Peer-to-peer traffic is shrinking at a dramatic rate, according to a report on Internet traffic trends released this week. At the same time, streaming video and direct downloads are exploding in popularity. The figures suggest that the entertainment industry’s battle against illegal file trading has taken a toll, but some experts say that users may simply be turning to more user-friendly methods of obtaining media content.
The report was jointly released by the University of Michigan, the nonprofit research corporation Merit Network, and the Internet-traffic-monitoring company Arbor Networks. Researchers at the three organizations had collaborated on measuring traffic across about one-third of the Internet over a two-year period. Arbor collected much of the anonymized data from more than 100 Internet service providers in 17 countries.
“Over the last two years, peer-to-peer has collapsed,” says Craig Labovitz, chief scientist for Arbor Networks. The report’s findings show that peer-to-peer has gone from 4 percent of all Internet traffic to about half a percent. At the same time, streaming video has been exploding–the report estimates that 10 percent of all Web traffic is streaming video, making this the fastest-growing class of Internet applications identified by the researchers.
Labovitz says it’s difficult to know for sure what caused peer-to-peer traffic to decline so dramatically. However, as legitimate video sites such as Hulu have proliferated, he believes that many consumers have found it easier to obtain movies and TV shows via these sites, instead of using peer-to-peer file-sharing tools. “It’s far more convenient and faster,” he says. “It used to be the case that to watch a movie, you had to wait eight hours for your peer-to-peer to seed. And now you can go to one of these sites and watch a movie in real time in [high definition] via streaming.”
Doug Knopper, cofounder and co-CEO of video-advertising company FreeWheel, says that the report’s results are in line with trends observed by his company. He says, “If you’re reasonably certain that the official, authorized, online streaming version in its pristine form, coming from its content creator or an authorized distributor, is easy to download, then why wouldn’t you do that as opposed to going to some shady site where you’re not really sure what you’re getting?”
But other experts point out that peer-to-peer file sharing is unlikely to disappear. Hendrik Schulze, chief technology officer of ipoque, a German-based provider of Internet traffic management and analysis, says that his company has also observed a decline in the percentage of peer-to-peer traffic. However, he notes that this doesn’t mean there’s less peer-to-peer traffic–it simply isn’t growing as fast as other Internet applications. According to his company’s figures, peer-to-peer protocols still account for the majority of traffic in the regions ipoque monitors. The company measures traffic in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, but has no data on North America.