BitTorrent has a message for Hollywood — we come in peace.
The open-source technology that is used to share large files has become synonymous in the entertainment industry with piracy. That's a perception the San Francisco-based company is working hard to change.
"There's been a misrepresentation in the media for a decade, and we know we need to rehabilitate our brand image," Matt Mason, BitTorrent's vice president of marketing, said. "One way of looking at piracy is not, 'Oh this isn’t our problem,' it's, 'This is a problem in the world and we can be part of the solution.'"
Mason notes that BitTorrent is not in the business of providing pirated content, nor has the company endorsed copyright infringement. However, its technology has been utilized by sites like Pirate Bay that have run afoul of copyright laws.
Partly because of that association, news of a promotional deal between BitTorrent and indie distributor Cinedigm this week was greeted hostilely in certain circles of the movie business.
"It's a deal with the devil," one studio executive told TheWrap. "Cinedigm is being used as their pawn."
For its part, Cinedigm said the promotion, which involved offering up the first seven minutes of the Emily Blunt-Colin Firth indie "Arthur Newman" exclusively to BitTorrent users, has been a huge success. Since the footage was released Monday, BitTorrent users have downloaded more than 1 million copies, Jill Calcaterra, Cinedigm's chief marketing officer confirmed to TheWrap.
Whether this activity translates into box office will be clear after this weekend when the film debuts in 250 theaters.
Calcaterra said that the BitTorrent promotion will be the first of six similar campaigns and cited it as the kind of forward-thinking Hollywood needs to embrace.
"Any hesitancy we had came from the concern that people didn't understand that BitTorrent was a protocol and that it was not synonymous with piracy," she said. "We saw this as an opportunity to educate and inform the industry in a positive way that benefits the filmmakers."
BitTorrent said it hopes the Cinedigm deal will be one of many it signs with studios and mainstream media companies. To that end, it is developing technology that will make it easier for content creators to get paid for the films, shows and music shared by its user base of 170 million people.
Mason said it represents one of the first major changes to its file system in over a decade. When it is launched, the service will allow producers or publishers to upload content into a bundle that is gated to the outside world. Producers and publishers could then charge users to access their movies or other forms of media.
"This ecosystem is the next chapter in Hollywood history," Mason said. "Nowhere else on the internet do you have direct access to this many fans."
Mason said the company expects to have an alpha version of the product in the next year but that the rollout will be gradual. BitTorrent said it will not even be part of its business model for the foreseeable future.
Because of its vast user-base, some executives think that Hollywood will have no choice but to eventually embrace BitTorrent.
"It's inevitable," Jeff Gomez, the chief executive officer of the transmedia company Starlight Runner, said. "This is an annoyance that most people in Hollywood know is not going away, so they pay lip service to being annoyed, even while they're negotiating with the company."
Indeed, Mason said that he feels the resentment towards BitTorrent is starting to soften among the major studios.
"People will take meetings with us — that’s a big change," he said.