Comcast Invests in P2P Video-Delivery Firm

Comcast Interactive Capital, the cable operator's Internet and technology investment arm, has invested in GridNetworks, a Seattle startup that has developed software to distribute high-quality video in a peer-to-peer architecture over the Internet.

Comcast's investment was part of GridNetworks's first-round financing of $9.5 million, which was led by Panorama Capital and included participation from Cisco Systems.

“We are interested in the application of P2P concepts in a manner that puts the quality of the consumer experience first, and enables lawful distribution of copyrighted content while also efficiently utilizing the network,” Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner said in a statement. “GridNetworks has experience in this area and will have valuable contributions as we set out to solve these issues together with the Internet community.”

With the Comcast funding, GridNetworks CEO Tony Naughtin said, “We're in discussions about potential collaboration, to use our technology in their networks.”

He added, however, that “we don't presume that means they'll be using our technology” and said Comcast is talking to other peer-to-peer content distribution companies as well.

Peer-to-peer architecture can potentially distribute high-demand content more quickly — and economically — than traditional server-based methods, because data is fetched from other users' computers over a network.

Other companies pitching software and services for P2P-based video delivery include BitTorrent and Pando Networks.

In fact, Comcast is collaborating with BitTorrent and Pando as part of its move to a “protocol-agnostic” means of managing bandwidth. The MSO offered the olive branch to the P2P companies after advocacy groups complained to the Federal Communications Commission about Comcast's practice of blocking some peer-to-peer file-sharing traffic.

GridNetworks said its software is designed from the ground up for video distribution. According to Naughtin, its technology could let cable and other broadband-service providers offload high-volume video traffic from their backbone networks.

And GridNetworks believes it can pitch HD content to any number of devices in the home, including TV sets. “This is a set of technologies designed to provide real television — not just streaming video on your desktop — but a real 720p high-def experience,” Naughtin said.

Founded in 2005, GridNetworks now has “just under” 30 full-time employees, Naughtin said.