BitTorrent starts producing original TV shows in a quest to reform its image

BitTorrent starts producing original TV shows in a quest to reform its image

BitTorrent is getting serious about transforming the BitTorrent protocol into a serious distribution method for legal media.

BitTorrent Inc. is taking on Amazon and Netflix in 2015 with its own original television content platform, dubbed BitTorrent Originals. The first programming to roll out under BitTorrent's banner will be Children of the Machine (COTM), a Sci-Fi television series first announced in July.

COTM will be available in the fall as an ad-supported download or you can purchase a premium version for $9.95. All content for BitTorrent Originals will be produced under an exclusive partnership between BitTorrent and Rapid Eye Studios.

In addition to the series, BitTorrent and Rapid Eye also have a COTM-themed video game planned that will be distributed as a separate BitTorrent Bundle. The company did not announce further details about the game, such as pricing or whether it too will be under the BitTorrent Originals banner.

All BitTorrent Originals content will be distributed for the first 30 to 60 days after its release as a BitTorrent Bundle. After that, it may show up in other distribution platforms around the world, including regular television broadcasts and online streaming. Originals content will be targeted at 14-to-25 year-olds who, the company says, make up the majority of BitTorrent's user base.

Whither the crowd?

BitTorrent had originally planned to introduce COTM using a crowd-funding component. Viewers were supposed to get the first episode for free and then choose to pay $9.95 to support the series. If the supporter list hit 250,000 people then COTM would be considered funded and the first season would be produced. It appears those original plans have been discarded with the introduction of BitTorrent Originals.

The story behind the story: BitTorrent Inc. is on a mission to legitimize file-sharing technology and remove the stigma that the BitTorrent protocol is only for online piracy. In recent years the company has introduced apps that make novel use of the BitTorrent protocol, such as the chat app Bleep and Sync for distributing files across multiple devices. In 2013, BitTorrent rolled out the Bundle program to show how BitTorrent could be used as a distribution platform for original content that isn't pirated. It also introduced paid downloads in 2014 with Radiohead front man Thom Yorke's latest solo effort, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes.

The online trend

BitTorrent Originals is rolling out just as online distribution for high-quality content is becoming the norm. Netflix and Amazon are receiving accolades for original shows like House of Cards and Transparent. Now  original content heavyweights like HBO and Showtime intend to introduce standalone online streaming packages this year.

While BitTorrent Originals sounds intriguing, it's still far too early to know whether it will be a success, since the platform's first series is still months away from release.

Nevertheless, BitTorrent has high hopes for the debut of Children of the Machine. The company predicts the series will reach 60-80 million fans for the first season of eight hour-long episodes. "With 170 million monthly active users, we have an audience larger than Amazon and Netflix combined," BitTorrent's content chief Matt Mason told me.

BitTorrent's 170 million users statistic appears to be based on the number of BitTorrent protocol users worldwide and not those who use the company's own apps or download from the Bundle platform. Nevertheless, there's no doubt that BitTorrent Bundles are popular. In June, the company announced its (mostly free) bundles of music and video content had already racked up 100 million downloads.

BitTorrent has yet to announce plans for future Originals titles but says it will have more news in the coming months.

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