Noah J Nelson on Monday, Jul. 14th
BitTorrent is quite possibly the most powerful Internet tool that has yet to be fully exploited by Hollywood. Part of that comes from the hazy relationship between BT and content pirates. Sure, the company makes all the right noises about not condoning unlicensed file sharing, but everyone knows that if you want to get the latest episode of Game of Thrones without paying for it you turn to the torrents.
The company wants to be legit, however, and to that end started a program called BitTorrent Bundles last year that let artists share promotional material in exchange for user emails. It wasn’t a direct monetization plan, but anyone with half a brain could see in what direction the wind was blowing. This week BitTorrent unfurled their sails, and the plan to make money from content looks like what might happen if Netflix and Kickstarter had a baby.
It all starts with a pilot for a science fiction TV series Children of the Machine that will focus on teenagers living after something that sounds like the Singularity, or during the Singularity. In any case: BitTorrent’s target demo. The pilot will be put out as a Bundle, and those who dig the series can pony up $9.99 by way of the new Bundle paygate. If 250,000 people do that, the first season of the show will be produced and the backers will get the episodes.
In a Q & A interview at the BitTorrent blog, producer Marco Weber (The Informers) got into why he’s attempting to take the plot to series this way.
I wanted to be able to control the process. I looked at how Kickstarter evolved, and the success of Netflix. And my idea was to marry these two concepts, and basically create a hybrid model: one where people have the opportunity to watch a pilot for free, and then decide if they want to see (and fund) more episodes. BitTorrent Bundle, with its upcoming paygate feature, is the exact platform to accomplish this. That’s why I reached out to Matt [Mason], and started pitching the idea.
We’re putting ourselves on the line, and making the pilot at our own risk. We’re doing this because we believe in the show, and we believe in the community. We hope that audiences will respond, and use the BitTorrent Bundle paygate to fund the next eight episodes. They get to make the decisions that executives at entertainment conglomerates usually make for them. If fans are willing to accept that deal, and become stakeholders in our production, then I’m sure that Children of the Machine will only be the first of many shows to follow this model.
We’ve seen a similar model used in the publishing world before, with authors “holding their work for ransom,” and then releasing it once their target is met. One difference here will be production time: the pilot will be in the can when the campaign starts, independently funded through Weber’s efforts, but if it is “greenlighted” by the crowd there will be a gap between the pilot and the series. How much has not been reveled, but it will be interesting to see if the crowd can be all that patient when they’ve already had a taste.
If the model proves successful there is some potential here for BitTorrent to become a player in the original content space. They won’t wind up looking like a Netflix or Amazon, but the more successful their model becomes the more heat they will wind up feeling to do something about illegal file sharing. There’s nothing fair, after all, about giving away your competitor’s work for free while charging for your client’s goods and services.
My loyalties to the idea of crowdfunding are on record, so I’ll note that I’d be happy to see the model work. What I’m wary of is the whole thing being bogged down in a turf war over file sharing. Having lived through the failed Napster revolution, I’m loathe to watch an encore performance.