Over the last few years I've worked on a number of projects where a pretty important deliverable was streaming video. Lots and lots of streaming video. Some of it edited on-demand clips but a fairly significant portion of it has been live content.

Luckily using Windows Media Server as a platform it's not that difficult to deliver, manage and report on either type of content. The on-demand stuff just needs a big enough server to cater for the variety of demands placed on it and the live content needs a very reliable head end encoder to feed the distribution platform.

Even content protection and billing mechanisms, while sometimes complex and often annoying, are not that difficult to do right.

The big pain point for a lot of the projects has been the bandwidth costs. Shifting terrabytes of data every month incurs a fairly hefty data center bill that's pretty hard to avoid (hence the need for advertising, sponsorship and subscription access to content).

Ironically too late to help me be a hero on any of the projects I used to work on (but hopefully it'll prove to be a suitable platform to help out the folks now running them) a Microsoft partner called Skinkers have developed a very clever new platform that addresses the pain point square on.

LiveStation (currently in Beta test) is a live streaming client designed to facilitate delivery of live TV to users PCs. LiveStation makes use of Silverlight as the display technology (so can utilize the streaming optimized codecs specifically engineered for that platform) and a peer-to-peer engine developed in conjunction with Microsoft Research which shifts the bandwidth demands from the publisher to a shared support mode where the more consumers there are of the content the more robust and responsive the delivery network becomes - instead of the opposite in a traditional internet broadcast model.

The concept is similar to what is behind Joost, Veoh and the Democracy (soon to be Miro) Player except where they are designed for on-demand, non time critical content (most of them need a buffering time) LiveStation has the added challenge that as a live content platform every frame is time critical.

I've been running the beta for a while (as well as Joost and a number of other next generation TV solutions) and it's not just because Skinkers are giving me a taste of home during the trial... I think it's the best player of the lot. They (in conjunction with Splendid) have done a great job designing a functional, elegant interface on top of a very powerful platform.

Don't take my word for it. Check out the interview that Steve Clayton (from MS UK) did with Matteo Berlucchi from Skinkers which explains the background as well as shows it in action.