BitTorrent’s original content push

Detail of "Children of the Machine" poster
Source: BitTorrent
Detail of "Children of the Machine" poster

While BitTorrent is associated with the file-sharing technology that enables piracy, it's trying to build a media company.

Now it's betting big on original content, just like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Vessel and Vimeo. BitTorrent is announcing a partnership with Rapid Eye Studios to create a number of shows over the next two to three years.

After announcing its first BitTorrent original pilot last year, "Children of the Machine," which is also from Rapid Eye and is scheduled to launch this fall, advance demand was so huge the company decided to ditch a paid model and give the show away for free, with ads, in addition to offering an ad-free version for $9.95.

Now BitTorrent Originals will be available on the BitTorrent Bundle platform for 30 to 60 days before shows are offered elsewhere. It will promote the shows and pay the content creators 90 percent of the revenue. The titles of the additional shows will be revealed in coming months—the company is mining its data on what people watch and pay for to craft the content.

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The original digital content space is crowded. BitTorrent says its advantages are its massive user base—it has a potential audience of 170 million people around the world—and the fact that its file-sharing technology is low cost—its users help share content so it doesn't rely on pricey servers.

While the company's been associated with piracy (since that's how file-sharing technology is traditionally used) Chief Content Officer Matt Mason insists that's not what BitTorrent does. He said over the past two years, 200 million people have streamed or downloaded hundreds of millions of what the company calls "bundles" of content from content creators including Madonna, Linkin Park, Sony Pictures Classics and Universal.

"We have always been on the side of content creators and we're working with Hollywood and the record labels and everyone else in the business of creating content to help people get to a large audience," Mason said.

What's the audience for BitTorrent originals? The company expects 60 million to 80 million of its 170 million monthly users to watch. Its users are largely 16 to 24 years old and male, and more than half pay for content online every month.

Demand from advertisers is there, said Mason, pointing to the company's relationship with GE and Coca-Cola. "We've partnered with some of the biggest brands in the world on the bundle," said Mason. "People are seeing this as one of the only ways to genuinely reach a global audience of hundreds of millions of people on the Internet, so I think you can expect a lot more blue chip advertisers coming on board over the next 12 months."

This could be a key way for the company to build its business and help its investors, including Facebook-backer Accel Partners, look for an exit. (The company has raised over $40 million). "We're focused on building a great product and building something that works for creators and fans of that content," Mason said.

Correction: BitTorrent originally misstated the number of new programs they have planned.