Decentralized Video Streaming: Reimaging How Content Is Served
What is Decentralized Video Streaming?
Video streaming is decentralized when a single entity cannot control a streaming service’s content delivery. It’s important to note the difference between decentralized and distributed video streaming.
While distributed video streaming means that the content delivery network spreads globally with one entity behind it, decentralization removes that control entirely. It creates a network where participants can reach a consensus on what the network will do, adding an extra layer of democracy and giving more power to the community.
Decentralized video streaming platforms are usually community-owned. Blockchains enable ownership within the platform and are a basis for decentralization, providing the perfect base layer for applications. The blockchain layer is a thin layer connecting all the pieces through a single decentralized ledger.
All transactions off-chain must submit proof to the blockchain layer to verify if the transaction is legitimate. Therefore, the blockchain becomes the single source of truth. Still, because blockchains cannot store complex data sources like videos or images, off-chain solutions like IPFS or simple peer-to-peer storage make the data available.
Peer-to-peer technology as a prerequisite to blockchain-based video streaming
While the blockchain becomes the base layer, a peer-to-peer protocol like IPFS or BitTorrent is a prerequisite to full decentralization. Blockchains are inherently decentralized, and anyone can hold a copy of the entire blockchain if they decide to run their own node. On the other hand, filesystems, which are usually centralized, can become increasingly more challenging to use with a peer-to-peer protocol.
Services like Google Cloud Storage, Amazon S3, and Azure Storage serve as examples of how effective centralized storage can be. But, to give the users a fully-decentralized experience, you can’t rely on those technologies within the decentralized ecosystem.
Blockchain Video Streaming Infrastructure
The infrastructure for all blockchain video streaming projects remains the same mostly. Each blockchain video streaming infrastructure will usually consist of a smart contract, file storage, a content transcoder, and an API layer.
Typically, a user looking to stream a video will access the content through the platform’s application interface and the API layer. Then, when the user finds the content they are looking for, they will purchase access to it using a smart contract and pay using cryptocurrencies.
The platform can then use one of two approaches for authentication: either an expirable NFT or they can serve the content immediately without any more authentication.
Users then retrieve the content through the API layer, connecting to the content transcoder and accessing the raw data inside the file storage. The content transcoder functions as the content gateway, decrypting content as the user needs it.
Conceptually, truly decentralized video streaming platforms might be one of the hardest feats to achieve engineering-wise. With the reliability of some cloud services like cloud storage, centralized APIs, and databases, it is easier to provide a viable streaming platform that can compete with giants like YouTube and Netflix.
While this all sounds simple and might make a lot of sense for many people, creating a decentralized transcoder connected to decentralized storage is still a huge challenge for most.
Peer-to-peer storage is a viable alternative, but peer-to-peer can never beat the consistently reliable cloud storage available to developers in the modern world. It is an interesting predicament.
Understanding Content Delivery Networks
The significant advantages of using CDNs are:
Global reach with less latency: If your main web server is based in San Antonio, users from Germany or Singapore must make a few trans-continental electronic hops when accessing your files. CDNs are placed closer to the users at popular locations worldwide to achieve less latency. That translates into faster load times, better user experience and conversions.
Lower Network Load: Network loads increase sharply during peak times. Big numbers of visitors on a server consume more resources, decreasing a network’s performance. CDNs help to decrease the “traffic jams” of the internet.
Increased reliability: Content that is received through a CDN has a better chance of being more coherent. This is crucial to operators delivering heavier files like better quality video, streams, VR or AR experiences, etc.
Cost savings: A global CDN eliminates paying for high-priced foreign hosting. It offers a single platform that will work across regions at a reasonable price. It’s a cost-effective way to enhance web performance across the globe.
CDNs provide protection against DDoS: A CDN takes the traffic and keeps your website up and running even before the DDoS attack ever reaches your data centre. You need not be concerned about this attack impacting your data centre.
Expensive Pricing Models: Consumers demand “per-use” payment models for OTT/VOD subscriptions instead of all-you-can-watch pricing
Complex Advertising Models: Online content monetization still heavily depends on annoying advertising models, including several intermediaries
Confusing Royalty Payments: Royalty payments comprise multiple contracts between stakeholders, including contractual complexities making settlement processes inefficient
Inefficient C2C /P2P Rights and Sharing: Digital piracy, duplication, infringement of intellectual property (IP), and more cost media companies millions annually
Multi-Country Media Streaming Access: Subscribers often cannot access content once they are in another country due to country-specific license purchase limitations
File Storage Program: Peer-to-peer file systems will always run into the problem of file availability. Storage is expensive, and without clear incentives, users will not host files on their systems, let alone maintain a healthy internet connection for other users to access.
Cryptocurrency opens a wide range of new incentive models to maintain order within the chaos of decentralization. The most interesting thing about the blockchain video streaming space is the number of projects experimenting with different models to find the most profitable and sustainable model. But only time will tell which projects survive to last.