Onetime file-swapping pariah BitTorrent Inc. is expected to announce deals today with 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and MTV Networks to deliver popular movies and television shows as it tries to reshape itself into a legitimate distribution outlet.
San Francisco-based BitTorrent plans to harness the same technology used by millions of people to illicitly trade copyrighted movies and television shows to create a marketplace for downloading all forms of licensed entertainment content. The new BitTorrent service will offer on-demand and download-rental movies, download-to-own TV programs, video games and music. It is expected to debut in February.
The latest deals with Fox, Paramount, Kadokawa Pictures USA, Lions Gate Entertainment and Starz Media broadens BitTorrent's library of licensed digital content. The new service will allow users to download such mainstream film titles as "X-Men: The Last Stand," "Mission: Impossible III" and "Saw III," as well as popular TV shows such as "Prison Break," "South Park" and "SpongeBob SquarePants."
BitTorrent announced partnerships with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and other independent studios in May.
"This demonstrates that we're being very successful in bringing on partners to use BitTorrent for reaching our audience with their content," said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent. "I think our users will be very excited by the nature of the content we're acquiring. It's relevant to our audience and will be programmed for their benefit."
Analysts said BitTorrent might encounter the same obstacles that faced other file-swapping services, such as iMesh, that have attempted to transition from unlicensed free-for-all to paid service. The users simply went elsewhere.
"It's going to confuse consumers that BitTorrent is this free, no-holds-barred, we-don't-care-if-it's-copyrighted place to share, then there's this paid, copy-protected area," said Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research.
The online movie marketplace is growing increasingly crowded. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, will offer a video-download option to anyone who purchases a "Superman Returns" DVD at its retail stores. Starting today, consumers can choose from three download options: $1.97 for portable devices, $2.97 for computers or $3.97 for both formats. Amazon.com and Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes also offer movie and TV downloads, as do Movielink and CinemaNow Inc.
But these services have had limited appeal because of pricing and because it's cumbersome moving films or television shows off the computer and onto the television screen, Bernoff said.
"The problem is consumers are not convinced that paying for and downloading video is worth it," he said. "The other problem is it doesn't end up on the TV set. The mechanisms that do get it to the TV, like DVD burning, are not quite what they need to be."
Studio executives said BitTorrent presents an opportunity to reach an audience of millions with licensed content.
"BitTorrent has made a huge effort to enforce our intellectual property rights and to get legitimate content to consumers," said Thomas E. Lesinski, president of digital entertainment for Paramount Pictures. "They've agreed to filtering techniques that will enable the pirated content to stay out of the network and only allow copyrighted material from Paramount to get to consumers who are willing to pay for it."