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    Video Killed the BitTorrent Star

    Written by

    Meghan Neal

    contributing editor


    I know, I know. That snowclone’s as tired as the song is awesome. But it's true, and now it's official: Peer-to-peer file-sharing has dropped significantly over the years thanks to better options for instantly streaming movies and TV. That's according to basic common sense—and a new report—because it's always great to have numbers to back up our "I told you so's."

    The Global Internet Phenomena study out today from broadband service company Sandvine found that BitTorrent accounts for just 7.4 percent of "primetime" (9 PM to midnight) internet bandwidth in North America. That's down from nearly a third of traffic five years ago and 60 percent in its heyday a decade ago. Compare that to Netflix and YouTube, which have steadily risen and now are together eating up more than 50 percent of that traffic.

    "For the first time ever, peer-to-peer filesharing has fallen below 10% of total traffic in North America, which is a stark difference from the 60% share it consumed 11 years ago," Sandvine CEO Dave Caputo said in a news release. "We had projected it would inevitably dip below 10% of total traffic by 2015. It's happened much faster."

    The report inspired a torrent of headlines about Netflix and YouTube’s dominance over the internet and the competitors in their field. But that conclusion ought to be taken with a grain of salt. The report measures internet traffic in terms of total bandwidth, which streaming video is naturally going to dominate; it’s not exactly a fair fight when you're comparing that to Facebook or iTunes.

    The other insight from the report's statistics is that streaming video’s rise correlates with BitTorrent’s decline. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it should drill the point home for Big Media groups like the MPAA that are still trying to fight piracy by pressuring law enforcement or Google to block torrent sites, in lieu of searching for a better alternative. I mean come on, a lot of us have been saying this since Napster hit the scene: The industry just had to rework the business model.

    In the two decades since then, those of us in the anti-anti-piracy camp have more or less been vindicated. Studies show that the whack-a-mole approach to fighting copyright infringement is a futile game. Last month, a report on the status of internet piracy offered up the better solution: make content easier to find and watch. As Motherboard's own Derek Mead pointed out at that time, Netlix killed the video industry by making movies easier to watch, and it's also much easier to use than BitTorrent. We media consumers aren't criminals or even necessarily cheapskates. We're just lazy.

    Today’s Sandvine data echoes that, as does looking at viewing habits from overseas. Outside of North America, BitTorrent is growing more popular instead of petering out, the report shows. That's partly because the above board ways to watch movies or shows have a delay between when the content is released abroad versus stateside. If fans have to wait to find out what happens on the next episode of Breaking Bad while the US is already talking about it at the proverbial water cooler, they're gonna pirate that shit.

    Interestingly, BitTorrent still beat out iTunes and Amazon video. That could nod to the trend of instant streaming versus owning content, downloading it to watch later, or anticipating it in advance, a la the OG Netflix model. "Since 2009 on-demand entertainment has consumed more bandwidth than 'experience later' applications like peer-to-peer filesharing," Caputo said.

    Looking ahead, I think we'll see the most movement from YouTube. It’s still too much of a chaotic, Wild West land of content to steal the mainstream market away from Netflix, but there are a bunch of factors threatening to tip the scale. One, the shift toward consuming video on mobile (the report shows YouTube utterly dominating mobile views), and Netflix's frustrating dearth of movies and TV shows that don't suck. Plus, it’s obvious that Google's positioning YouTube as a subscription-based, channel-friendly future of media consumption.