still being developed; for the time being, conventional streaming sites, such as YouTube and Netflix, will stick around. But the inefficiencies of mainstream video streaming services are ripe for disruption by the blockchain and change is on its way.

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