Streaming media leader Netflix is investigating using BitTorrent-style peer-to-peer technology to keep ISPs happy about the traffic it sends over their networks.
Netflix has advertised for an engineer to research P2P streaming over the Netflix Open Connect content delivery network which speeds videos from its servers to our screens.
Popular content could be stored on subscribers’ devices for continual sharing with each other to reduce the data piped directly from Netflix to viewers.
The new engineer’s responsibilities would include ‘Research and architecture of large scale peer to peer network technology as applicable to Netflix streaming’ and to ‘Design and develop tools for the operation of peer to peer enabled clients in a production environment’.
Some ISPs are increasingly unhappy that Netflix accounts for 30 per cent of downstream internet traffic in North America and significant amounts in the UK and other countries.
Even though broadband customers have paid for bandwidth to use as they want, many ISPs want Netflix to pay again for a guarantee their traffic won’t be put into the slow lane.
Peer-to-peer streaming could head off this clash – the so-called Net Neutrality debate – by turning some of Netflix’s downstream traffic into uploads from its users.
Each user wouldn’t contribute a lot, but the overall effect would balance out Netflix’s heavy download demands, especially at peak times.
It’s not the first time streaming media providers have looked at peering: the BBC and partners in the European Broadcasting Union worked on the P2P-Next project until 2011 to develop peered streaming technologies, with an emphasis on easing the load for large events such as the Olympics and the World Cup.
Broadcasters such as Sky and HBO have recently seen their networks stretched to breaking point by popular events such as the Game of Thrones season four premiere and Sunday’s Liverpool-Chelsea Premier League clash.
More recently, BitTorrent DNA was developed as an option for companies like Netflix, although Bittorrent’s CEO Eric Klinker told ArsTechnica there are no discussions going on today between the two companies.
If Netflix goes the P2P route, it will have to work out where to find storage in users’ phones and games consoles and ‘dumb’ terminals like Roku which have very little memory.
Mobile customers will also be unhappy about sacrificing their upload allowance to ease the Netflix burden unless there’s some compensation or it’s not counted against their usage.