February 23, 2007 9:00 PM PST

BitTorrent to open digital-media store

If the notorious file-sharing software BitTorrent was once the class bully, a version set to debut Monday is more like the teacher's pet.

The 45-employee company that calls itself BitTorrent is planning to use its software to launch a download site, called the BitTorrent Entertainment Network, that will distribute more than 5,000 titles from digital movies, TV shows, games and other media.

In the battle for the nascent online video market, BitTorrent could be a competitor, thanks to its existing reputation for speedy file distribution. It also has an established user base that the company says numbers 135 million.

That's the kind of muscle that could immediately pit the company against some of the sector's heavyweights, including YouTube, Brightcove and Joost, a new peer-to-peer service started by the founders of Skype and Kazaa. Joost recently partnered with some big entertainment companies, such as Viacom.

The BitTorrent store's opening marks a triumph for the San Francisco-based company. Despite the software's reputation for helping people illegally share millions of unauthorized video files, the company's managers have convinced studios such as 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios that it comes to Hollywood with a laurel branch in its hands.

But the deal did not come cheaply. To sell entertainment companies on the idea that they could profit from the file-sharing system, BitTorrent executives had to make some important concessions, such as wrapping songs and movies on the site in a digital rights management (DRM) system.

Among the many challenges the new store faces are proving the technology can bring movies to users faster than the clunky distribution methods now available and not alienating the millions who have grown accustomed to using BitTorrent to snatch files off the Web with virtually no DRM and at no cost.

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Video: BitTorrent's latest foray
Co-founder discusses company's shift to legal content.

"There is always a percentage of people that don't want anything to do with a technology once they perceive it to be a corporate thing," said Zephyr, a 25-year-old San Francisco resident who declined to give his last name. He has used BitTorrent for more than five years to download books, music and videos. "There's a large group of people out there that like getting things for free, and they will probably go someplace else for file sharing."

But BitTorrent leaders have labored long and hard for mainstream acceptance. Last May, the company announced a landmark distribution deal with Warner Bros. Entertainment Group. The agreement, one of the first studio deals ever for a file-sharing company, won BitTorrent a measure of respectability and became the foundation for signing similar deals.

Besides, too much shouldn't be made of BitTorrent's use of DRM, said Ashwin Navin, the company's president. This is only the first stage in BitTorrent's evolution, he said, adding that he senses a shift in Hollywood's thinking about DRM.

"Our partners require DRM protection for their titles," Navin said. "They are being cautious with a new distribution model. As the demand goes up, our partners will probably explore DRM-free options."

The new online store smoothes out many rough spots typically found in downloading movies off the Web. Perhaps, most importantly, users can rent or buy movies from some of Hollywood's biggest studios and download them without worrying about viruses or corrupted files, Navin said.

When the site opens its doors on Monday, some of the feature films that will be offered are Superman Returns, Mission: Impossible III and An Inconvenient Truth. Among the available TV shows are 24 and Chappelle's Show.

Movies will only be available for rental. Older titles will cost $2.99, while new releases will go for $3.99. Customers can take up to a month to watch a film. Once they start watching a title, they have up 24 hours to finish it. TV shows and music videos are "download to own" and cost $1.99 each.

The need for speed
Almost as important as price is speed. One of the main reasons why adoption of digital movie downloads has lagged has been the slow download times. A digital film file represents an enormous amount of information that can easily clog available bandwidth. The process can force film fans to wait hours before heating up the popcorn.

It is here that BitTorrent is expected to excel.

Developed in 2001, BitTorrent's open-source distribution system was designed to help transfer large files over the Internet. BitTorrent allows a single file to be broken into small fragments that are distributed among computers. People then share pieces of the content with one another.

As opposed to some other systems that slow when a lot of people try to download the same piece of content, BitTorrent's file sharing only speeds up, according to Navin.

"A lot of game consoles are releasing movies for download or games for download, and that will be a terrible user experience unless they use BitTorrent," Navin said. "When everyone wants the same file at once, people are talking about 12-hour download times for a movie."

So how fast can BitTorrent deliver the same movie?

"Depending on the connection speed," Navin said, "how about we say faster than a pizza delivery?"

BitTorrent also can help content companies transmit big files for "significantly less money on a cost-per-gig basis" than other content delivery companies, said Eric Patterson, BitTorrent's vice president of consumer services.

But if the company's technology works best with popular content, BitTorrent has to prove that it will also work well for fans of obscure films or TV shows that don't get downloaded as often.

"One of the most nontechnical challenges will be managing expectations," said Mike McGuire, an analyst with Gartner. "They can't over-promise. They have to make customers understand whatever limitations there are. We know how hard it is to do downloads. The questions have been: How do you get consumers in the store, crack their wallet, and get them to come back? The answer has always been: It has to be easy to pay for and download."

CONTINUED: How fast is fast?…
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You forgot a key point Mike
Mike McGuire, an analyst with Gartner. The questions have been:
'How do you get consumers in the store, crack their wallet, and get
them to come back? The answer has always been: It has to be easy
to pay for and download."

And that it has no DRM so that its easy to use how and where I
Posted by David Turner (114 comments )
Reply Link Flag
bittorrent and DRM don't mix
For DRM to work the files have to be encrypted with a customer-specific key (specifically, one that uniquely identifies the computer). Thus each file is different, and bittorent's model doesn't work. Therefore any DRM scheme they implement has to be even more fundamentally broken than most.
Posted by kuciwalker (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It could work
They could send the entire file through bittorrent and the DRM package could be sent through the main servers when the file is finished, or while its downloading.

It's not impossible.

But fundamentally, no, they don't mix.
Posted by airwalkery2k (117 comments )
Link Flag
Don't think it will excel
First - wrong market segment targetted. People who used to use
bittorent wont pay. And people who pay for stuff probably don't
know how to use Bittorent.
Second - Same good bittorent experience can't be delivered to
everyone. I mean often times, my download speed is at 10kb/
second. And they are saying itunes is slow.
Third - It is not as point and click experience that itunes has right
now. Unless they develop an itunes or Kazaa like software.
Posted by hunter_jc (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
itunes slow???
excuse me, but i have never experienced slow downloads in itunes,
never... i have a 16mbit DSL line, and i always get my full 2mbytes/
sec speed @ iTMS
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Link Flag
One More Thing
From what they say bittorent is. You have to have multiple
people downloading the same file inorder to gather speed in the
download. So how do you guarantee that you have 100 people
downloading "Terminator 2" 24 hours everyday? I mean the total
logic is flawed.
And if you are talking about the file can be downloaded from
people who have downloaded it already then they are
contradicting with the movie rental concept.
First - people who loaded the movie will probably watch it within
the next 24 hours and then will delete the file. So it wont help
other downloaders.
Second - Tech savvy user might not want to use up their
bandwidth for that month unnecessarily. So the file in the
computer won't help the upload again.
It looks like this store is more about getting Venture Capitalist's
money than any real financial return.
Posted by hunter_jc (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
actually, a way to lessen download speed
Not to try and poke holes in your comment as seem to be on the right idea.

I would point out for interest that Bittorrent was created to lessen the traffic load on host servers rather than to increase the download speed for end users.

Instead of 100 users pulling from the same server, a few users get the file from the server then there transfer packets are shared to the other users so you have a bit of a cascade starting on the server but then drawing the file packets off other users machines instead of the server.

I don't know that it makes a great deal of difference in the discussion but it was worth mentioning at least.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Way to Suck...
Oh no look another free site going corporate. Can any1 say "Napster"?

It doesn't matter the evolution of P2P is all the same..theyu go corporate then anotehr small free files sharing site comes up till the same thing happens. For ppl who know where to donload and how to download free stuff, we will still get it for free, even if we have to wait for someone else to dot he same as Bitorrent.

It was good while it lasted Torrent..hope u get rich fast!!
Posted by DaB3at (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bittorrent sells out
Where are all of the Elder Scrolls games? I can't even buy them if I wanted to let alone download them for free. Can't they just do an AD based system like everyone else?
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey, here's an idea
why not just make the cost of DVDs cheaper so most people aren't forced into pirating them because they cannot afford to buy them? It costs like 50 cents to burn a DVD, and the cost of making that DVD is spread out in the number of copies sold which becomes very low per DVD sold.

I mean why rip people off with $40USD DVD prices when you could sell it for $10 and then sell 10 times as many DVDs? Instead of making $40 in one sale, you'd make $100 in 10 sales. How much you want to bet that person who paid $40 for a DVD Movie will rip it to an AVI file and upload it via BitTorrent? Lower the prices of movie tickets as well, that person who paid $10 to see the movie got upset and brought a Digital Camera and recorded the whole movie, turned it into an AVI, and uploaded it on BitTorrent. If the price of that movie was $4, chances are he wouldn't be ticked off enough to bring in a Digital Camera and start ripping you people off.

BitTorrent movie rentals, might as well use NetFlix or Blockbuster DVD rentals by Postal Mail, it is cheaper and you get a real DVD with no 24 hour viewing limit.
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just what we need
Slow downloads and viruses/malware thrown in for free!
Posted by Michael Grogan (308 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nobody wants DRM.
This is going to fall on its face. Piracy was the only reason for using BitTorrent. This is going to prove it.

Personally, I would like to see all of these "services" fall off the face of the earth. Maybe that way the media companies would stop inflicting their hideous copy protection schemes on us.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Reply Link Flag
IF I understand this right...
They want me to keep a several+ gig file I cant even use wasting space on my harddrive, want me to waste my bandwidth letting everyone else in the world download that file I can't even use, and they want _me_ to pay for the privilege?

No. Hell no.
Posted by QMT (831 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, let's call a spade a spade...
These people are defined as theives:

""There's a large group of people out there that like getting things for free, and they will probably go someplace else for file sharing."
Posted by WJeansonne (480 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I understand what you are saying.
Yeah that is the point for hosting some files through bittorent in
small companies. But when you are a Music & Movie Online
distributer, you are playing with the big boys. Not providing the
big boy experience can really drive away consumers.
Posted by hunter_jc (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag
smoke and mirrors?
Is someone just trying to deflect the attention here or what?

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.allabouttheaccessories.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.allabouttheaccessories.com</a>
Posted by jordan057 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what a drag...
this is gonna fail big time...

windows only, M$ media player only??? excuse me??? renting

what a rip off....
Posted by smokeonit (109 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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