verisign, peer-to-peer and the flash player?

While Robert Scoble’s headline for this post follows the tired old “technology x is a technology y killer” formula you have to hand it to him for putting a finger on the significance of last Monday’s CES announcement from Adobe and Verisign.

There are two things that I think we can take away from the press release. Scoble skipped the first one, (probably because it’s pretty ho-hum), which is that Verisign will be using Flash Media Server to stream video on it’s CDN. No big news there – Verisign is trying to put together a network to deliver high-quality, full-length movies over the web and struck a deal to do so with the hottest web video player going. Makes sense.

What the press release is pretty vague about however, (aside: is it just me or was that a CES and Macworld trend this year?), is the possibility of integrating Verisign’s peer-to-peer technology in the Flash Player. This is an interesting play on Adobe’s part and has the potential to be a pretty serious move. As Scoble mentioned there are a few P2P video networks spinning up right now and they all face a couple of similar challenges – one of which is getting software onto user’s machines.

As we all know, with the Flash Player Adobe holds an ace card when it comes to distributing software. It is widely installed and Adobe have a proven capacity to get updates distributed in fairly short periods of time. Even if the penetration stats published by Adobe are optimistic I’m willing to bet the vast majority of pcs without the latest Flash Player are within enterprises – not machines you’d need to worry much about when trying to set up a movie distribution network. The question Adobe have to be asking themselves is whether to play that ace in the brewing web video gold rush.

Adobe, and Macromedia before them, have made serious efforts to transform Flash into an application platform and right now that has alot of momentum. The plan is that Apollo will build on the momentum and become the platform for building a new breed of web connected desktop applications. A big part of what made that effort as successful as it is today has been Adobe’s concentration on building the platform upon which applications are built. As the legend goes the “tin can” project was a plan to add a small video codec to the Flash Player. It was the YouTubes and Brightcoves who drove the Flash video revolution by taking that platform functionality and building upon it. By adding a piece of peer-to-peer type technology on which content delivery networks could be built Adobe may feel they can cement the Flash Platform as the technology for delivering high quality feature length films over the web.

Of course there are risks in such a move. Peer-to-peer technology still has a bit of a nefarious reputation. I’m not sure how receptive enterprise IT managers will be to allowing a Flash Player with P2P capabilities to be installed on their networks. As it stands now IT policies in many corporations keep the Flash Player a version or more behind Adobe’s releases. The risk for Adobe would be in undoing alot of the work they’ve done to make Flash a viable platform for enterprise software applications.

The other problem for peer-to-peer in general is with ISPs and bandwidth caps for their customers. If the perception among users becomes that a Flash Player with P2P capabilities is causing them extra bandwidth bills it could lead to a backlash. As Flash developers will tell you, the ancient perception of Flash as a bandwidth hog and being slow to load is a bit of a sore spot. After years spent battling against that argument we can be a little sensitive to anything that could rekindle that debate.

Reading through the comments on Scoble’s “Netflix is dead” post alot of people are reacting by arguing against any imminent demise of movie rental stores. What’s interesting however is that most are qualifying that with “downloading movies is the future” flavoured statements. Ironically, the real story here is that Adobe and Verisign appear to be making plans to build the foundation for that future. That was Scoble’s real point; unfortunately he distracted from it with a sensational headline.

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