What Happened to BitTorrent? Is it Thriving or Dying?

The Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing technology has been alive since the early popular applications like Napster and LimeWire. Later on, the protocol BitTorrent, and clients like uTorrent and BitTorrent, took over and became a defacto standard for P2P.

The first version of BitTorrent was released in 2001, and the second version (ver 2) in 2017. The interest for torrents roared around 2008 until 2014 (when streaming wasn’t a thing).

  • From 2009- o 2010, the P2P file-sharing traffic share was around 32-37%, followed by streaming and real-time communications.
  • As of 2012, BitTorrent was actively used by 150 million users.
  • From 2016 to 2018, P2P file-sharing and torrents started losing traffic over streaming services such as Netflix or Prime [according to a report from Sandvine].

The global interest in BitTorrent [according to Google Trends] peaked around 2005-2009, but soon after, it started to decrease. While the interest in Netflix increased and peaked around 2019-2020, at the same time, the popularity of BitTorrent started to decrease.

The reasons are quite logical. BitTorrent clients used the protocol to transfer and share media content (more often, pirated content). It gave them easy, available, and free ownership of any type of media content. Streaming services also offered tons of available media libraries, without the complexities of dealing with torrenting clients and files, and all at a reasonable price. Plus, streaming and mobile broadband technology made it easier to watch movies and listened to music anywhere— an area where BitTorrent struggled.

Streaming is affecting BitTorrent. Is it?

Although it looks as if streaming video killed the torrenting star, the fact is that BitTorrent is far from dead.

According to Sandvine, the leader in application and network technology, the streaming giant Netflix generated the most traffic in 2018—about 14% of all global application traffic share. The total global traffic was also shared by HTTP media streaming, youtube, MPEG Stream, and BitTorrent transfers. For many reasons, people were still using BitTorrent around 2018, which was quite popular in Asia and the Pacific, and got second place in application share with a 7.5% share.

Although streaming video services took the traffic from P2P file-sharing, torrenting is slowly regaining popularity. One of the biggest reasons for this is the streaming video market fragmentation.

Streaming markets fragmentation

With the best of intentions, streaming platforms such as Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Prime, Disney+, or Apple are starting to produce their content and buy film studios and licenses to have the best media library. But what they are creating are more limited and niche-like content libraries that users don’t want. As more of these services fragment media, have exclusive releases, and buy licenses, it is harder for consumers to get everything they want in a single place.

This streaming fragmentation is only causing frustration and chaos for consumers. Users that want to access all content and not subscribe to 3-4 streaming services are opting for alternatives. These users would either exchange account subscriptions with friends and family members so that everybody has equal access to different streaming platforms, or they would use screencast or screen video recorder technology and BitTorrent to distribute the content online.

Although video On-demand streaming platforms have helped reduce media piracy (which was strongly related to P2P file-sharing), consumers’ very same frustration and chaos is making them turn back to pirate sites and BitTorrent.

Will BitTorrent continue to thrive?

Unfortunately, P2P file-sharing and BitTorrent have had a bad reputation for being strongly related to piracy within the music, gaming, software, and media industry. Although P2P technology has been used to share pirated content, the BitTorrent protocol is considered one of the best ways to transfer, share, and share large files, and it is also perfectly legal.

BitTorrent technology is helpful in many areas (outside piracy). Companies can use it to share and distribute big files and entire data repositories to multiple destinations. In fact, companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Blizzard, and Linux have disclosed that they use BitTorrent to distribute large files internally or to share and transfer large files across decentralized networks.

Many people are also using BitTorrent with online seedbox servers or VPS to store, automate, access, and stream content online. Torrenting has been intensely used in seedboxes running streaming media servers like Plex or Emby.

Here’s How BitTorrent will Make a Comeback?

Below are some new projects leveraging one of the best file-sharing and distribution protocols (BitTorrent) with Blockchain technology.

  • TRON. In 2018, BitTorrent protocol made a strategic partnership with TRON Blockchain protocol. Using Blockchain and tokenization will feature the advantages of torrenting (outside piracy) and encourage users to use it more. TRON Blockchain-based BitTorrent Speed now incentivizes torrent swarm environments for file seeding with BTT Tokens. As of March 2022, BitTorrentX claims more than 2 billion users, 200 million BTT wallets, and 100 million MAU.
  • Flixxo. A community-based decentralized video distribution platform using BitTorrent protocol and smart contracts to create legal copies of the content. The creators within the Flixxo P2P network can distribute their content and monetize it. They can also incentivize distribution by sharing revenue with seeders.
  • TRON’s Project Atlas. A project in development and looking toward becoming the world’s biggest Decentralized App (DApp). This project promises a new way to distribute content and promote seeding. Project Atlas aims to build a new incentive structure for encouraging sharing. They empower content creators by eliminating the middleman and enabling them to directly distribute the content (using BitTorrent) to other users. BitTorrent users can now get a real reward for sharing (or re-distributing) content with tokens.

The Future of BitTorrents.

It is clear that BitTorrent traffic was substantially affected by streaming media platforms. But while streaming services fragment and take on a war to enlarge their libraries, many of their users are frustrated because they are not being served what they want and have to spend more money. Video streaming will undoubtedly continue to fragment to the point that sports teams will have their own streaming platform. Streaming will become like an interactive old bundle cable TV.

BitTorrent is seeing an opportunity. They want to make a cleaner come back and encourage ethical sharing. But how can BitTorrent come back when they are related to piracy and when newer technologies like Blockchain and NFTs protect the Intellectual Property and digital assets of artists and producers?

There are a lot of positive expectations with projects like TRON Blockchain-based BitTorrent Speed, BitTorrent Tokens, and Seedboxes with Plex. With this, any artist from musicians, video producers, musicians, illustrators, painters, etc., can quickly distribute and monetize their art without any middlemen.

Author’s Bio

Diego has worked as an engineer, researcher, and journalist, traveling the globe to research wireless sensor networks in South Korea and aid in the installation of an African country’s first LTE mobile network. For more, check out Diego on Rapidseedbox.

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