Colin Firth, left, and Emily Blunt star in the drama "Arthur Newman." (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles…)
In one of the stranger plot twists in Hollywood, BitTorrent Inc., the technology company whose name was once synonymous in the creative community with Internet piracy, is now doing business with the film industry.
The San Francisco company is partnering with Cinedigm, a leading Los Angeles distributor of independent films across digital platforms, to promote its newest release, "Arthur Newman," starring Colin Firth and Emily Blunt.
Starting Monday, BitTorrent will help promote the film by inviting the 170 million users of its software — which helps facilitate the transfer of large data files — to watch the first seven minutes of the film prior to its theatrical release Friday.
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The technology firm in the last year has promoted documentaries and albums from groups such as Counting Crows, but the Cinedigm deal marks the first time that BitTorrent has helped market a Hollywood movie. The partnership underscores the company's efforts to shed its image as the pariah that was perceived as encouraging consumers to illegally download movies and TV shows.
"We've got this wonderful network of 170 million passionate consumers," said Matt Mason, vice president of marketing for BitTorrent. "We view this as an opportunity to connect content creators with their fans."
The deal is the latest sign of thawing between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, sometime adversaries who have begun to find ways to work more collaboratively on creative projects and in fighting copyright theft. The two sides waged a public fight a year ago over the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill, supported by most in Hollywood, died in Congress after a successful lobbying campaign led by Google Inc. and other Internet giants.
"This isn't technology against content creators," said Jill Calcaterra, chief marketing officer for Cinedigm. "It's an example of technology and content creators working together to figure out how we can help both of our businesses grow."
Until recently, BitTorrent was widely seen as a facilitator of online piracy because its protocol — invented in 2001 by founder Bram Cohen — was used by illegal websites that allowed users to download pirated versions of movies. For example, Universal Pictures' "Fast Five," one of the most pirated movies in 2011, used BitTorrent's file-sharing technology.
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But Mason says the company is determined to shed its image and help filmmakers take advantage of its network's users, whom he says are avid consumers of entertainment and more willing to spend money buying movies or songs than average consumers.
"We've always been a legal, legitimate technology company but haven't done a good job of telling our story," he said. "As a company we have this big brand perception problem and we need to tackle that."
It's not the first time that BitTorrent has tried become a Hollywood player. In 2007, the company attempted to launch an iTunes-like store, but the service never gained traction.
"BitTorrent isn't really very good at being a content company," Mason said. "Our job is to move files as fast as we can."
BitTorrent is hoping other filmmakers will see value in using its network to promote movies and generate a new source of advertising revenue for the company, whose website draws more than 1 million visitors a day.
"What we like about Cinedigm is that they are a technology driven-company, very much committed to figuring out the future of digital content," said Mason, who had previously worked with "Arthur Newman" producer Alisa Tager.
The deal gives Cinedigm a new opportunity to promote movies from its expanding library of titles to a far-flung global audience. Cinedigm, which is best known for deploying digital equipment in movie theaters, has been attempting to reinvent itself as a leading distributor of independently produced content in movie theaters as well as on new digital platforms.
"Our No. 1 goal is to get as many eyeballs as possible to see our films, and [BitTorrent's] footprint is almost second to none in terms of their reach," Calcaterra said.
Calcaterra said "Arthur Newman," which it is releasing directly in theaters, is among half a dozen movies that it plans to promote through its partnership with BitTorrent. Cinedigm also is in discussions with BitTorrent about distributing movies through its network.
"When you provide people with a legitimate alternative, more often than not they will take it," Calcaterra said. "That's what happened with iTunes."
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