What Of Longterm Cached Video Streaming?
Hulu has long since reigned king in the streaming video market, and seems intent on growing at an outrageous pace until it reaches sublime market saturation – so long as its investors and parent companies don’t shut it down, or cripple it, long before the point of critical mass. But while 2010, and the foreseeable future, is considered part of the age of connectivity, there are often long periods without a network connection that could be better used: planes, cars, trains, buses, etc. In light of this situation, why should content delivery services not implement a longterm caching mechanism for streaming video?
TV is fast becoming irrelevant as a scheduled-entertainment medium as it transitions to a more on-demand format, and the next obvious step past on-demand streaming for high quality, legitimate, and copyright-clear content is a secure longterm caching solution that enables offline viewing. Within America and Europe, it’s not uncommon for a daily commute by train or lightrail to be upwards of a half-hour, trips on cross-country flights to breach three timezones, or the discovery of a lack of an accessible network in a given location. Arguments can be made for the use of books, cellphones, offline computer functions, or thought experiments for these non-networked sessions, but there is truly no reason to not have some rich media content available locally.
In terms of legal video streaming, the problem has always existed in three parts: quality, bandwidth, and copyright protection. Quality has been easily addressed by using media provided directly by those that produce it, rather than ripping it from another source or format, and bandwidth has mostly solved itself, at least for most consumers. Copyright protection, however, is a different animal, and is handled differently depending on delivery mechanism: Netflix prefers using a Microsoft Windows-based encryption mechanism, while Hulu uses tools within Adobe Flash. Whatever the choice for security of videos, the solutions can be easily extended for limited offline use.
Consider, for a moment, how a tool like Hulu Desktop works: the Flash application lives locally, connects with the host servers for both updates and content, and locally caches portions of video as a buffer. This cached video is ostensibly kept on a rolling basis, where the oldest portions get removed as newer pieces are downloaded, and in a secure fashion – but what if this was extended? The result would be a Google Gears-like “Watch Offline” option that would allow your local software to use the cached content for a certain time period ranging from indefinitely for unrestricted content (“Saturday Night Live”) to the handful of days allowed by the provider (“The Office”).
The mechanisms are already in place to be quickly implemented, but there remains a significant hurdle: content providers. Hollywood, and whatever euphemism is to be used for the similarly technophobic television industry, is extremely unlikely to be welcoming to such a “theft” of their content without fees or, at least, additional agreements. A predictable uncooperative air, however, should not be the only barrier to further releasing media from the constraints of ages, and technology, past – and yet it is.
From the viewpoints of implementation, content security, and usability, the longterm cached streaming of rich media content is simply a sound next step in the continued innovation of digital delivery systems, not to mention the cost of such an extension is relatively cheap. Hulu, Netflix, and the rest of their brethren should exert any and all powers of influence on their content partners in order to make this happen – anything less is equivalent to continuing to bow to the undue influence and control over the lives of consumers by overzealous corporations.