BitTorrent is largely known as the software that has made it easy to download pirated content. At the same time, it is a company fighting hard to shed that image. In recent months it has been pushing hard to persuade musicians and television producers that it can actually help them make money, rather than pick their pockets.
First, BitTorrent boasts of its technology, which leverages many computers to facilitate file sharing. It is super-efficient, which is why it’s so good for piracy. Second, it does have an enormous audience of young men, who can be otherwise difficult to reach.
This week, the company announced that it would release a pilot for a show about, coincidentally, the music industry. It is called Fly or Die, and the pilot is free. If people like it, they can contribute e-mail addresses, which will give them access to seven further videos, background on the show’s idea, and an invitation to help turn the concept into a fully functioning episodic television series.
With the show, BitTorrent is conducting both a technical and cultural experiment. On the technical side is a new format called the BitTorrent Bundle, a type of torrent that will allow content creators to put parameters around content downloads. In the Fly or Die example, content is exchanged for a user’s e-mail address; the company has released a handful of bundles this year, including musical tracks and movie trailers, through direct partnerships with artists. This fall it plans to begin slowly opening the process up to a wider group of content creators. As it does so, BitTorrent will develop ways for artists to require people to pay $10 to watch a show or open a link, for example. The idea is to let artists sell or exchange content outside mainstream digital marketplaces such as Amazon and Apple’s online stores.
“We’re going to put the store inside the content,” says Matt Mason, BitTorrent’s vice president of marketing. “Whatever the publisher decides is the right way to charge for that piece of content, they’ll be able to.”
At the same time, BitTorrent is also trying to show artists that its 160 million users represent a valuable audience. If Fly or Die is successful, the community of BitTorrent users will be able to claim a certain authorship over the show, since the producers are actively soliciting ideas for how their seed of a concept will develop. This could be another blow against a perception about BitTorrent that Mason acknowledges is common within the television and movie industries: that it is a den of thieves that should be crushed, rather than cultivated.