AOL to Utilize P2P for TV Shows, Videos

Warner Bros. is preparing to make available for download thousands of old television shows, all free of charge and sponsored by advertising. The effort, dubbed In2TV, will roll out on AOL.com early next year and utilize a new video format called AOL Hi-Q that combines P2P distribution with Windows Media.

Full-length episodes of popular programs such as Welcome Back Kotter, Beetlejuice, Lois & Clark, La Femme Nikita and Growing Pains will be offered through six content "channels." 15- and 30-second ad spots will be mixed into the video, but limited to 1-2 minutes of advertising for every 30-minute show.

The move by Time Warner to make the Warner Bros. television archive available online is intended to draw more broadband users to the company's AOL portal, and follows the launch of iTunes video downloads last month.

But unlike Apple's approach of charging $2, TV shows from AOL will be free and rely on customers' bandwidth for distribution. To make this happen, AOL has partnered with Kontiki, a peer-to-peer video on-demand platform that runs in the background as an Internet Explorer plug-in.

AOL Hi-Q is based on the Kontiki technology and promises DVD-quality full-screen playback -- as long as users are connected to the Internet and sharing videos they have downloaded. Because the new format is based on Windows Media Video with a Kontiki P2P wrapper, only Windows XP and IE6 are supported at this time.

An AOL spokesperson explained the technology to BetaNews, saying, "To make it faster to deliver a video to a user, AOL Hi-Q grabs bits of the specific video content from other PCs on the network. AOL Hi-Q works in the background to minimize any impact on the consumer's use of their PC as bits of the video are being grabbed."

Still, it's unclear how consumers will respond to such a service that places restrictions on usage and could slow down Internet browsing. AOL says that TV shows will be downloaded and cached, rather than streamed, but they will not be viewable unless the user is connected to AOL's P2P network.

Nonetheless, AOL and Warner Bros. are confident that users will jump at the chance to view old TV for free, even with advertising and P2P requirements. "Visitors will be able to program their own personal network, making it a TV lover's dream come true," said Eric Frankel, President of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution.

AOL Hi-Q will also be used beyond just television shows. As part of a trial, more than 100 videos have been encoded in the format and can be viewed on AOL.com, which include music videos and movie trailers. More content will be added in the AOL Hi-Q format over time.

"We aren't planning to re-encode the entire AOL Video archive, but rather we're focusing on optimizing the most relevant content for AOL Hi-Q," an AOL spokesperson told BetaNews. "Moving forward, our goal is to make as many new videos as possible available in this high-quality format."

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