The sourcecode for a ground-breaking project has just been released by the Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF). The software, currently under development and due to be released in June, will enable anyone to broadcast full-screen video to thousands or millions of people at virtually no cost.
Photo credit: Matt Williams
The so-called 'Broadcast Machine' will be free web software built on top of the PCF's open-source project Blog Torrent. The PCF claims that it will make video publishing with BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing technology, or http, as "simple as attaching a file to an email".
Video producers will be able to add extensive metadata to their videos, allowing potential viewers to easily search for and find them. The Broadcast Machine creates 'channels' of your video content, which can be subscribed to by interested viewers. Furthermore, the channels it creates are RSS feeds, so viewers can be alerted to new videos as they become avialable.
"Finally, real competition in television and truly independent television becoming the mainstream."
In addition to the Broadcast Machine for video producers, the PCF is also developing a free and open-source desktop television application for viewers, tentatively known as DTV. Subscribe to a channel and video will download in the background. When a new video arrives, DTV will let you know.
Viewers can also turn off auto-download for channels that they want to browse. If they find something interesting, they can select it to go into the download queue. To keep disk space under control, TiVO-like caching will expire videos after thye've been watched. If viewers wish, they can keep any video and build a video library.
"Hunching over to watch tiny web video sucks. But watching a DVD on a laptop is pretty nice, and that's what we're shooting for. This new internet TV will be fullscreen, high quality and way more fun than commercial television."
These will be the steps needed to create your own TV channels:
1. Digitize your video files
Since files are downloaded in the background and the P2P publishing software minimizes bandwidth requirements, video producres need not worry about the size of their video files, enabling them to produce fullscreen videos. The PCF recommends Ogg Theora as the only completely 'free' video format, which means that there are no patent restrictions on the codec. Most common formats will be supported as well.
2. Install the publishing software
Simply choose a name for the channel, fill out some description fields and customize your settings. Your channel will be created instantly and a you'll have a link that users can use to subscribe. The publishing software will automatically create both a 'feed' of new content as well as a library display of everything that's been offered on the channel. You can make as many channels as you'd like and offer specific videos in any or all of them at the same time.
3. Publish videos
To post a video file to your channel: login to the publishing software, select your video file, enter a description or keyword, and click 'publish'. Anyone subscribed to your channel will automatically start downloading the new video. You can also choose to publish the video to more than one channel at a time.
For subscribing viewers, the video player works with channels in two ways:
1. The first is a typical RSS feed, similar to the ones that are available on most blogs. RSS is an open standard for regularly updated content. In this case the RSS feeds will contain links to video files - when a new video is published, the RSS feed will contain a new entry. The video player will regularly check all RSS 'channels' that a user has subscribed to. When the RSS feed has new content, the player will add the item to the download queue and notify the user when a new video is ready to be watched.
2. The other way to approach a channel is more like a library; the player will present archives of the content in a channel that users can browse and select from. The iTunes Music Store is a good analogy - users browse the store and choose what they would like to download. The publishing software will automatically make a customizable library display for every channel.
Software developers can get involved now that the sourcecode is available. DTV is written in Python and will be available for Windows, OS X and Linux. A cross-platform codebase and early code for the OS X front-end are posted on the sourceforge site.
The project is open source, uses open standards (RSS, XML, HTTP, Bittorrent) and is cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux).
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The market potential outlined in the "Long Tail" for independent, niche-interest video/TV/film producers (and that's a huge and rapidly growing number) is becoming a reality.