Open pre-proposal: PALflix

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Previously mentioned as aiming “to consolidate an audience for open movies, a first step in addressing the yawning gap in distribution and marketing for open, even where open production is feasible”, one of “two lean, scalable web-based interventions that have potential for realigning parts of the knowledge economy with openness.”

The sketch below serves as a preliminary high level description of the project, as as a potential proposal. The questions are from the Knight Prototype Fund application.

This proposal has been submitted. Comments, critique, involvement all still welcome: regardless of outcome, the proposal effectively serves as a project description for ongoing work.

Project Title

PALflix (working title)

What is your project?

Create a new path for media creators and communities and stimulate an ecosystem for conducive to open policy by developing an as-good-as-or-better-than-Netflix experience for viewing and discovering premium (high quality long-form or series) and libre (open) video.

“Premium video” is driver for increasing centralization (e.g. cable, Netflix), lock-down (e.g. DRM in HTML5), and restrictive IP (e.g. MPAA); even pro-openness (e.g. Mozilla, W3C) players feel it necessary to comply with demands of premium video IP owners.

Open production of premium video is more feasible than ever (e.g. crowdfunding, collaboration tools, cheap equipment), but totally uncompetitive on the distribution and marketing side of the equation. This missing piece has resulted in the production, funding, cultural relevance, and policy impact of premium open video being far below potential.

PALflix will:

  • curate the best premium and libre video
  • provide an excellent experience for viewing and discovering such video
  • thereby aggregate an audience and patron base for open video
  • thereby stimulate more production of open video and
  • provide a centralized platform from which to launch marketing and distribution initiatives
  • thereby make premium open video a point (and constituency) to be reckoned with in both technical and public policy discourse

What assumptions will you test?

  • a good viewing and discovery experience can be assembled cheaply from existing open source web and video application components, and iteratively made excellent: better-than-Netflix
  • there are enough existing and potential fans of open video to make audience aggregation in the form of PALflix self-sustaining and impactful
  • peer production can be applied to the production of cultural relevance (e.g. marketing and distribution) as it has been to production of cultural artifacts
  • a centralized platform for premium and libre video unlocks new paths for video creators (entertainers, educators, documentarians, journalists, storytellers…), strengthening the diversity of the media ecosystem
  • vastly increased production of premium and libre video nudges policy discourse away from genuflection to premium IP owner demands and toward openness

Who is the audience/user of this project? How will they be impacted?

  • fans of open video, initially drawn from existing free/libre/open/commons/wiki communities; their almost wholly unsatisfied demand will begin to be met and they will have platform to express and realize their demand
  • creators of open video (small existing community, great growth potential) will gain a larger and concentrated audience, greatly increasing the chances of premium open video being funded and seen
  • all who could benefit from a greatly increased supply of quality video that may be freely reused and repurposed, from open production communities (e.g. Wikimedia and Open Educational Resources) to general media literacy and production educators and students
  • open policy advocates and organizations, who will gain a proof point and perhaps additional backbone whenever video is pertinent to digital policy issues and product decisions

What progress, if any, have you made on this project?

PALflix is currently in an early research phase. Candidate premium and libre video sources for initial curated collection are being gathered at Earlier work has been briefly analyzed at

Immediate next steps include outreach to intended audience/users of project (listed above) and evaluation of technology implementation options, which together will inform how prototype is built, tested, iterated upon, and launched with appropriate partners.

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Mentioned W3C, Mozilla, and DRM-in-HTML5 in recent post Mike the Day Against DRM a day for freedom and today Mozilla shipped a Firefox version with proprietary DRM. 2 years ago debate about DRM-in-HTML5 prompted me to write down a “kill hollyweb” plan, which is a direct ancestor of this proposal.

It didn’t seem like mentioning would help the proposal (feel free to disagree and suggest how to mention), but I also see PALflix (or whatever it is called) as an opportunity to do another thing that I’ve complained about lack of coordination around before: early adoption of superior free audio and video codecs.

Yes, yes, yes! But needs a better name.

Simple way to do this, clone the time4popcorn app, use existing bittorrent networks to host the content, use the brand/app platform as the centralized core to manage quality.

How about BITFlix or something like that for the name. More than likely need a completely original name out of this entire space without flix in it…or bit haha.

I own, can use that. ALL 4 VIDEO, audio for video, three letter domain :wink:

Let’s do it. I’m game for this one.

Also, have been experimenting with new interface, which has torrents built-in, could be a great partner/backend for this partially.


Yeah, the name PALflix needs replacing. I was trying to be cute, PAL being Europe and some other places TV-era standard and expanding to Premimum And Libre. ALL 4 VIDEO is pretty generic but maybe that’s what’s needed, will think. Something completely original and somehow still evocative would be best.

PT is definitely on my list to evaluate. Others probably being whatever Kaltura currently provides, MediaGoblin, and something custom that utilizes hosting from elsewhere (like, or not so custom eg build on WordPress or MediaWiki. Those are all very different options, want to briefly explore and then dive into one.

Last I checked torrents aren’t useful for normal downloading/viewing as they are of all files for an item – all encodings. But I might misunderstand or be out of date. Another thing to investigate.

I should mention some previous/existing projects which in some sense bear a strong similarity to this idea. Corrections and additions wanted.

Sita Sings the Blues Distribution Project promotes (mainly active 2009-10?) distribution of one premium video, but aimed for replication. I suspect replication requires more centralization, ie a platform like proposed here.

ClearBits, formerly LegalTorrents, operated 2003-2013, provided bittorrent hosting for and promotion of CC licensed material (some libre) including movies. It did not provide a viewing experience, but was a go-to place for premium publicly licensed material. Web pages for several existing premium libre videos still refer to the service, though it has been down for 2 years.

VODO started off distributing CC licensed (but none libre as far as I know) premium video via Bittorrent, but appears to have branched out to include indie films under other terms (aside: what does “P2P-exclusive” mean?) and selling bundles of indie game/video/audio/etc material. Their blog is down, but highlighted some of their success and noted dedicating 5% of their revenues to a “Free Film Fund”; unclear what came of that. emphasizes bundles and says they are working on a new product called “Black Box”. I suspect VODO’s aggregated audience for indie material is too diffuse and has too many other places to go, but nevertheless VODO may be a success on its own terms. This idea instead aims to aggregate a much more focused and demanding audience; its ‘limitation’ to only libre video may make for a more potent community and intervention.

Participatory Culture Foundation had various projects (mostly under Miro name) for aggregating feeds of video available gratis on the web – vastly more diffuse selection and audience than VODO, but still an interesting attempt to create a popular alternative to proprietary distribution channels for premium video.

The Internet Archive hosts any video that belongs in a library and that it can get away with, including premium libre video. This is an incredibly valuable service, but by itself does not aggregate an audience and beneficient cycle of demand for premium libre video (but as Jon Phillips noted above, could be a good backend or partner in some way). Though they are very different (non/for-profit, scale, excise “that belongs in a library”), the rest is true of YouTube as well.

The Public Domain Review film collection, much of it hosted at the Internet Archive, is an example of a focused viewing experience, but obviously does not directly help grow a contemporary libre film audience.

Wikimedia Commons hosts only libre videos, some small number of them “premium” and has some mechanisms for promoting the highest quality material. This is probably by far the most promising of existing projects due to its libre focus and community curation. Its focus is on material useful in an encyclopedic context rather than entertainment a la Netflix. I suspect a libre platform focused on the latter would be a useful intervention, thus this idea.

Blender Cloud hosts the Blender open movies with enhanced access for $10/month, funding further work. It is more of a behind-the-scenes platform than a viewing platform. The Blender universe including software, community, foundation, cloud, movies…is the most vibrant and coherent part of the otherwise diffuse libre premium video world. Anything Blender does is strongly complementary.

FreeGameDev network, because games bear some similarity to video, see analysis.

Rejected, no feedback other than that they got 857 submissions for 20 slots.

Have been continuing to iterate on the idea in other movies posts, shall have a plan for lightweight implementation soon though pointers to other funding opportunities for the idea most welcome. :smile:

Just noting some possibly relevant software, appears to be a fairly well done Netflix-like for personal libraries:

Curious side note, appears to be integrated with The Movie DB, a crowdsourced database I hadn’t heard of, apparently starting from Open Media Database (OMDB) which I also hadn’t heard of, but the former now proprietary.

Yes, the popcorn time UI is brilliant, and this reduces hosting cost or whatever. Just need a libre-video curated API for a forked client to read from, and seed the torrents. I like it.

You can always torrent only one file that is included in a torrent (most clients have UI for this).

“YouTube for public domain content” – seems friendly

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Extract, text dates from January 2015: YouTube for public domain content

  • [ ] Make website
  • [ ] Find public domain content
  • [ ] Host content to ensure it’s always available
  • [ ] Need web seed support
    • [ ] Torrents lacking seeders can be downloaded from http server
    • [ ] Contacted by music promoter/manager who wanted to fund development of this feature ($500-$1000 reward). Any takers?
  • [ ] Better MediaSource support
    • [ ] On-the-fly MP4 repackaging to support seeking (@jhiesey)
    • [ ] Stretch goal: On-the-fly MKV repackaging (@jhiesey)
  • [ ] Fix simple-peer race condition
  • [ ] Get mainstream tech news coverage of!
  • [ ] Consider raising crowdfunding at this point, since people will finally see that this works!

Does seem promising. The site uses Blender shorts for demos already.

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