Podcasts on Breez: Streaming Sats for Streaming Ideas
The Breez Lightning client has added a native podcast player. It’s the next step in turning the economy into the Lightning economy.
The comedy magnate Judd Apatow famously said that being rich is overrated because even with >$150 million, there’s nothing to buy. (I’ll have to try that sometime. I’ll get back to you.) If we’re being honest, though, that kind of applies to Lightning.
The Lightning Network now has over 1100 BTC of capacity spread over nearly 40,000 public channels, which connect nearly 20,000 nodes. Thanks to MPPs and Wumbo channels, those separate channel capacities work more like a single ocean of liquidity. User-friendly apps like Breez have tucked the complexity into the back end, giving users a UX that’s getting closer and closer to fiat but using open, private, censorship-resistant, and decentralized bitcoin.
We can beat fiat at its own game, and we’re doing it with bitcoin. So if the infrastructure is in place, why do I still get so excited when a friend buys a pack of Cheetos with Lightning? Why did he even bother posting a video of him buying a snack at a corner store?
It’s exciting because it’s not yet natural for people to buy stuff with Lightning. When that does happen, it’s still a case of man bites dog. We’ll know we’ve accomplished our mission when nobody cares about a guy using Lightning to buy a pack of extruded cornmeal paste covered in unnaturally orange powder.
Our point-of-sale mode was a big, first step towards enabling the everyday purchases and bitcoin microtransactions Lightning was invented for. And it works. The Cheetos prove it. The POS register enables anyone to buy goods from anyone else over Lightning. Goods, however, are just the beginning. Not everything comes in a packet or a box.
What if we could stream payments the same way we stream media? Services measured in time are the other half of the economy, and it’s an area fiat hasn’t yet dared to tackle. Lightning is cheap enough and fast enough that streaming payments for continuous consumption is viable. Combine the package-based economy with the streaming economy, and it will no longer be the case that there’s nothing to buy with Lightning.
There’ll be everything to buy.
Breez has just integrated a means of streaming payments for continuous consumption. For our first foray into streaming payments, we’ve chosen a medium that, like Lightning, values censorship resistance, disintermediation, and connecting people around the world: podcasting. That’s right. Breez — a self-hosted Lightning node that fits in your pocket—is adding a native podcast player to let listeners stream sats to their favorite creators and to give creators the same kind of freedom, autonomy, and sovereignty that the corner store already enjoys.
Let me tell you about how and why we’re taking this bold first step to expand the Lightning economy.
How Lightning Benefits Podcasters
As is the case with many creative products, monetization and distribution are significant obstacles for podcasters. The obvious solution to the monetization problem in podcasting is advertising, and the obvious solution to the distribution problem is to get listed on a big streaming platform, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
But as podcasters have learned, neither of these really qualifies as a “solution” because both facilitate censorship.
Third-party advertisers — not to mention fourth-party advertising platforms like Anchor — have creators at their mercy. Anchor charges 30% of a podcaster’s ad revenue to connect them with advertisers who can withdraw their support at any time, limiting creators’ creativity and independence.
While “platform” sounds like something solid that can bear a load, it doesn’t apply to conventional streaming platforms that distribute podcasts. Even after paying Joe Rogan $100 million for an exclusive deal, Spotify has censored his content. Apple has deplatformed entire podcasting apps in response to governmental pressure to censor independent voices.
And the platforms’ influence goes further. On Spotify, for example, podcasters have to pay to ensure that listeners can even find them.
Lightning solves these problems with the same method it solves many others: by decentralizing the network. The only obstacle — until a few months ago — was how to bring Lightning together with podcasting. As soon as Adam Curry told me about the podcast:value standard, which he developed with Dave Jones, I saw that they had already done the heavy lifting of compiling an index and a standard protocol. In order to unite the free, direct, creator-to-listener structure of podcasting with the free, direct, payer-to-recipient structure of Lightning, we just had to plug their protocol into Breez with a couple of bells and whistles. (Actually, it’s more like rockets and confetti.)
The podcast:value standard lets creators list themselves on the Podcast Index as Lightning-enabled content. There’s even a wizard to help podcasters get on the index and automatically listed in the Breez catalog. Users can then subscribe directly over an RSS feed, and podcasters can collect users’ payments directly over Lightning. As a whole, Adam and Dave call this kind of interaction (as well as their podcast about it) Podcasting 2.0.
Podcasting 2.0 renders distributors and nth-party monetizers obsolete. Podcasters and listeners become directly connected senders and recipients: podcasters send content over RSS and receive payments over Lightning; listeners receive content over RSS and send payments over Lightning. And tracking the flow of tips over the course of an episode lets podcasters adjust their own content to their listeners’ preferences, not their advertisers’.
Lightning lets podcasters receive payment directly from their listeners without being subject to any intermediary’s shakedown scam. It obviates platforms, banks, and advertisers.
How Lightning Benefits Listeners
Hey folks. Sorry to interrupt this great post, but I just couldn’t wait to tell you about the great offer happening right now at …
That sadly familiar kind of interruption is a midroll ad. It’s the 21st century’s version of the traffic jam — an interruption to an otherwise pleasant flow whose mere existence is aggravating and whose inevitability is depressing. Midrolls, prerolls, and postrolls exist because the primary option for creators to extract value from listeners is to hold them hostage for 90 seconds while shilling for home-security systems or phone plans or life insurance.
Beyond being annoying, relying on ads also forces podcasters to pander. Their revenue depends on the total minutes listened, so they have strong incentives to publish the most sensationalist, titillating content, no matter how nonsensical. Ad sponsorship drives otherwise creative minds and talented voices to seek the broad appeal of the lowest common denominator.
So the most tangible way that Lightning benefits podcast listeners, therefore, is to spare them from ads. By being able to reward their favorite creators directly for being entertaining, educational, or just awesome, listeners get more of what they like and less sensationalist drivel. Direct contributions also help podcasters from having to inflict ads on their listeners and skewing their perspective, which most would eagerly forego.
How Podcasting Benefits Lightning
Lightning is bitcoin, but scalable. Scalability, though, is not the same as operating at scale. Lightning needs volume. As more people transact over Lightning, the network’s liquidity will increase, its centralization will decrease, and network effects will take over.
The question at the moment is how to accumulate users efficiently until we reach critical mass. Podcasting is a very efficient, very promising answer.
Global podcast revenue was just shy of $15 billion USD in 2019, and it is expected to surpass $60 billion in six years. By one estimate, 37% of Americans listen to a podcast at least once a month, and a quarter listen every week. Global figures are not far behind.
Just as video on demand is supplanting broadcast TV and physical media, podcasting — audio on demand — is the better way to distribute content traditionally found on broadcast radio or physical media. Podcasting is a rapidly growing medium. Lightning is the ideal monetization technology to feed it. As Lightning improves the podcasting UX for listeners and creators alike, podcasting will help to grow and scale Lightning.
Podcasting 2.0 on Breez
The podcasting 2.0 model coincides exactly with how we see the world and how we’d like to see it develop. It’s a vision podcasters share. And with our ability to provide the P2P, micropay-by-the-minute functionality to thousands of users and to connect those users with dozens of great podcasts, it’s the perfect vertical extension to our thriving Lightning client.
Breez never sacrifices UX, and the podcast player is no exception. Users can find podcasts, subscribe to them, stream payments while listening, and send real-time tips to applaud their favorite creators for their best work. While listening, users can set a rate of how many sats per minute to stream back to the creators. For example, to pay 3000 sats for an hour-long episode, the user would set the rate to 50 sats/min. Setting the rate to 0 lets the user listen for free. Users can also send one-off tips to the creators by pressing the Boost! button at whatever level they choose. Boosting is like clapping with sats.
The Breez podcast player builds on three vital precursors. The first is the Podcast Index, which supplies the catalog of podcasts where users can find their favorites. The second is the podcast:value standard, which lets creators receive payments from their listeners and distribute them automatically among their collaborators. The third is an open-source player. With help from its creator (Thanks Ben!), we’ve turned it into an embeddable library, added theming support, and tweaked it to fit Breez’s look, feel, and user experience.
The result is a fully functional podcast player in the Breez Lightning client. Users can find trending podcasts, adjust the playback speed, add notes, and do everything they would and should expect. Listening to podcasts in Breez simultaneously feels native to Breez, while also feeling like a dedicated podcast player, just like the stereo in a car should feel like a fully functional hi-fi system while also being seamlessly embedded in a more encompassing device with a different purpose.
Paying for a coffee is a micropayment. Paying for a minute of podcasting is a micro-micropayment. Without an algorithm to aggregate those tiny amounts, routing fees could consume a significant fraction — or even a multiple — of the user’s intended payment. So the podcasting UX is one thing, but figuring out how to stream the payments rationally is another.
To ensure that the sat stream matches the user’s desired rate as closely as possible without getting consumed by routing fees, the Breez app performs the following as soon as an episode starts to play:
- It notes the percentages that each contributor is to receive, as specified in the XML provided in the podcast. For its contribution as a distributor, Breez takes 5%.
- The app then calculates the amount to be remitted to each destination at each interval and adds it to the running tally for each destination.
- Breez tries to execute a payment with routing fees capped at 20%.
- If the routing fee-to-payment ratio was low enough, the payment is completed, and the amount is deducted from the cumulative tally. If the ratio is too high, the payment is retained in the running tally for the next attempt, lowering the next attempt’s ratio and increasing its chances of success.
- Once a payment succeeds, Breez knows the actual rate of fees collected over that route, and the app gains a new parameter to consider. Breez uses that newly learned parameter to optimize future payments to that destination.
Of course, this is all in the back end. Users only have two options to worry about: setting the amount of sats per minute and/or tapping the rocket to tip/applaud whenever they want. Like many great UX innovations, this optimization procedure works because it’s invisible.
Payments are executed using keysend, i.e. invoice-less payments. For every podcast payment performed in Breez, the app sends an additional custom record, containing the following metadata:
"action": stream | boost
This metadata allows podcasts to analyze incoming payments to see how users are reacting to their content with streaming payments and boosts in (near) real time.
Streams of Cash and Consciousness
Podcasting 2.0 on Breez is the fruit of exactly the right payment technology converging with streamed content produced by like-minded, innovative, independent creators. It’s a union built on mutual admiration and respect along with some beautifully elegant code.
We’re as excited to release our podcasting player as we are to see how listeners and creators use it. They’re likely to see possibilities that we have yet to imagine, and their suggestions will help us to direct our own ongoing innovation.
This is why the internet exists. This is how the world is supposed to work. It’s a privilege to w̶a̶t̶c̶h̶ listen to it happen.