Peer-to-peer file sharing platform BitTorrent wants to change what the public thinks it does. Instead of being associated with all the illegal TV shows, movies and illicit content it can store, the tech company wants to be seen as a provider of premium legal content.
Next fall, BitTorrent will distribute its first original Web series, Children of the Machine. The series is helmed by Marco Weber (producer of Igby Goes Down and The Thirteenth Floor) and takes place in the year 2031, in a futuristic society where androids take over and force humans to band together to survive. And, if you're interested, the only place to get it is to download it via a BitTorrent Bundle, a service that allows artists to release content directly to consumers.
"This is a science fiction show catered to the typical tech-savvy, male-dominated audience," Weber said. "We're not trying to launch a romantic comedy, so the concept of this show moved us toward BitTorrent."
Currently, BitTorrent has more than 170 million users around the world, the majority of whom are male. Over 2 million legally licensed pieces of content are available via BitTorrent, often through the Bundle program. Artists who opt into the Bundle program get 90 percent of the sales revenue, as well as data on those who downloaded their content. Tom Yorke released his album Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, and electronic music superstar Diplo dropped Mad Descent Block Party and F10rida through this program.
Weber said he chose to release his show with BitTorrent because the site's users are his target demographic, which means a built-in audience for him and his future advertisers. The pilot and an ad-supported version of Children of the Machine will be made available for free download, but those who want to skip ads can pay $4.95 for the eight-episode season or $9.95 for bonus content. Six weeks after the pilot is released, the show will be available all at once, much like the Netflix model. The show has not signed any ad deals yet, but it's in talks with technology industry companies.
"If you put a commercial in a TV pilot, you don't get the audience as focused as you get on BitTorrent," Weber explained.
BitTorrent PR manager Kevin Fu explained that at its core, the company allows computers to talk to each other and move large data files. While that data can include information from Facebook, Amazon and Blizzard Entertainment, it can also include pirated content from platforms like The Pirate Bay. The very name "BitTorrent" has become linked with illegal downloads, but the company wants to fix that.
"We haven't done a great job over time of owning that brand name," Fu explained. "It's something that we’re working on changing."