In a move that is as logical as it is late, Warner Bros. has decided to embrace the file-sharing system known as BitTorrent as a way to distribute their movie and television content over the internet (legally).
It’ll be interesting to see how they manage the delivery and pricing on the transfers, which are set to start this summer. I can picture CHUD chum and American Outlaws screenwriter John Rogers hurling up his hands in disgust and shouting "Goddammit, I told you so!" — a bootleg of his unaired Global Frequency television pilot (originally planned for the WB network, ironically) was one of the most downloaded Torrent files in history, and he was vocal about studios missing a major opportunity to utilize such a file-sharing system for legal distribution. Fox is already using the iTunes portal to offer downloads of shows like Lost, The Shield and Firefly (and, um, Stacked) for a couple bucks an episode.
As anyone who’s ever used the program to download anything from e-books to recent comic scans to old TV series to entire song catalogs to DVD rips to telesynched cam bootlegs of feature films that just hit theaters already knows (not that I’d ever do anything like that), BitTorrent is a "swarm" system where chunks of files are acquired from multiple "seeds" and "peers" and then assembled on your computer, making the files’ origins frustratingly difficult for legal-minded folks to trace.
BitTorrent is apparently now working with the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), who along with other litigious types had previously been trying to crack down on piracy by shutting down the online search engines, an approach about as effective as fighting global terrorism. Or Marvel’s HYDRA ("Cut off a limb, and two more will take its place!").
Anyway, the press release says stuff like this:
"The technology behind BitTorrent is elegantly designed for the delivery of large files like TV programs and films. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group was established to provide innovative, next-generation distribution models and this relationship provides our company with a unique platform to reach a new set of movie fans," said Kevin Tsujihara, President Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. "BitTorrent has made the leap in creating a legal partnership that respects the value of the intellectual property. This has provided us with a next-generation platform for the distribution of our films and TV programs."
The service is intended to launch in summer of 2006 and will initially feature more than 200 Warner Bros. new releases, catalog favorites and television series. Featured titles to be initially offered will include newer releases such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Dukes of Hazzard,
"BitTorrent is the ideal platform to publish high-quality content on the Internet. By combining Warner Bros.’ popular video content with BitTorrent’s proven delivery efficiency, consumers will have an unparalleled way to experience entertainment online," said Ashwin Navin, President and Co-founder of BitTorrent. "As developers of the leading peer-assisted protocol, we’re pleased to be working with Warner Bros., an industry innovator with the largest library of motion pictures, to bring our millions of users entertainment at the click of a mouse."
"Warner Bros. is in the business of making its movies and TV shows available to as wide an audience as possible. The launch of a legal BitTorrent online video service allows us to extend our reach to places our content would not ordinarily be found legally and opens up new opportunities. Entering into agreements such as this to distribute our content is not only a better way to reach existing and new customers but a reflection of the critical role distribution technologies play in the future of the entertainment industry," said Darcy Antonellis, Executive Vice President, Distribution Technology and Operations, Warner Bros. Technical Operations.