May 9, 2006 1:20 PM PDT

Can BitTorrent thrive in the mainstream?

Peer-to-peer technology took another step toward joining respectable society with Monday's news that the file-sharing company BitTorrent would distribute video over the Internet for Warner Bros. Entertainment, industry insiders said.

Long considered in Hollywood as part of an extensive and despised piracy tool kit, BitTorrent's file-sharing system will be used by Warner Bros. to distribute films and TV shows starting sometime this summer, the companies announced Tuesday.

The entertainment industry has for some time feared that file-swapping services would allow users to violate the studios' copyrights and engage in piracy of music and movies. Studios have aggressively filed lawsuits against peer-to-peer companies.

Entertainment executives now appear willing to partner with file-sharing companies. One reason, said Nitin Gupta, a research analyst at The Yankee Group, is that Hollywood needs a cheap and speedy way to transfer huge video files via the Web. Peer-to-peer technologies can do that. Another reason is that by offering the public a legal and inexpensive way to download video, the studios may feel they can remove the need to pirate content while the industry is still in its infancy, Gupta says.

"If you look at the music industry, they waited too long before doing anything about piracy," Gupta said. "Anything (the studios) can do now to raise awareness of a legitimate online distribution system means they are getting ahead of the trouble."

Even BitTorrent's competitors say the Warner Bros. agreement is a good deal for everyone.

"I think it's good for the industry that peer-to-peer technologies are finding markets," said Mike Homer, who founded Kontiki, one of the top peer-to-peer distribution systems. "It's good public relations. This shows that media producers have more confidence in that technology."

At the same time, Homer and others in the sector say Hollywood should move slowly with regard to untested file-sharing systems. BitTorrent has yet to prove that it can safeguard video distributed over the Net, offer studio executives the kind of distribution control they want and appeal to mainstream Internet users.

"BitTorrent's audiences are people who want free content and are willing to rip it off," Homer said. "The file-sharing crowd is looking for illegal content. They haven't been very attractive to media producers."

BitTorrent's president, Ashwin Navin, dismisses talk that the technology can only be used for illegal ends. BitTorrent, the company, has always been a model corporate citizen, Navin said. The company signed with Warner, the first of many deals the company expects, because it simply works.

"Much of the negative perception of BitTorrent came from the press," Navin said. "BitTorrent has become synonymous for one thing with our users: fast on-demand entertainment. The content providers are going to see BitTorrent in the same way."

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. This reduces bandwidth costs for content providers.

While it might be useful in moving large files, BitTorrent has yet to prove that its technology is a successful consumer service. To send movies across the Internet on a wide scale, entertainment chiefs are going to want absolute control over where the video goes, who sees it and who pays, said Todd Johnson, Kontiki's former chief executive.

"It's an incredibly complex problem," said Johnson, who has helped his company sign deals with such entertainment companies as AOL Time Warner and the BBC. "I'm going to be interested in finding out whether BitTorrent can provide all the central control and meet the requirements content owners are going to have."

What everybody in the sector agrees on is that peer-to-peer technologies are only going to appear more attractive, as more people start demanding high-quality Internet video.

The higher the quality, the more information that has to be pumped through broadband systems. A typical episode of "Lost" bought through iTunes requires Apple Computer to transfer 200 megabytes of data to a customer. A feature film could take up to 500 megabytes. Gupta said that the expense of distributing movies in high-definition quality could send costs skyrocketing tenfold.

"The key here is keeping costs down," Gupta said. "The low margins for a lot of the video content distributors make it critical for them to use peer-to-peer to deliver high-quality video."

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15 comments

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Warner Bros. seems intent on making consumers a bad deal.
You can buy a movie for download, but it will cost you the same as DVD, only be playable on the system you downloaded it on, lack extra features, likely be of inferior quality, and the consumer gets to provide the bandwidth for distribution. Sounds like Warner Bros. is just greedy as hell.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Setup to fail
This deal setup by WB, and the other studios through Movielink are intentionally creating a model to fail. When these projects fail, they will then use it as "proof" that an online model will not work and will push through laws for mandatory copy protection and harsher penalties for people who assert their fair use.
Posted by kaufmanmoore (42 comments )
Link Flag
I Doubt You
It's gonna be cheaper. They don't have to package it anymore, its all digital info you're just be paying for the use of their copywritten product. Probably won't be much cheaper though :-( And cable providers will have to increase bandwidth drastically over the next 10 years anyway, an entertainment industry is just ahead of the curve for once. They're gonna put some dumb restrictions on the movies like music is, but you'll probably be able to burn it atleast once. And besides in a couple years, all entertainment appliances will be hooked up to personal home networks, and you'll just access your harddrive from your comptuer. Apple has a product out already that can do it.
Posted by BaBaBooie (3 comments )
Link Flag
Disk vs. Download: Disk wins
One issue with downloads is that even as network
technology gets faster, disk capacity goes up. Many years
ago, I was working at a university computer lab and we had
two facilities. My boss there mentioned that they calculated
it was more than 10 times faster to fill a tape up with data
and carry it on the shuttle bus between the facilities than it
was to transmit that data between the two facilities. I work
with GB size files on a regular basis, and it is still true that
it is often faster to use the sneaker-net when transferring
large data files. I'd bet that a typical DVD, at ~5GB would
take a home broadband user at least a day to download,
but I can get a DVD from the store in less than an hour. The
HD-DVD and BD disks have something like 10 times the
capacity of DVDs, so would probably take a week or two to
download. I know there are lower-quality formats that may
take less space/bandwidth, but if the DVD costs the same
or even only a little more than the lower-quality download,
I'm buying the DVD.
Posted by whoperson (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some info about speed
I'm not sure how it all works since it's quite confusing but here is s a FAQ piece from CinimaNow.

4 How long does it take to download a movie?
With a fast connection (DSL, Cable Modem or better) a Standard Quality (700k) video should take about 30-40 minutes to download. A DVD Quality (1500K) takes about an hour to an hour and a half. If you want to watch your movie while it is downloading, you can start playing it in as little as 30 seconds. 

7 How do I watch CinemaNow movies on my TV?
If your laptop has an S-video jack, then you can hook your computer directly to your TV. For more information and other suggestions on how to watch on your TV, click here.

9 Can I transfer movies to my video iPod, PSP or other portable player?
At this time, CinemaNow movies are not available for the iPod or PSP, however we are working with our content providers to expand the options you have. To see videos that are available for other quality portable players, please...

Probably best to just pick up a media center if you want to see it on your T.V.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
And why should I use this service?
If the price is the same as buying the DVD in the store, then why should I buy this "download" version? I don't get any box, I can only watch it on my PC, the compression is more aggressive (read: less quality), and oh, I cannot play it on my other PC's (what if I have a workstation and a notebook?), nor in my DVD player in the living room..

Someone at WB should be looking at the deal that Apple signed with WB competitors.. this is not the way the consumer want his content, nor for the same price as off-the-shelf DVD!
Posted by hetzbh (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Heck no
BitTorrent wastes bandwidth. It doubles bandwidth utilization,
not to mention overhead. It slows networks and that is a
disservice to all customers. There are far better alternatives for
media delivery.
Posted by jasonemanuelson1 (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE
For BitTorrent's intended purpose it's fairly efficient. Swarm style downloading and segmented uploads came into being as a away to over come limited upload rates and to spread the bandwidth requirements over time to distribute large files. Most of the popular clients allow you to define how much bandwidth gets used. As far as Warner Bros. movie service goes, it's going to depend how they implement it.

As for better alternatives, name one. The traditional server hosting method is quite expensive, just ask the people who run YouTube.com. They're burning VC money like crazy on bandwidth costs.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Pretty Silly
THis almost introduces other people to illegal downloading because at first they're going to pay for they're movies. But soon most likely goin to find another site other than bittorrent.com and going to find they are able to download the same movie for free. I dont know about hte official client but in know that Utorrent and BitComet both allow to search different torrents index sites from the client.

Also will there be an antileech protection or will Warner Brothers set up some servers to seed the files.
Posted by tomeedee (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BitTorrent can thrive if they know what they are doing
Peer-to-peer file sharing system is grid distribution. It offers unlimited selection and flexibility unmatched by other options. In order to succeed they have to protect the content owner interests i.e. secure contents against piracy without compromising consumer rights. There is a way to do this e.g. Peervision.com.
Posted by vincentso (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This can work
But only on a few conditions:

1. The price will have to be competitive. If consumers have to pay anything within a few dollars what they have to pay for the physical DVD, nobody will want to do it.

2. The quality must at least compare with, and preferably rival, what is already available for free.

3. The service must be highly available. What is stopping people from turning off BitTorrent once they are done with the file? Sure, they can upload the parts they've downloaded before its done, but ideally, that shouldn't even be very long. The real selling point here is going to be nearly on-demand service, so that you can buy a download, go make and eat dinner, come back in an hour or so and watch your movie.

The advantage this service will have by default is that the movies will (or should) be easy to find, and in contrast to many illegal P2P downloads, there will be no question about the safety (assuming there won't have any Sony-esque DRM involved) or *actual* content what you are downloading.
Posted by DreamThrall (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Correction
"A feature film could take up to 500 megabytes."

That's way on the low end: if you want a quality movie, it most likely will be at least a gig.
Posted by 206538395198018178908092208948 (141 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stupid!
Why should consumers be willing to let movie studios use their bandwidth to distribute content so the studios can make money? Right now, the reason users are willing to share what they have is the community thing. Users want to help those who have helped them. They're not going to want to use their bandwidth to make Warner Brothers money. Of course the studios like the idea: Free Bandwidth! Now it's almost like they want to steal from us.
Posted by eljakeo (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How to make it work
I have experimented with this, and it works.

Take the video file, and remove a small percentage of the data. The file will still play in some players, but the quality will be terrible.

Distribute the large file via torrent for the speed.

Distribute the small, interlaced bit via a controlled network to control who gets the whole thing, while still reducing bandwidth.

I have done this (in a test) with an MPG file. I removed whole bytes at regular intervals, replacing them with 0. The quality was terrible, even removing only a very small percentage. I ended up with a workable solution. A controlable file of a reasonable size to distribute, and a large file easy to put on torrent that did not really need any controls because the lock file made the difference in quality worth paying for. In my experiment, I replaced on in every 10000 bytes.
Posted by amadensor (248 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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