BitTorrent is introducing a new gated system that, in theory, could allow studios and record labels to charge users for access to movies, music and shows.
Dubbed the BitTorrent Bundle, the multimedia format will launch in collaboration with the record label Ultra Music. It's been a year in the making and could help soften hostility toward the file sharing service in Hollywood. Despite a recent promotional partnership with indie distributor Cinedigm, executives at major studios have privately told TheWrap they believe the peer-to-peer file sharing system enables piracy.
The partnership with Ultra will be used to promote a documentary about American DJ Kaskade’s 2012 Freaks of Nature tour. The so-called "gated torrent" will only make certain footage from the documentary accessible after fans provide their email information. The rest of the material will be free and available to all.
Although this iteration relies on users sharing their contact info, a spokesperson for BitTorrent told TheWrap that the technology could be used to make users pony up for access to other forms of entertainment.
"It can just as easily be a pay-gate," Christian Averill, a spokesman for BitTorrent, told TheWrap via email. "Or a pay-what-you-want gate. Or a drive the fan to Netflix, iTunes, a Facebook page or the theater. There are as many possible business models as there are pieces of content. We don't want to impose the business model onto the content, we want to leave that to the content creator."
The service is in alpha mode and won't factor into BitTorrent's business model in the foreseeable future.
BitTorrent admits that having its technology mentioned in the same breath as piracy sites like the Pirate Bay has hurt its image among major media companies. But it insists it has never endorsed piracy.
Furthermore, it argues that its 170 million users are avid consumers of content who have no qualms about paying for materials. As evidence the company cites studies by Columbia University and the Dutch Institution for Information Law and CentERdata that looked at the behavior of file sharers and found that they were as much as four times more likely to have purchased digital music than people who did not use such services.
BitTorrent will still have to refine its pitch to studios, however. After Cinedigm unveiled its promotional pact with BitTorrent, one studio executive likened the alliance to a "deal with the devil."