Peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent announced early in the year that it has more than 100 million monthly users of its two software products—the original BitTorrent Mainline, and µTorrent. Founded in 2004 by Bram Cohen and Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent has raised more than $40 million in funding from investors. BitTorrent makes it easy to share and download large files of movies, videos, music, and games online and has oft been accused of facilitating illegal file sharing. However, the company has been making efforts to become a legitimate distribution system.
Over the past year, BitTorrent has tried working with independent content creators and use its distribution system and user base. In partnership with VODO, BitTorrent has directly distributed films, documentaries, and music albums. The Lionshare was the first BitTorrent-exclusive film released on VODO last year. It attracted more than 1 million downloads and led to a sci-fi series exclusive to BitTorrent. Titled Pioneer One, the series was completely funded by the public. Four episodes have been shot to date and the remaining seven are expected to be completed by this year. The peer-funded episode even won an award for Best Drama Pilot at the New York Television Festival. The Yes Men Fix The World, an indie documentary distributed on BitTorrent, has since been picked up by HBO and its P2P edition has been downloaded more than 2 million times, reaching more viewers through BitTorrent than it did on HBO. Los Angeles-based musician, PAZ, launched his debut mix tape on BitTorrent, and it has now been downloaded over half a million times.
It is not just independent content creators who use this medium. Last month, Paramount Pictures opted for a BitTorrent release rather than a traditional release for its film The Tunnel. The film will also be released simultaneously on DVD.
Apart from movies, TV shows, and music albums, BitTorrent has now extended its distribution system to e-books. It’s offering Megan Lisa Jones’s political thriller Captive as a free download. However, the Captive promotion was for two weeks only, after which readers have to pay to download a legal copy.
These innovations have resulted in explosive growth for BitTorrent. Content creators, in particular independent content creators, also stand to gain from its distribution system, which is cheaper and effective than others. It gives these creators a platform to showcase their talent, promote their products, and gain recognition. I hope this approach will also help BitTorrent to gain more respectability and lead to a more commercially viable business model. The downside to its connection with illegal file sharing is that Google has blocked the use of its search technology on the BitTorrent site, and Comcast has blocked the use of BitTorrent by its subscribers.
But these companies cannot ignore the massive reach of BitTorrent. It has 100 million users while Hulu and Netflix, the popular TV and movie providers, have 30 million and 16.9 million users, respectively. Its success just goes to show how powerful the Internet has become for distribution and promotion.