"Arthur Newman" made headlines when it debuted last spring, but it wasn't for the film's onscreen coupling of Oscar-winner Colin Firth and rising star Emily Blunt. The media attention instead centered on an innovative marketing campaign driven by an odd couple pairing of a Hollywood studio and BitTorrent.
The film flopped, racking up roughly $200,000 in limited box-office release, but BitTorrent is claiming that its efforts in raising awareness of "Arthur Newman" were a rousing success.
Cinedigm, the indie studio behind the film partnered with the open-source technology maker to offer up the first seven minutes of the film exclusively to BitTorrent users, and BitTorrent reports that they downloaded the content 2.7 million times between April 22, 2013 when the content went live and May 7, 2013.
BitTorrent also reports that the number of downloads it generated is nearly 40 times the number of YouTube views the film's trailer generated.
In addition, it states that 43 percent of the traffic to the "Arthur Newman" website was driven by BitTorrent.
"There is real value here," Matt Mason, BitTorrent's vice president of marketing, told TheWrap. "The people who use BitTorrent are fans and they are willing to pay for content."
Studio executives have pushed back against that contention; many see BitTorrent and its file-sharing technology as being synonymous with online piracy. The promotional deal between BitTorrent and Cinedigm received a hostile reception in certain circles of the movie business.
"It's a deal with the devil," one studio executive told TheWrap at the time. "Cinedigm is being used as their pawn."
BitTorrent has never endorsed copyright infringement, arguing that it is a technology company, not a purveyor of pirated content.
Its technology may have been utilized by sites like Pirate Bay that have run afoul of copyright laws, but the company has been trying to change the movie business' negative perceptions and it thinks the results from its "Arthur Newman" promotion may help in that effort. Mason said that he's noticed attitudes are shifting.
"BitTorrent is an emotionally charged word and we get that, but we're working every day to change that context," Mason said. "What's changed has been that we're having a lot more conversations with studios… it's a cascade thing, there's been too many people contacting us and we're not able to work with everyone."
Both Cinedigm and BitTorrent acknowledge that they would have liked to have seen stronger box office results on "Arthur Newman," but a studio spokeswoman argues that the awareness the file-sharing site generated will help drive home entertainment sales when "Arthur Newman" debuts on iTunes and in stores like Wal-Mart this summer.
"This is going to allow our audience to grow over time across all platforms," Jill Calcaterra, Cinedigm's chief marketing officer, told TheWrap. "This promotion was undertaken to bolster the whole life-cycle of the film, not just one piece, and we'll be reaping the rewards from all these impressions and downloads and exposure for years to come."
Calcaterra said that Cinedigm has agreed to partner with BitTorrent on marketing campaigns around six films. Their next collaboration "Absence," is an alien abduction film that hits theaters in July. The BitTorrent campaign will be timed to its home-entertainment debut a month later and will feature original content in the form of "found footage" of the extraterrestrials.
Cinedigm is also weighing how it will use BitTorrent to promote "Short Term 12," a foster care drama it is releasing in theaters on Aug. 23.
Calcaterra said the goal is to get a better sense of BitTorrent's audience of 170 million users with each promotion — to see what types of content and genres work and what holds less appeal.
"As an industry, we have to try new things and embrace change so we can uncover more opportunities," she said. "We're really happy to have been the first mover on a platform like BitTorrent."