Feature interview with Eric Klinker, CEO, BitTorrent
Researching this article was made difficult by the fact that my office firewall wouldn’t even let me on any of BitTorrent’s sites!
Indeed, the perennial association with piracy is something of a bugbear for a company that prides itself both as an innovator and as one of the most responsible citizens of the internet you could point to.
“The protocol has been around for probably twelve years,” explains Eric Klinker, ahead of his appearance next week’s Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam (and sounding just a hint tired of explaining). “And the inventor of the protocol incorporated the company about ten years ago. The corporate intent has always been to use this protocol in ways that can deliver value to any number of constituents. It’s always been about pure commercialisation of what remains the most efficient way to deliver large files on the internet, and that power has many uses…”
Does he feel that the criticism BitTorrent has to endure (much of it spurred by the association) is unwarranted?
“In the sense that we have created one of the first ways that video could move on the internet, that put us in a position to absorb a lot of pot shots, because anybody that moves first on a big space like the internet – this is before YouTube even came about – is always putting themselves out there.”
Considering its huge historical and ongoing significance to online video, it’s interesting that BitTorrent’s position in the net neutrality debate is rather more nuanced than the likes of Netflix.
“The spirit of net neutrality has clearly brought a lot of value, not least to ISPs … but at the same time we also believe that there exists an obligation to use the network efficiently on the other side of the equation. And again BitTorrent at its core has been about an efficient network”
Klinker points to the philosophy of “many hands make light work” that lies at the heart of the protocol, ensuring there is “no friendlier” one on the network. Conversely, Klinker suggest Netflix could be doing more to reduce its impact on the network – “even if it’s caching at the edge of the network on devices, for example… There exists an obligation at the edge of the network to be as efficient as we can, not only to deliver a better experience but also to continue to be conscious of usage of the network and how you might be impacting others who want to use a strained resource.”
He goes so far as to argue that, if Netflix hopes to one day boast a stomach to match its eyes, it could end up making use of BitTorrent itself.
“I think the average American watches something like 35 hours of television every week. If you digitise that, it’s about 220 gigabytes, per the average American. And then if you tried to say, ‘let’s allow Netflix to take over all of that video distribution’ – that’s clearly the market opportunity they see – arithmetic alone dictates that that version of Netflix has to deliver something like 66 exabytes of data a month if they want to service 350 million Americans.”
Klinker explains that it isn’t the size of the number (which he calls “astounding”) alone that presents a challenge, but that such a provider would have to squeeze it into 2-3 hours every night, exerting a “crushing load” on the network. “So I think Netflix could look at something like BitTorrent,” he says. “Nobody argues that it’s the most efficient way of delivering large files. So if you’re taking the long view of video on the internet, BitTorrent ought to factor into that.”
Next week sees a Broadband World Forum kick off rife with mavericks and visionaries (including the likes of MindGeek, the Tor Project, the Pirate Party and the Linux Foundation to name some). Few, however, can point to a history as rich as BitTorrent’s. Its future appears still brighter…