LOS ANGELES Web company BitTorrent Inc, once scorned in Hollywood, on Sunday joined a number of providers in the nascent arena for legal downloads of movies and television shows with content from several key studios.
BitTorrent Entertainment Network at BitTorrent.com will offer films and TV shows from 20th Century Fox News Corp, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Lionsgate Entertainment Corp, closely held Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., Paramount Pictures and Paramount's sister company, MTV Networks.
San Francisco-based BitTorrent joins Amazon.com, Apple Inc.
and Wal-Mart Stores Inc as either having launched or testing download sites. Others in the arena include services from CinemaNow and Movielink.
But BitTorrent's president and co-founder, Ashwin Navin, told Reuters the site will differentiate itself by going beyond offering only movies or TV shows to providing downloads of music, videos and games.
Most importantly, the BitTorrent Entertainment Network, or BEN, plans to offer community building so that users can post their own videos or movies which others can download. For independent filmmakers with no distribution, the site can be a way to gain exposure for their movies.
"The last thing we could afford to do was launch another sterile retail site," Navin said. He called the community building aspect of the network, "our heart and soul."
FROM FOE TO FRIEND
For years, BitTorrent's software was used by Web surfers to assimilate illegal copies of movies and other content on their computers. As a result, BitTorrent was scorned by Hollywood's major studios which believed it facilitated online piracy.
But in November 2005, BitTorrent agreed with the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents Hollywood's major studios in government matters, to help stem illegal copying by removing from its site links to pirated copies.
The deal brought it into the group of companies helping to promote legal downloads. In May last year, Warner Bros. agreed to sell movies and TV shows using the BitTorrent software, and Monday's announcement is the culmination of months of planning by BitTorrent to enter the market for legal downloads.
Navin said the BEN would offer a simple pricing structure of $3.99 per movie for new releases and $2.99 for older titles. TV shows would be sold for $1.99. If community users want to self-publish, that would be free.
BEN can be a formidable competitor by virtue of the fact it already has a base of 135 million clients that use its software. Moreover, the BitTorrent software is popular because it is fast, and one key issue for download services has been the slow times for downloads of some content.
"We have the largest community in the world actually using the software," Navin said.
Still, the market for downloads is still developing and, for the most part, is confined to users who will watch movies on computers and laptops.
The market size is expected to grow, however, as more and more services link the Internet to home television sets, which is one reason why so many big companies are rushing into the download arena.