What happens when some clever coders from South America sit down and manage to work out how to combine the back end power of BitTorrent with the user friendly slickness of Netflix? Well they produce a product which delivers free movies to the world in an instant, and to top it off they open source the code to make it unstoppable.
That in a nutshell is the story of Popcorn Time, a short lived service that launched a mere few weeks ago, and shut down just as quickly after pressure was clearly applied to their wives, families, pets and friends. Oh and hosting service. But then the open source movement kicked in, and suddenly things have gone from bad to awful for the movie industry.
Because lurking on open source servers the world over there are now an unknown number of clones of the service being downloaded by thousands of eager users. We downloaded and tried a couple of the better known versions, and found out that things actually might not be that bad for the movie industry. Yet.
The fact is that while the software really does work as advertised, and the interface is beautifully crafted and very easy to use, you’re still hampered by the lackluster performance of BitTorrent itself. The problem is that peer to peer services still have issues with the slowest link in the chain, and BitTorrent is no exception. The result is, even on the fastest network connection, you will generally find problems with speed and access.
With Popcorn Time once you get past the initial ‘buffering video’ message, which will take a few minutes even on the fastest connection (and we’re talking fiber speeds here), you’ll be faced with a movie that stutters its way along in an unwatchable manner. Every 10 seconds a pause while the backend tries to serve some more video fast enough, and fails.
But here’s the rub. The actual video that you’re watching for free is actually in excellent condition, and you get a choice of 720 or HD 1080 resolution where available. Good luck with the HD though, we couldn’t even get a playable version of 720 working without massive stutters. This is not good enough for your mom and pop, even aside from the stigma of using something with a reputation like BitTorrent.
But really these early glitches are clearly going to go away with time, and when that time comes, there’s no reason why movies and television programs will not happily find their way into millions of viewers eyeballs across the globe using this type of free software. The open source movement will ensure that all the platforms will continue to be supported (Windows, Linux and Mac) and the ease of use will inevitably draw the young rebels into the fold.
At which point, where does the movie industry (and the Netflix type supplier for that matter) go? Shut down the Internet? Start prosecuting the open source community (where’s the profit motive?), jail some more children? In the never ending game of piracy whack-a-mole, we appear to be heading towards an end-game.
The only thing we suspect the entertainment industry can do is capitulate as quickly as possible, and provide a cost effective alternative which people are willing to pay for, along the lines of music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. Watching these shenanigans over the past 10 years or more has gradually become more and more painful, as the entertainment people stumble around trying to save their dying whale (or cash cow?). They really should have taken a leaf out of Microsoft’s book when it all started with Napster – adopt, adapt and improve (and charge).
Anyway, we suspect things are about to change drastically over the next few years, and who knows, maybe that will be a good thing in the long run?