A Californian start-up company has announced what it calls the first peer-to-peer television network platform, using broadband connections to deliver audio video content to mass audiences.

The concept appears to be superficially similar to that currently being pioneered by the BBC with its interactive Media Player that has just concluded internal trials.

Several companies are known to be working on so-called peer-to-peer or P2P distribution models that build on the success of file sharing networks that were initially established to enable the illicit distribution of music files and pirated software.

“Atzio is the first company to offer a legitimate peer-to-peer platform designed for the ‘personal’ and ‘time-shifted’ television concepts pioneered by Tivo and Netflix,” said Cedric Van Rossum, co-founder of Atzio Technology. “Broadband plus television is a powerful combination. Once our customers have set up a system based on the Atzio platform, their subscribers can easily order available movies and television shows, which will be downloaded for viewing at their convenience.”

Speaking to informitv, Cedric said he was glad to see the BBC initiative as a demonstration of interest among content providers in the concept of peer-to-peer distribution.

Atzio claims patent pending ‘data swarming’ approaches will allow video files to be transferred through a network of subscribers. Media files are split into chunks that are distributed to clients, which might be a personal computer, set-top box or other networked appliance. Each client then propagates its chunk to another. It is claimed that this allows content providers to serve subscribers more efficiently, effecting using clients as part of the distribution network.

The company has developed a proprietary optimization mechanism that enables an efficient delivery of dynamic video content via peer-to-peer data swarming. The system exploits the fact that television viewers consume content in a predictable way, making it particularly suitable for the distribution of popular programming for which there is a high demand once released.

Atzio says the technology is available for licensing. Industry-proven encryption and digital rights management will keep content secure, preventing any further file sharing among end users. The solution is compatible with third party rights management technologies including those from Microsoft, RealNetworks and DivX Networks.

Atzio Technology is a privately owned company based in Los Angeles. Current investors include the founders and management of the Company as well as a number of individual investors. The company plans to begin beta testing in the last quarter of 2004.

Meanwhile, the BBC has concluded internal trials of its iMP project and is currently understood to be considering its next steps.

Industry experts point out that the peer-to-peer model still remains unproven as a practical distribution mechanism for video as a consumer proposition, but the Atzio announcement will serve to give it greater legitimacy and creditibility.