Demand for video streaming has surged over the past decade, along with the explosive usage of platforms like YouTube and Twitch, which seem to be replacing programmed television. Forecasts indicate this trend is not slowing down.
Theta is a decentralized video network provider that aims to solve the major issues related to the growing video-streaming ecosystem by leveraging blockchain technology, allowing users to make a passive income by sharing their bandwidth.
Furthermore, the founders of Theta saw the need to tackle the high costs that come with content-delivery network (CDN) usage. They have established Sliver.tv, which is an expanding eSports entertainment platform. As an alleged test environment, Sliver.tv has been equipped with a testnet in June, and according to its team, Silver.tv “rewards users with Theta-ish tokens for re-streaming content to others in the network.”
Initial results showed that in less than 3 months, “more than 530,000 users across 150 countries have shared bandwidth on the Theta network.” While this looks promising, Theta has a long and complex road ahead. In this article, we examine the Theta project and its platform dynamics, and take a glimpse at what the project’s future might look like.
What Is Theta’s Value Proposition and How Do They Want To Deliver?
Imagine you and your friend are each watching the same livestream on your phones. As of now, you are streaming from the server where it is broadcasted, or from a close point-of-presence that stores copies of data if you’re lucky. The network that distributes the data from a server is called a content-distribution network (CDN).
The CDN moves your requested data to your nearest base station, which is directly connected to your phone. You, the user, then download that data, which your phone stores as caches so you can stream seamlessly. After you’ve watched a part, the caches are regarded as useless. However, Theta provides a network where you can share the caches you have already downloaded with your friends, so the streaming data only needs to be streamed once.
The Theta network not only allows you to share caches with your friends, but with anyone in proximity. By allowing others to use your caches, you are rewarded with tokens. Since CDN channels often lack capacity once content arrives within close proximity to the user, imagine the unburdening effect Theta can have.
In other words, Theta promises to deliver an innovative decentralized streaming network. Users can share their available caches, so video platforms are less reliable on traditional and centralized Content Distribution Networks. Furthermore, less-developed areas in the world often lack proper end-to-end delivery.
Theta’s solution could dramatically reduce the existing constraints in content delivery. By providing users the ability to share the already delivered data, CDN channels will become unburdened. The Theta token incentivizes viewers to join the network. As nodes, they are able to cleverly recycle caches by sharing their streamed data with neighboring nodes.
Theta guarantees a high-speed network by electing 10 to 20 validator nodes that generate blocks. As a second line of defense, numerous “guardian” nodes only need to reach a 2/3 consensus at block checkpoints. These nodes are obligated to lock up tokens which are used to penalize deviation from the protocol. In this way, Theta not only ensures a high block speed, but also provides an extra security layer, which is the allowed extra time to reach the consensus without affecting speed.
Furthermore, the network uses a so-called “aggregated signature gossip scheme,” which partially combines received signatures of other guardians and then “gossips” them out to other guardians exponentially faster. Other than speed, the lower messaging complexity also reduces the communication overhead.
Theta uses its platform to provide tailor-made advertisement solutions. Advertisers use the Theta ecosystem to spend tokens to buy viewers’ time and reward influencers. By means of proof-of-engagement, viewers assure advertisers and each other of their viewing time.
Finally, as a cherry on top, Theta aims to create an off-chain payment system, through which users can create their own micropayments pool. Other users can use these pools instead of the main chain, effectively reducing the load on the core network.
The Theta platform will employ a dual currency system. As indicated in the whitepaper, the Theta team has decided to use 2 tokens — Theta and Gamma — in their network to ensure that each token has its own particular incentive, allowing for the management of the appropriate network parameters.
The Theta token will be used for platform governance, staking, and securing the network. The Gamma token will be used for operational transactions such as smart contract deployment and video segment transactions.
Theta’s capped token supply is 1 billion. The initial supply of Gamma tokens will be 5 billion, with an annual inflation rate of 5% and a burning mechanism for Gamma used for transactions to balance the total supply of tokens.
The core token, Theta, will provide each Theta token holder with 5 Gamma tokens upon the launch of the Theta mainnet and accompanied token swap. Besides buying the Theta token, an interesting use case for this crypto asset is that users can earn it for hosting video streams for users in their proximity.
As mentioned earlier, the team has its roots in SLIVER.tv. Co-founders of SLIVER.tv Mitch Liu and Jieyi Long have an impressive track record, owning multiple patents for the playground technology that increases streaming quality of fully immersive 360° VR spherical video streams. These patents are not directly related to the main concept of the Theta network, but they do showcase Theta’s capability to innovate and adapt towards upcoming video developments.
Mitch Liu mentions:
“The beauty of Theta is it’s an add-on to their existing platforms. We don’t compete with YouTube, Naver or Afreeca TV. We want to partner with them.”
And this is reflected by their advisory team, which boasts big names like Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube, and Justin Kan, co-founder of Twitch. Other broadcasting networks like Pandora.tv, MBN and CJ Hello, various CDNs such as Verizon, and electronics companies Samsung and Sony are amongst their stakeholders. The willingness to advise Theta from all sides of the video industry displays its strength, redefining edge, and disruptive power in content delivery.
Theta plans to launch its mainnet on March 15, 2019. When this occurs, the ERC20-compliant tokens meant for SLIVER.tv will be exchanged 1:1 for native Theta tokens. From that point on, Theta will stop using the Ethereum blockchain.
Until then, the team will launch several test channels to focus on optimizing their streaming packet routing algorithms and the scalability of their mesh network. In Q1 2019, Theta is expected to deploy their native infrastructure and further refine their token economics.
Positioning and Competitors (Differentiation and Overlaps)
Most blockchains related to video are solely focused on content, its rights, and advertising. Theta doesn’t focus on decentralized content creation, but mainly on storage and distribution. Furthermore, only Theta, Livepeer, Videocoin (liveplanet, coming on January 22), and IPBC aim to deliver live-streaming services. Of these 4 projects, the first 3 have created or will soon deliver sister entities.
This initial launch provides the possibility to prove the technicalities to future developers. While this is a solid strategy, it doesn’t guarantee mass adoption. In the end, the blockchain that manages to attract existing leading video platforms might well be the one to skyrocket. For this reason, Theta looks the most promising with its impressive partnerships.
Theta distinguishes itself from livepeer through its available advertising solutions and content storage. Videocoin aims to encompass most of Theta’s solutions, not as a possible add-on but as a complete video stack. Subsequently, Videocoin has a more difficult job in creating the platform and in attracting users. In the figure below, Theta’s competitors are shown along with their positions.
Where To Buy and Store Theta
If you are looking to buy Theta tokens, these are the markets that exchange Theta.
There is no unique wallet for Theta yet. However, since it is an ERC-20 token, you could store them on MEW or Metamask.
Theta seems to be one of the few blockchain projects that aims to solve a present day problem.
As Steve Chen puts it:
“Theta’s innovation is set to disrupt today’s online video industry much in the same way that the YouTube platform did to traditional video back in 2005. One of our biggest challenges had been the high costs of delivering video to various parts of the world, and this problem is only getting bigger with HD, 4K and higher quality video streams.”
This makes Theta valuable in the sense that the mainnet can attract the critical user base as soon as it launches. However, some of the current challenges in undeveloped technological areas of video streaming might be solved in the future if CDNs deploy more points of presence and lower their rates. People might not be that incentivized to become Tetha users and to pay directly to peers.
Secondly, chances that nearby users are streaming the same video at the same time seem tiny. So the user base will need to be immense in order for Theta to deliver real value. Time will tell if team Theta is able to achieve their goals and if it will acquire enough activated users for the technology to become valuable beyond eSports. Without a doubt, watching high-quality (VR) videos and receiving compensation for bandwidth sharing seem attractive to me. But only time will tell if Theta will be able to create a new video streaming paradigm for the masses.