March 2, 2007
BitTorrent Transforms into Digital Video Store

BitTorrent is getting their feet wet in the world of "legitimate" media distribution, with their store opening this past week offering content for cash from content providers such as our partners MTV Networks, as well as 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and plenty of other heavy hitters.

Building off the standard set by Apple iTunes, the idea is TV shows for $1.99 an episode and the ability to rent films for a buck or two more, to keep with the going rental rates.

I'm extremely interested in seeing whether BitTorrent can transform itself into a strong competitor for groups like Apple and Amazon and the other companies that have launched strong products in the online video distribution space. I don't doubt that there is significant room for competition there, and we already have Wal-Mart and plenty of other players stepping into this space, but I continue wondering whether BitTorrent's reputation as a sharing technology where a lot of material was blatantly pirated and shared, would transfer over well to a "legitimate" business model.

News broke of this initiative in late November, when BitTorrent released a press release that stated, "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."

I wrote about the online sentiment among commentators who felt that BitTorrent was best served as a technology and not a content provider, writing that some considered it "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." For instance, Matt Marshall on VentureBeat wrote, "You'd think BitTorrent would be more focused on becoming the distribution partner for some of these partners, rather than try to become the consumer destination."

I asked, "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?"

Now that the BitTorrent "store" is launching, I have to return to this question, and I guess the answer will pan out as we see BitTorrent's success in its store.