November 29, 2006
BitTorrent Signs Major Deals to Distribute Download-for-Pay Content

BitTorrent is continuing to shift its primary focus amidst the many controversies of copyright that have sprung up on the Web. News broke this week that the file-sharing technology creators have made deals with a variety of content providers to "legitimately" distribute TV shows and films for Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and MTV Networks.

This new BitTorrent service, will include both download-to-rent and download-to-own features, as well as some free content, when it launches in February. Now, BitTorrent is positioning itself as a competitor to iTunes and the whole slew of other providers out there who distribute content, such as Amazon Unbox, AOL Video, and others.

According to yesterday's press release, "By partnering with some of the most established entertainment studios and TV networks in the world, BitTorrent will be offering an increasingly comprehensive library of digital media content. Through these new partnerships, BitTorrent customers will be able to select from a variety of popular film titles." The press release also states that:

"Designed in 2001, BitTorrent has become the most efficient means of distributing large, high-quality files on the Internet. With many millions of users, BitTorrent traffic accounts for as much as 40 percent of all worldwide Internet traffic. BitTorrent continues to work with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to remove copyright infringing content from its search results and, as evidenced by today's announcement, is working with studios to replace that content with a high-quality, legal option that aspires to compete with piracy. With integrated monetization for paid and ad-supported content, the forthcoming BitTorrent service will be an ideal platform for the digital distribution of online entertainment. The service will offer not only video, but also music and games. BitTorrent will disclose pricing details closer to the time of the launch of the online retail marketplace, which is set for February 2007."

Matt Marshall on VentureBeat writes that "Trouble is, BitTorrent has never gained mass appeal among regular consumers. It is best as a back-end distribution protocol" and believes the current move is a mistake aimed at trying to balance themselves in a way that is not advantageous to their strengths, being concerned with content deals rather than technology. He writes, "You'd think BitTorrent would be more focused on becoming the distribution partner for some of these players, rather than try to become the consumer destination."

Meanwhile, Russell Shaw on ZDNet writes that, "while I am a firm believer in copyright protections, the anti-establishment side of me is starting to get a little concerned. Actually, more than a little." He questions, "What happens next? Seems to me the issue is whether the BT's and YT's become such an enabler to big media digital distribution that they start to lose their soul."

What does BitTorrent's decision to "go legit" mean for convergence culture? Is it a celebration of finding an alternative form of video sharing through broadband that makes everyone happy, or is this fundamentally undercutting a vibrant form of cultural expression and fair use? In other words, what are the risks compared to the benefits in further corporatizing these grassroots spaces, and what should be the balance between targeting flagrant distribution and facilitating person-to-person sharing?