BitTorrent cofounder and president Ashwin Navin is leaving the company. He has plans for a startup incubator in San Francisco's Mission District. Good! That means he'll be screwing up far less consequential companies from here on out. Navin deserves credit for persuading Bram Cohen, the creator of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, for building a company around it. But that's about it.Navin wasted years and millions of dollars trying to turn BitTorrent Inc. into a competitor to Apple's iTunes store. He struck splashy deals with Hollywood studios by paying them large upfront guarantees, which depleted BitTorrent's bank account but got Navin into the right parties. Meanwhile, BitTorrent's other line of business, which used file-sharing technologies to deliver content more efficiently for corporate customers, suffered from lack of focus, and more established competitors like Akamai moved in. Sometimes losing a founder is bad for a company. In this case, it's nothing but good.
Some Valley investors succeed by spotting good ideas and nurturing them. Some succeed through utter ruthlessness. In that latter category lies Sequoia Capital, the investor behind Apple, Cisco, Yahoo, and Google. Skyrider, a file-sharing startup which had raised $25 million or more in venture capital, has shut down, according to VentureBeat. Startups fail all the time. But Skyrider was backed by Sequoia — and Sequoia, which zealously guards its reputation, rarely lets startups die so visibly. Skyrider was started as an ad-supported file-sharing service; its homepage suggested it was shifting into content distribution. But BitTorrent, a far better known name in file sharing, has struggled to crack that market. What's telling about Skyrider's failure:Sequoia, which recently summoned the CEOs of startups it invests in to an emergency meeting and told them to cut costs, is doing the same with its own portfolio. Rather than continuing to invest in the losers, it's culling the herd now. This despite the fact it just raised $1.7 billion in new funds — money that's destined for new ideas, not old ones. AlwaysOn founder Tony Perkins, my old boss at the Red Herring, has a trenchant analysis of Sequoia's message to entrepreneurs, disguised only thinly as satire. His point, as a longtime observer of Sequoia, is that the venture capital firm's sudden panic is as much about its partners' losing face in front of their investors — the endowments, pension funds, and wealthy individuals from which they raise funds. Appearances matter, now more than ever. And if keeping up appearances means dropping a company? Sequoia's newly hungry partners will do it in a heartbeat.
The best way to judge a society is to judge how well it takes care of those unable to take care of themselves — like music and film executives, for example. Motivated by profit and self-interest, they have been helpless to stop digital piracy from eroding their relevance and profit margins at home or abroad. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden to the rescue! Reports PaidContent:
Italian ISPs blocked traffic to bootleg supersite The Pirate Bay last week, in response to a government request. You can guess how this played out: A Pirate Bay spokesman claims the site has jumped 10 places on Alexa's Italian rankings, whatever those mean, thanks to the free nationwide PR. Italian traffic to the site — a search engine for pirated video, music and porn on peer-to-peer networks — is up five percent despite the block on most ISPs. [TorrentFreak]
Traffic to NBCOlympics.com has likely already surpassed the 229 million pageviews garnered by the entire 2004 Athens Games, according to the network. Even so, users frustrated with the lack of full-screen video have already started to figure out workarounds. So where are people turning for better-quality Olympics video?Pirates are providing the highest-quality viewing experience for video-on-demand, with events being posted in HD even before they air on tape-delayed TV broadcasts in the United States. Torrents of the opening ceremonies, including a giant 5-gigabyte download of all four hours in HD, proved the most popular television programming available on file-sharing networks this week. And while event organizers and network operatives continue to play whack-a-mole with illegitimate live streams, where there's a will, there's a way on the Web. Want to know where to look? Check out our handy guide.
The folks who are bringing you the Olympics online don't actually want you to watch their coverage. NBC and Microsoft are delaying the most popular events by three hours so that it won't interfere with more profitable TV broadcasts. And you'll have to download Microsoft's Silverlight browser plug-in to watch in your browser. But a bird's nest of geography and time-delay restrictions worthy of China's Communist Party government is in place. Thankfully, the anarchy of the Web offers plenty of options for having a crowd of curious coworkers surround your computer as you watch live handball, with varying degrees of expense and difficulty. Rather than being the coming-out party for Silverlight Microsoft hopes for, it may instead be the year sports fans learn a few new online-video tricks.Online schedules: NBC's Olympics listings takes a bit of work (you have to enter your ZIP code and select a television provider, even if you just want online listings). However, once you've done the work, it'll send you notifications when events you've selected will be broadcast. Jason Kottke has found Google and iCal calendars, which will allow you a bit more flexibility in setting up alerts, and the New York Times has a schedule as well. And of course, there's an official schedule from the organizers in China, with times listed for Beijing's time zone (16 hours ahead of San Francisco, 13 hours ahead of New York) — probably the best place to go for daily updates, as smog and weather may upset the schedule. Sling Media's Slingbox: For those with more money than time, the best solution might be a Slingbox. Then you can beam your home satellite or cable signal over the Internet to your laptop, desktop, or iPhone, and remotely switch between NBC and MSNBC. Pros: You can get great quality, even HD, if your home Internet connection is fast. There is SlingPlayer software available for a range of not just operating systems but handheld devices as well. Cons: Prices start at $129.99 and your selection of Olympics coverage is limited to what's available from your satellite or cable provider, which means missing early heats and niche events and having to put up with tape delays by the networks. International proxies: It is possible to watch live streams from other countries, such as BBC Sports from the UK or CBC Sports from Canada, by configuring your browser to run through an anonymous proxy. I recommend using Mozilla's Firefox browser with the FoxyProxy add-on installed. Xroxy has a handy list of proxies which you can sort by country to find proxies in the UK or Canada — which must be anonymous, and preferrably running the SOCKS protocol. Your best bet is to get a geeky British or Canadian friend to install a proxy on their machine for you and your Yankee friends. The latency can be frustrating, but once you get a stream started it will work fine. Pros: Quality streams from legitimate providers, and if you're accustomed to jingoistic U.S. coverage, the charming accents from the Beeb's announcers and the humble mien of the Canadians can be quite refreshing. Cons: Takes some technical know-how to set up, and proxies come and go. You might miss an event because you're too busy fiddling with your settings or a proxy fails when too many people sign on. Video on demand: If you're running Windows Vista, you can download events using TVTonic for "Olympics on the Go." Torrent client Azureus works on any system to help download events after the fact, especially the most popular ones like tennis, football, boxing and basketball — Torrentz cross-site search of multiple BitTorrent indexes should make it easy to find the Spain versus China women's basketball game you might miss tomorrow. YouTube's official channel is blocked — even using international proxies — though a reader came up with a crack that works for now. Other less thoroughly policed online video sites like Veoh, Metacafe, Dailymotion and Megavideo will also have videos. Pros: Torrents will be high quality and work for anyone, while video-sharing sites will be easiest to use. Cons: Nothing will be live, obviously, and no one knows how long video clips will remain on sharing sites. P2P Streams: The way I'll be watching online will is through MyP2P, a site that catalogs live sports and television streams from around the Web, listed by event. It helps to run Windows, though not necessarily Vista, because many streams require software downloads — check out MyP2P's beginners guide for tips, including where to find software downloads and optimization settings. I ended up finding live BBC coverage of the opening ceremonies via Justin.tv, which ran just fine in my browser. If you can't find the channel you want in the media format you prefer, check wwiTV, TV For Us, TV Channels Free, Channel Chooser or BeelineTV among others. Pros: Free and fairly easy once you've installed most of the media players listed by MyP2P. And it's fun to watch coverage from other countries — I'll be watching all my football with spanish-speaking announcers whenever possible. Cons: Quality is hit-or-miss, stream links come and go, and you have to think ahead in terms of scheduling to make sure you've got all the necessary programs installed. Also, Mac users will want to install Windows XP through Parallels or Fusion for the widest selection of channels.
BitTorrent has denied our report that the company laid off 12 out of 55 employees. That may be true: While our source told us 12 employees were on the layoff list, we've learned that, at the last minute, the jobs of two sales engineers, an HR manager, and an office manager were spared. Another tipster — "you can guess as to whether I'm an insider or not" — says that the BitTorrent layoffs aren't the fault of new CEO Doug Walker, who came to the those-crazy-kids file-sharing startup to add some enterprise-software gravitas. Instead, the elimination of BitTorrent's sales and marketing departments amounts to a coup by cofounders Bram Cohen and Ashwin Navin, pictured here to Walker's right and left, who are giving up on the notion of marketing BitTorrent's file-sharing technology to businesses and hardware makers, and instead pinning their hopes on becoming an "Internet peace corps."That's the second time I've heard that phrase from BitTorrent tipsters, so I'm guessing it's already widely used, if poorly understood, within the company. Anyone care to explain what an "Internet peace corps" is — and how this plan will pay back BitTorrent's investors, who have invested at least $24 million in the company? Our tipster also says Walker's trying to raise a third round of financing amidst this uproar. Here's his detailed recounting of BitTorrent's woes:
When Comcast was caught blocking file sharing on its network, the Federal Communications Commission seemed to strike a blow in favor of peer-to-peer startups everywhere by fining the cable company. Observers assumed that the FCC decision would open the field for file sharing to turn into a legitimate business. But for BitTorrent Inc., a San Francisco startup seeking to commercialize the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, the move against Comcast led to layoffs instead. The ruling may ultimately prove fatal to the company.
BitTorrent Inc., the file-sharing startup whose underlying technology is responsible for much of the piracy that plagues Hollywood, is laying off its sales and marketing department. The immediate cause of the layoffs: A failure to sell the Torrent Entertainment Network, BitTorrent's attempt at an online media store, to Best Buy for a rumored $15 million. That deal fell apart, a BitTorrent insider believes, because of a recent FCC ruling on file sharing. CEO Doug Walker, who replaced troubled founder Bram Cohen last fall, had hinted at a rethink of the store in March. Walker's also said to be rethinking BitTorrent's "DNA" service, which sought to offer businesses a cut-rate online content-deliver service, using file-sharing technology to undercut Limelight and Akamai's prices. BitTorrent is now thinking about making the service free, which would certainly count as "cut-rate" — but also suggests that it hadn't had much success selling it.
Jim Louderback, the CEO of Revision3, is jumpin' mad. A denial-of-service attack brought down the online-video network over the weekend, and it wasn't the work of a freelance hacker with a distributed network of compromised machines, he writes in the company blog. It was, he says, the deliberate act of MediaDefender, an antipiracy consulting group which works to shut down file-sharing networks. Revision3 uses BitTorrent, a file-sharing protocol, to distribute its own content, and runs a "tracker" server to coordinate those downloads. All of this is quite legal. MediaDefender, it turns out, found a security hole in Revision3's server, and planted unknown files, possibly illegal copies on Revision3's servers, for their own purposes. It's not clear why, but whatever the motive, MediaDefender may have broken several laws in doing so.
Cable copmany Comcast assured the FCC that the company's "network management" practices that involved blocking file-sharing traffic only affected heavy users during peak hours. However, tests found that the Internet service provider blocks such traffic for a majority of users all day, every day, as does fellow ISP Cox. [Torrentfreak]
Liz Gannes, a veteran online video reporter whom I've worked with and is no slouch when it comes to getting almost any newfangled content application to function, couldn't get NBC's relaunched video-on-demand software to work. The offering is powered by a file-sharing download process from Pando, but not much good if users can't even install the software. Isn't there a company that already has a delivery and payment system for 720p video content from the networks — one that NBC used to work with? Meanwhile, to get your 30 Rock fix online, Gannes says stick with Hulu. Just looking at the listed bugs on the download page would be enough to scare off anyone who's confused by file-sharing sites.
Part of the deal between NBC and Microsoft to sell television shows to Zune owners is that Microsoft will attempt to build in antipiracy technology that keeps anything you might have downloaded through less than legitimate means off the device. In other words, you can say goodbye to trading MP3 files or videos with your friends on the Zune — instead, you'll have to use officially authorized sources to charge it up with content. How will the Zune know if the video you're trying to download to the device was downloaded illegally or, say, created by you? Until digital watermarking technology improves significantly, it won't, and even then, who knows. So for you lonely Zune owners, prepare to get even lonelier, because the second the company implements this "feature," it can kiss goodbye to what little market share it now enjoys. (Photo by AP/Ted S. Warren)
BayWords is the new blog host from those lovable Swedish outlaws at The Pirate Bay. The blogging platform is built atop open-source WordPress code. Which is a little ironic, since TorrentFreak reports that the project was started after a WordPress.com user who linked to copyrighted material lost his account. As for the new site, almost anything goes. "As long as you don't break any Swedish laws in your blog, we will defend it," says The Pirate Bay's Peter "Brokep" Sunde. Looks I'll be spending the weekend reading up on Sweden's legal code.
Canadian network equipment manufacturer Sandvine reported a $7 million loss for the quarter ending February 29th, the first "disappointing" quarter in the company's history according to CEO Dave Caputo. The company makes network management equipment such as the deep packet sniffers Comcast was accused of using to throttle file sharing protocols such as BitTorrent. Caputo assured investors that the debate over ISP traffic management and network neutrality is "cooling somewhat." I'm not so sure — I'm expecting the rescheduled public hearings on Comcast's traffic management policies at Stanford next Thursday to be rather charged. Sandvine's stock is trading at a quarter of it's one year high.
Bell Canada, the largest Internet service provider for our neighbors to the north, has admitted to using "deep packet sniffers" [Ed's note: Sounds intriguing, am assigning Melissa to look into these people] to throttle peer-to-peer protocol transfers such as BitTorrent downloads. Executives there obviously hadn't spoken to peers at national broadcaster CBC, which recently started legitimately distributing shows via P2P, as has American network NBC and musicians like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The company also throttled traffic from ISPs that buy bandwidth wholesale from the company. Net neutrality groups are lobbying Canadian officials to regulate Bell Canada into submission. But Minister of Industry Jim Prentice is opposed to any further regulation, and the Conservative Party-led government has been in favor or easing current regulations on telcos. Meanwhile, here in the states, Comcast has cozied up to BitTorrent and the FCC has proven more amenable to arguments in favor of net neutrality.