Anyone who watches videos on the internet is familiar with this problem: You go to a video site such as YouTube, you see a video you like and that can be downloaded immediately, but after a few seconds the film suddenly stops and you find yourself staring at a motionless movie player. Of course, you can fiddle with the pause button or make a cup of coffee while the player downloads a few more seconds of film, but the viewing experience has lost some of the excitement.
Although the promise of streaming video on the internet has significantly improved, it is still accompanied by a measure of frustration: the frames do not always flow as they should.
Alleviating this frustration is precisely the business opportunity facing the people behind the Israeli startup SpeedBit, which currently has 30 employees and attracted its first investment in 1999, from ICQ founder Yossi Vardi. SpeedBit has always striven to narrow the gap between the data stream speed expected by internet surfers and the average ability of the Net.
The Pitango venture capital fund also invested in the firm.
In the company's early days, before the advent of high-speed internet, SpeedBit's two founders, Yerach Feigenbaum and his son Idan, offered a software tool for the faster and more efficient downloading of files from the internet to personal computers.
Indeed, SpeedBit's DAP (Download Accelerator Plus) was downloaded by over 134 million users and kept the small company alive throughout the next seven difficult years for the internet industry.
Now that filesharing networks such as BitTorrent and eMule offer phenomenal download capability for almost any type of file, and internet browsers also offer a variety of download alternatives for split files, SpeedBit turned to speeding up the next big thing.
The company's software engineers directed their patented processes at video-sharing websites such as YouTube, and discovered that SpeedBit's technology could significantly accelerate the downloading of video files by opening a number of parallel connections between the downloading customer's PC and the video site's server.
The potential of the developing product was immediately clear, and six weeks ago SpeedBit released a new free product - SpeedBit Video Accelerator, which will eventually be compatible with all the large video sharing sites.
"Over 1 million users have registered to use the SVA in the past six weeks, and 20,000 to 30,000 more sign up every day," said SpeedBit CEO Ariel Yarnitsky.
Yarnitsky previously co-managed ICQ and worked at Pitango Venture Capital, and does not remember such high user registration rates since ICQ's glory days. "Our users employ SpeedBit's technology to download about 330,000 video films a day," says Yarnitsky.
SpeedBit representatives explain that their software product can increase the video download speed by 400 to 1,000 percent and that the technology even allows users to view films on YouTube without disruption while BitTorrent is downloading at full speed - something that was technically almost impossible before the introduction of the new software.
"Our last beta version, which is available free at SpeedBit's website, works only with the video servers at YouTube, Metacafe, Grouper and DailyMotion," says Yarnitsky, "and we offer a premium service for the accelerated downloading of video files from Apple's iTunes. Our testing found that a film that normally takes three and a half hours to download from iTunes takes only 22 minutes with our technology."
SpeedBit's chief technology officer, Idan Feigenbaum, says the new software works only with the big video sites because the software must be specially tailored for each site's servers.
"The second version was launched a few days ago and we want make sure everything works properly," says Idan. "We are constantly improving the viewing experience at the big video-sharing sites and are currently working on accelerating the video content at MySpace, Fox News, ESPN and big video-sharing sites in China such as tudou.com."
In the meantime, SpeedBit executives are tight-lipped about their business plan. The free technology product they are marketing sits inside the operating system and cannot display advertisements, which its predecessor could.
"Although we cannot sell advertising here," concurs Yarnitsky, "we have offered a premium period to iTunes subscribers, and whoever pays to download files from Apple will be happy to pay a little more to download a movie much faster. Many companies are interested in enabling their users to benefit from our technology. We simply have to choose the right move from among several options."
Perhaps the big money will even come from viewer traffic data. After all, SpeedBit can provide consolidated, detailed information on the viewing of video movies at all the various sites.
Indeed, SpeedBit's software engineers recently launched the first version of its information site, fileratings.com, which will provide continuous real-time rating data on downloaded movies and the big video sites.